Tbilisi’s deadly floods

Kato writes*

The night of June 13, 2015, is a moment in Tbilisi’s history that residents will never forget. What is now known as the “June Tragedy” was a Saturday evening when the thunderstorm hit Tbilisi, swelling river Vere and causing a destructive flood that killed 21 residents. Excessive atmospheric precipitation has caused the swelling of the Vere River periodically starting from 1893, which has had detrimental effects on Tbilisi’s economy and infrastructure. Originating from Georgia’s eastern slopes, the river flows into the Mtkvari River basin in Tbilisi, the valley covering heavily inhabited settlements, like Vake and Bagebi.

Rescuers in Tbilisi street after 2015 flooding. June, 2015

There are two dimensions of the flood, natural and human. Experts have deduced the main natural cause of the 2015 flood to be the torrential rainfall that lasted for about 3 hours, creating an excessive amount of surface water on the slopes of the Vere Valley. Deforestation and human degradation of forest covers have resulted in the loss of its water-retention ability, causing a deadly flood. In the Vere Valley, the forest cover has decreased from 8% to 0.4% (HumanRights, 2015), and none of the trees are older than 20, which is relatively young compared to the required 40-50-year lifespan.

Different causes have been attributed to the severity of the flood’s effect, but one of them is certain- the increasing infrastructure in the river’s valley. Merab Gafrindashvili, the head of the Geology Department of the National Agency of the Ministry of Environmental Protection stated: “Since the 50s, the exploitation of the Vere River began in an unsystematic manner. The floodplain of the river belongs to the river, we started building residential houses, houses, parking lots and a zoo in this place, due to which the river could not carry the timber and sand material brought down by the flood.” (NewPress, 2015)

Due to the increasing effects of climate change, the floods have only been increasing in Tbilisi. The most recent occurred on 30th August 2023, when precipitation exceeded 2015’s flood by 200 percent. Once again the root of the tragedy was the landslide on the road connecting Tskneti-Bethania. The land mass amounting to one million cubic meters in the Vere River Valley caused destructive flooding. According to the official reports the damage done amounted to around US$90 million (Sputnik, 2023).

Georgia, as a county with a high risk of natural disasters, has been trying to adapt to the accelerated speed of climate change and take measures. Due to frequent rains, rivers start to rise, coming out of the riverbed and destroying local infrastructure. The government has been adapting to the circumstances by funding projects with UNDP to ensure protection from natural risks (UNDP, 2021). Nevertheless, it still has a long way to go as even the capital, Tbilisi, “lacks an updated master plan with infrastructure development based on clearly defined construction standards and a thorough assessment of the environmental and social impact of growth.” (Medium, 2015).

As water levels rise, it is taking a toll on residential life, agriculture, and economic development. Governments and experts should strive to prevent future catastrophes by any means. In the words of Louisa Vinton, UNDP Representative Resident of Georgia: “There is nothing inevitable about a natural disaster. They are always caused ultimately by human beings. So if human beings cause natural disasters, then they can prevent them.” (UNDP, 2021)

Bottom Line: Destructive floods, torrential rainfall, exploitation, rising water levels, natural disasters.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

One thought on “Tbilisi’s deadly floods”

  1. Hi Kato,
    A very interesting blog post to read! I really like how you distinguished the impacts of the floods into human and natural domains, as they are indeed very different. A decline in forest cover from 8% to 0.4% is huge, especially since it increases the risks of mudslide significantly. You mention that the government has been adapting to the circumstances by funding projects with UNDP to ensure protection from natural risks. I was wondering what type of projects they are funding and how do they help decrease the risks of flooding and mudslides?

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