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Georgia

Geography and population

Georgia, with a total area of 69 700 km, is located in the Caucasus region in the southeast of Europe. It is bordered by the Russian Federation in the north, Azerbaijan in the southeast, Armenia and Turkey in the south, and the Black Sea in the west. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into 11 regions (comprising some 67 districts) plus the capital city Tbilisi. It declared its independence from the Soviet Union in April 1991.

TABLE 1

Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:      
Area of the country

1994

6 970 000

ha
Cultivable area

1996

2 987 473

ha
Cultivated area

1996

1 065 755

ha

    - annual crops

1996

758 990

ha

    - permanent crops

1996

306 765

ha
Population:      
Total population

1996

5 442 000

inhab.
Population density

1996

78

inhab./km2
Rural population

1996

41

%
Economically active population      
engaged in agriculture

1996

25

%

    of which: - men

 

-

%

    - women

 

-

%
Water supply coverage:      
Urban population

1991

33

%
Rural population

1988

30

%

The country can be divided into three physiographic regions: mountains covering about 54% of the total area, highlands about 33%, and valleys some 13%. The northern boundary consists of the Caucasus mountains, whose highest peak stands at some 5 000 m above sea level. About 70% of the territory lies below 1 700 m above sea level. Cropping is possible throughout the country up to 2 000 m. At higher elevations, only pastures are reported.

Since the end of the Soviet period, a process of land privatization has been undertaken. Of the total agricultural land of 3 million ha, some 0.7 million ha are now owned and cultivated by private farmers; 0.3 million ha have been leased to farmers for short-term (3-5 years), medium-term (25 years) or long-term (49 years) periods; while 2 million ha are still owned by the state (Figure 1). Except for some seed-breeding farms, most of the state-owned land, which is no longer managed by sovkhoz (state farms) or kolkhoz (collective farms), is not cultivated.

The total cultivable area, which according to Georgian statistics is equal to the agricultural area, was estimated in 1996 at some 3 million ha, or 43% of the territory. About 2.2 million ha are forest, which, under the Forest Code of 1978, cannot be transformed into agricultural cropped areas. The cultivated land is estimated at 1.06 million ha, of which 29% of permanent crops and 71% of annual crops.

See map of Georgia

TABLE 2

Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:      
Average precipitation  

1 065 

mm/yr
   

74.23 

km3/yr
Internal renewable water resources  

58.13 

km3/yr
Total (actual) renewable water resources

1997

63.33 

km3/yr
Dependency ratio

1997

8.2 

%
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant

1996

11 637 

m3/yr
Total dam capacity

1996

3 175 

106 m3
Water withdrawal:      

    - agricultural

1990

2 043 

106 m3/yr

    - domestic

1990

728 

106 m3/yr

    - industrial

1990

697 

106 m3/yr
Total water withdrawal  

3 468 

106 m3/yr

    per inhabitant

1992

634 

m3/yr

    as % of total (actual) renewable water resources

 

5.5 

%
Other water withdrawal  

-

106 m3/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional sources of water:      
Wastewater:      

    - produced wastewater

1985

614

106 m3/yr

    - treated wastewater

1985

279

106 m3/yr

    - re-used treated wastewater

 

-

106 m3/yr
Agricultural drainage water  

-

106 m3/yr
Desalinated water  

-

106 m3/yr

The total population is estimated at 5.4 million (1996), of which 41% is rural. The average population density is 78 inhabitants/km, but varies from 25 inhabitants/km in the mountainous areas to 250 inhabitants/km in the valleys. Before independence, the annual population growth was about 1% per year, but since 1991, the growth has been negative. In 1995, the population was estimated to be 1% less than in 1991. Agriculture employs some 25% of the economically active population. Due to the shrinking of the industrial sector since 1990, the contribution of agriculture to GDP reached 38% in 1995, a share much higher than in the 1980s.

Climate and water resources

Climate

Georgia, with an average rainfall of 1 065 mm/year, can be divided into two climatic regions:

- West Georgia, where the climate is subtropical humid. The average precipitation is estimated to vary between 1 100 and 1 700 mm/year. Drainage of excess water is one of the main problems for agriculture in this part of the country. Average temperatures vary between 5C in January and 22C in July.

