A WFP assessment mission to villages north of Gori, in the heart of the combat zone, found near-deserted villages, a number of burnt out houses and looted shops. The few people around said that the looting had been carried out by irregular militias, who also slaughtered livestock and stole farm machinery.
They also said they were frightened to go into their fields and orchards because of possible mines and other unexploded ordnance.
Georgian police have returned to the area to maintain order and some people were beginning to trickle back to the villages, just a few kilometres from South Ossetia itself.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have been returning to Gori, where the last military checkpoints were dismantled and abandoned over the weekend. The government is setting up shelters for those without homes to go to, including many from South Ossetia, who are unable to return home. But yesterday, several families were sitting around the statue of Stalin in the main square, surrounded by mattresses and their other belongings. WFP has opened an office and a warehouse in Gori to handle distributions to the returnees.
WFP was one of the first agencies to provide relief to the beleaguered town of Gori following recent hostilities in the region, first sending in food through the Government, then bringing in its own trucks beginning on 17 August. HEBs for 8,000 people were delivered in Gori and a further 8,700 10-day rations (wheat flour, oil, salt, sugar and HEBs) were delivered to villages in the Ateni Gorge, south of Gori, where many IDPs have taken refuge.
WFP organized four airlifts of HEBs to Tbilisi from the UN humanitarian depot in Brindisi, Italy, carrying a total of 150 tons of HEB.
Some 38,000 people from South Ossetia, mainly women and children, fled across the border to the Russian Federation during the early days of the conflict. The Russian Government, through its Ministry for Emergencies (EMERCOM), has launched a major relief effort on the territory of the Russian Federation and in South Ossetia, combined with substantial reconstruction and infrastructure rehabilitation in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and surrounding villages.
As a result, some 23,000 displaced people have reportedly returned to South Ossetia, starting from 12 August; 3,000 people have remained in 41 temporary accommodation centers throughout the Southern Federal District of Russia. They are due to return to South Ossetia by 1 September with logistics support provided by the Russian authorities. An additional 8,700 displaced persons are believed to remain with host families. All tented camps, which were set up to facilitate IDP registration and shelter during the early days of displacement, have been dismantled.
Through on-site visits to temporary accommodation centers in North Ossetia, WFP could confirm a major return movement, facilitated by the Russian authorities. WFP could also confirm that the displaced population on the Russian territory has been adequately assisted with humanitarian supplies and shelter during their time of displacement.
Several IDPs, who we interviewed, indicated that they may wish to stay in the Russian Federation for some time due to damaged school infrastructure in South Ossetia and fear of renewed violence. The North Ossetian Ministry of Education estimates that out of 5,000 South Ossetian school children, 1,000 may stay in North Ossetia for coming new school year. The Ministry confirmed that it would be able to cope with this influx.
On 15 August, the Russian Government invited WFP to complement the on-going relief effort in support of the South Ossetian displaced population in the North Caucasus. Drawing from in-country stocks, WFP has responded with an offer of 200 MT food to be distributed as resettlement/returnee packages to these people.
In coordination with EMERCOM and the local authorities, WFP has set up two distribution points in the town of Alagir, located 60 km from the border with South Ossetia, which serve as a stop-over for the returnees. Distributions have been on-going since Sunday, 24 August. They have been widely publicized by the authorities through the local media to draw the attention of the displaced population. During the first 24 hours of distribution, WFP was able to distribute 1,700 kg of supplementary food rations to 224 beneficiaries.
On Friday, 22 August, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was the first UN official to access South Ossetia through the Russian Federation. His visit was followed by Thomas Hammarberg, European Council Human Rights Commissioner, who accessed South Ossetia on 24 August. Both officials confirmed wide – scale destruction in and around Tskhinvali, as well as EMERCOM’s substantial relief and reconstruction effort. ICRC has sent a mission of several delegates from the Russian Federation to South Ossetia to conduct an assessment and reinforce the office set up.
On 18th August, the UN launched a Flash Appeal for US$59.7 million to meet emergency humanitarian needs over the next six months as a result of the conflict. Under the Appeal, the food sector’s needs are estimated at US$15.8 million. This includes US$12.9 million for WFP to provide basic food rations and a further US$2.7 million for complementary food assistance from Save the Children, World Vision and CARE. WFP is also appealing for US$2.5 million to provide logistics coordination and inter-agency storage capacity and transport.