Untreated human excrement, animal waste and chemical fertilizer seep into the land and permeate the water system. Raw sewage flows into the river and is carried downstream to the highly polluted Black Sea. People fall ill and the natural environment deteriorates.
Belying their picturesque surroundings, Khorga and Chaladidi, rural villages located along the banks of the meandering Khobi River in Georgia, face an unseen environmental and public health crisis.
Marina Tsirdava, whose family are farmers in Khorga, paints a vivid picture: “We disposed all the grey water in the open, the toilet smelled bad, animal manure was scattered all around, and the nearby river was not safe for swimming or washing. We always wanted to improve the situation [but had] no knowledge of how to do so.”
Gogi Khajaia, Head of the Khobi Municipality, explains: “The waste disposed into the rivers and ditches affects the quality of water not only in the rivers but also wells used for drinking.” Contamination of household water means that women and children are more exposed to infection. The risks are especially high for children, whose underdeveloped immune systems can easily fall prey to illness. The burden of caring for the sick ultimately falls on the mother, confining her to the home and rendering her unable to undertake other work.
With the ultimate goal of reducing pollution of the Black Sea, UNEP, in partnership with Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) and Rural Communities Development Agency (RCDA), implemented a wastewater management project in Khorga and Chaladidi in 2014.
Women’s participation and leadership were seen as key to the success of the project. Consultations and meetings were held and gender-balanced working groups formed. More than 270 people, over half of whom were women, participated in trainings and workshops on various low-cost sustainable waste management technologies, which were then implemented in various locations, including the Khorga village kindergarten.
Nelly Khubutia, a teacher at the kindergarten, explains the project’s benefits: “Thanks to the project, today we know much more about the safe hygiene and sanitation. The project helped us not only improve our awareness and knowledge about environmental pollution, but practically demonstrated the opportunities to address them.” Maia Kenkia concurs: “I have two children and didn’t bring them to the kindergarten due to bad sanitary conditions. As you see, now I can bring them and I have more time to work in the field.”
The community-wide participation in this project illustrates how the inclusion of men and women in all aspects of decision-making can help create a cleaner, healthier environment above and below water. Provided with the requisite knowledge, tools and support, communities can be engines for continued sustainable change.
“We did not have sufficient knowledge and human resources to cope with existing problems”, says Mr. Khajaia. “We greatly appreciate that WECF, with the support of UNEP, has started the project in our municipality and will support its replication in other communities.”