- East Georgia, where the climate is subtropical dry. The average precipitation varies between 500 and 1 100 mm/year. About 80% of the rainfall occurs from March to October, while the longest dry period is about 50-60 days. Drought years are common. Hail occurs in spring and autumn. There is a need for irrigation in the areas where precipitation is less than 800 mm/year. Average temperatures vary between -1C in January and 22C in July.

TABLE 3

Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential

1989

725 000

ha
Irrigation:      
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area

1996

437 500

ha

    - surface irrigation

1996

366 600

ha

    - sprinkler irrigation

1996

70 900

ha

    - micro-irrigation

1996

0

ha

    % of area irrigated from groundwater

1996

0

%

    % of area irrigated from surface water

1996

100

%

    % of area irrigated from non-conventional sources

1996

0

%
% of equipped area actually irrigated

1996

63

%
2. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b.)

1996

31 500

ha
3. Spate irrigation  

-

ha
Total irrigation (1+2+3)

1996

469 000

ha
- as % of cultivated area  

44

%
- increase over last 10 years  

-

%
- power irrigated area as % of irrigated area

1996

30

%
Full or partial control irrigation schemes: Criteria      
Large-scale schemes > 1 000 ha

1996

359 604

ha
Medium-scale schemes

1996

44 281

ha
Small-scale schemes < 500 ha

1996

33 615

ha
Total number of households in irrigation  

-

 
Irrigated crops:      
Total irrigated grain production

1986

153 250

t

    as % of total grain production

1986

32

%
Harvested crops under irrigation

1986

307 511

ha

    - permanent crops: total

1986

104 970

ha

    - annual crops: total

1986

202 541

ha

    . Pasture and fodder

1986

66 269

ha

    . Vegetables and potatoes

1986

37 813

ha

    . Wheat

1986

27 680

ha

    . Maize

1986

11 647

ha

    . other annual crops

1986

59 132

ha
Drainage - Environment:      
Drained area

1996

164 740

ha

    - drained area in full or partial control irrigated areas

1996

31 800

ha

    - drained area in equipped wetland and i.v.b.

1996

31 500

ha

    - other drained area

1996

101 440

ha
- area with subsurface drains

1996

44 200

ha
- area with surface drains

1996

120 540

ha
Drained area as % of cultivated area  

15

%
Power drained area as % of total drained area

1996

19

%
Area salinized by irrigation  

-

ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases  

-

inhabitants

River basins and water resources

The country can be divided into two main river basin groups:

- The Black Sea basin, in the west of the country. The RSWR generated in this basin are estimated at 42.5 km/year. The main rivers are, from north to south, the Inguri, Rioni and Chorokhi. The main stream of the Chorokhi rises in Turkey (the Corub River), and the inflow from Turkey is estimated at 6.3 km/year.

- The Caspian Sea basin, in the east of the country. The RSWR generated in this basin are estimated at 14.4 km/year. The main rivers are, from north to south: the Terek and Andiyskoye rivers, which rise in the north of the country and flow northeast to the Russian Federation before entering the Caspian Sea; the Alazani, Iori and Kura rivers, which rise in Georgia and flow into Azerbaijan in Lake Adzhinour, and then flow southeast in Azerbaijan before entering the Caspian Sea. Two tributaries of the Kura River rise in Turkey: the Mktvari, with an inflow from Turkey estimated at 0.91 km/year; and the Potskhovi, with an inflow from Turkey estimated at 0.25 km/year. The inflow of the Debet River, a southern tributary of the Kura River, is estimated at 0.89 km/year from Armenia.

The renewable groundwater resources are estimated at 17.23 km/year, of which, however, 16 km/year are considered to be drained by the surface water network (overlap). In 1990, the total water abstraction was estimated at 3 km/year from some 1 700 tube-wells. A further 7 km/year could be abstracted in the future according to a recent assessment. Groundwater use was not greatly developed during the Soviet period, due to the emphasis on large-scale state-run surface irrigation schemes.

The IRWR are estimated at 58.13 km/year and the ARWR at 63.33 km/year.

