A Helping Hand for a War-torn Nation

For Caritas Georgia, charity is always an available service.

by Father Witold Szulczynski, S.V.D.
photographs: Caritas Georgia

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It is hard to believe how many tragedies have befallen the former Soviet republic of Georgia. A small country located along the Black Sea, Georgia is rich in history, culture, religion and tradition.

Georgia has never been left in peace for more than a few years. Its geographical location – at the crossroads between Europe and Asia – brings many troubles to the country and its Christian community.

The people of Georgia were not ready for the dilemmas that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Day by day, the country was hit by disaster: armed conflict in the southern region of Ossetia; civil war between supporters of the ex-president and his opposition; numerous earthquakes and floods throughout the mountainous part of the country; conflict in the Abkhasia region, resulting in more than 350,000 internally displaced persons; disarray within the government; increasing crime and violence; and fighting in Chechnya, resulting in 7,000 more refugees in Georgia.

Between 1990 and 1993 Georgia’s economy declined by roughly 70 percent. In 1994, the monthly inflation rate was 60 percent and unemployment exceeded 8 percent of the workforce. In a socialist economy, these are staggering statistics. This economic collapse devastated the living standard of most of the population, and poverty became a common phenomenon in Georgia. Although some real economic gains occurred in 1995, wages were still too low to cover essential household costs for many people in the country. In 1999 the per capita gross national income fell to $577, one of the lowest among the former Soviet countries.

As a result of these pressures, Georgians are selling their personal effects and assets to cover basic human needs. In addition, public funding for social services has collapsed, leading to a worsening of health standards. Electricity is now rationed; only four to five hours per day are permitted. A lack of heat and hot water during the winter is also common.

Prior to the breakup, the Georgian education system was the most advanced among the countries of the former Soviet Union. The situation, however, has changed, as schools are often cold and teachers are underpaid. Reforms carried out by the government, though potentially helpful, cannot provide overnight results. This means that Georgian children, especially in rural areas, are deprived of the opportunities to acquire new skills and to develop personally.

The same problems can be seen in Georgia’s medical infrastructure. Over the last five years the population’s health stat-us has severely deteriorated. The infant mortality rate has risen by 13 percent and the adult mortality rate by 18 percent. To a large extent, this deterioration can be attributed to the collapse of public health services. The government responded to this problem with an aggressive reform aimed at reducing public sector involvement and transferring medical services to the private sector, which severely limited free health care. As expected, the health fund created following this reform covered only a small percentage of the population, turning medical services into an inaccessible luxury for those not covered.

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Tags: Georgia Economic hardships Soviet Union Caritas Relief