International agreements and actual water resources

In 1925, an agreement with Turkey was reached on the use of water of the Chorokhi River, allocating half of the average surface water flow to each country. This agreement dealt only with water flow and did not consider the sediment flow estimated at 5 million m/year. About 46% of these sediments form the sand beach and are an important resource, as tourism is of prime importance to Georgia's earnings. Turkey is presently planning to construct a cascade of 11 dams on the Chorokhi River, which will affect the sediment flow and thus the beaches on the Georgian shore. Georgia is pressing for a reconsideration of the agreement, which should not only deal with the allocation of water but also address the issue of sediment flow.

Armenia and Georgia are now working on agreements about the use of the Lake Khanchali and Debet River waters.

Lakes and dams

There are about 43 dams in Georgia, and their total reservoir capacity is estimated at about 3.2 km. The largest dam, for hydropower, is the Inguri dam, with a reservoir capacity of 1.092 km. In 1995, hydropower supplied 89% of electricity. For irrigation purposes, some 31 dams have been built, with a total reservoir capacity of 1 km, of which 782 million m is active. The three largest irrigation reservoirs are all on the Iori River: the Sioni reservoir upstream (325 million m), the Tbilisi reservoir (308 million m) and the Dalimta reservoir downstream (180 million m).

Water withdrawal and wastewater

The total water withdrawal was estimated at 3.5 km/year in 1990 (Figure 2), less than in 1985 (4.6 km). The main reason for this decrease has been the industrial decline since the end of the Soviet Union. This decline resulted in a 50% reduction in industrial water withdrawal between 1985 and 1990.

In 1985, the total produced wastewater was estimated at 614 million m, of which 279 million m (45%) was treated. There is no tradition of treated wastewater re-use in Georgia.

Irrigation and drainage development

Irrigation development

The irrigation potential in Georgia is estimated at 725 000 ha.

There is a tradition of land improvement through irrigation and drainage in Georgia. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the total irrigated area in Georgia was about 112 000 ha. Major investments were made in the irrigation sector during the Soviet period. This resulted in a total area of about 500 000 ha equipped for irrigation at the beginning of the 1980s.

In 1996, irrigation covered 469 000 ha, of which 31 500 ha of equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms and 437 500 ha of full or partial control irrigated areas (Figure 3). River diversion is the main source of water for irrigation (Figure 4). Groundwater is not used for irrigation in Georgia.

The main irrigation technique developed on full or partial control irrigation equipped areas is surface irrigation (Figure 5). Micro-irrigation was practised on an experimental basis on 200 ha in east Georgia at the beginning of the 1990s. However, all micro-irrigated areas were destroyed between 1991 and 1994. Moreover, the high costs of micro-irrigation development have so far limited the scope for future expansion.

Most of the schemes are large-scale schemes (Figure 6). The largest schemes are: the upper Alazani (41 100 ha), the lower Alazani (29 200 ha), the upper Samgori (28 100 ha), and the lower Samgori (29 200 ha).

The part of the equipped area which is actually irrigated is estimated as being limited to 273 769 ha, which is only 63% of the total area, mainly because of security problems for farmers, severe economic stringency and the prevailing political situation.

There is no private irrigation in Georgia. All irrigation schemes are managed by the state through its Department of Land Improvement and Water Economy. Though irrigation remains the responsibility of the state, the land irrigated might be owned either by private farmers or by the state but leased to farmers, cooperatives or agro-firms.

At the beginning of 1997, irrigation water charges were introduced in Georgia, on a basis of $US 3 per 1 000 m. This figure is the same for all schemes in Georgia. It will probably increase in the future since it does not enable O&M costs to be fully recovered. The water charges cover about 12% of the total O&M costs, the government budget covers 15% of the total, while the remaining 73% are not covered, resulting in the degradation of the irrigation systems. In 1996, over 300 000 ha were estimated to be in need of rehabilitation. The current policy is for the government to pay for the O&M of the dams and headworks which have been constructed, while the O&M costs of the distribution and on-farm network should be paid by irrigation users through a higher water charge.

The average cost of irrigation development (1996) varies between $US 3 500 and 4 500/ha for surface irrigation, and between $US 6 500 and 7 200/ha for sprinkler irrigation. Average O&M costs vary between $US 55 and 70/ha per year respectively.

In 1986, the major crops cultivated under full or partial control irrigation were fruit trees and grapes, pasture and fodder crops, vegetables, potatoes, wheat, maize and sunflower (Figure 7). Irrigated crop yields compared relatively favourably with rainfed crop yields, although the average difference is very low due to the good climatic conditions in the areas where rainfed agriculture is practised. In 1986, in the full or partial control irrigation schemes, the average irrigated crop yields were 3.0 t/ha for winter wheat, 2.9 t/ha for maize, 4.8 t/ha for grapes, 5.0 t/ha for fruits and 12 t/ha for potatoes.

Drainage development

In 1996, the total drained area was estimated at 164 740 ha, consisting mainly of surface drainage (Figure 8).

Drainage has been developed mainly in the high rainfall region of western Georgia (Kolkhety lowland), on 132 940 ha out of a total of 164 740 ha for the whole country. The total area of Kolkhety lowland, where drainage infrastructure could be developed in the future, is about 800 000 ha.

About 31 800 ha of full or partial control irrigation equipped areas are also equipped with a network of surface and subsurface drains (Figure 9). About 31 100 ha of the equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms are also power drained. They are located in the coastal regions of west Georgia, in polder systems where electric pumps drain seawater and excess floodwater.

Institutional environment

The main institutions involved in water resources management are:

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food, with:

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Planning, with:

During the Soviet period, many administrative units were involved in the management of the same irrigation scheme. With the institutional changes which have occurred in Georgia, every scheme is now directly managed by one of the 48 administrative units of the Department of Land Improvement and Water Economy.

A water law is being prepared and should be submitted to parliament in 1997.

Trends in water resources management

The irrigation and drainage schemes are in a poor condition. It is estimated that about 300 000 ha, or 68% of the whole irrigation system, need rehabilitation. However, the cost of rehabilitation is very high, and in the cases of several power irrigated schemes, rehabilitation might not be economically justified.

An important constraint is the design of the surface irrigation schemes. Most of the medium- or large-scale schemes were designed during the Soviet period, when the plots were very large. Because of the privatization process in Georgia, most farms now consist of small plots, which require a different water module. Reorganization and simplification of water distribution system in medium- and large-scale schemes is thus a priority.

Small-scale irrigation is developing without any subsidies from the government. Groundwater irrigation is likely to increase in the future for small-scale irrigation schemes, but only in western Georgia where the shallow aquifers are located.

Future irrigation development is expected to be on a very limited scale, particularly for large-scale and medium-scale schemes, mainly because of the high opportunity cost and the shortage of funds. Flow regulation through dams would be needed for these schemes, but the competition between hydropower and irrigation, which do not need water at the same periods, prevents the construction of multipurpose dams.

Although no WUAs have been established so far, farmers will be encouraged to form such associations in the near future, within the framework of the new water law currently under preparation. This law should provide a legal framework for the establishment of water charges in irrigation.

Drainage works might be carried out in the future, particularly in the Kolkhety lowland, with attention to ecological and environmental analysis. The eradication of malaria in this area would be one of the goals of these drainage works. However, opponents of this project propose the halting of land reclamation in the Kolkhety lowland and the creation of a national park.

Emphasis should be placed on drainage maintenance, since some 60% of the salt-affected areas have been equipped with drainage infrastructure, but are no longer being maintained. Salinization is therefore likely to occur in these areas.

Main sources of information

Department of Land Improvement and Water Economy. 1996. Some suggestions on the rehabilitation of land improvement of Georgia. Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Georgia. Tbilisi, 11 p.

European Union: Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States [TACIS]. 1996. Irrigation and drainage evaluation. Prepared by Anthony Zagni for Project No.FDREG9501A, Regional Agricultural Reform Programme, 1, Caucasus Region, Georgia. 60 p.

World Bank. 1996. Georgia: reform in the food and agriculture sector: a World Bank country study. Washington, D.C., 170 p.

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