Abkhazia to twist Georgia round its little port06.09.2011 | 21:03
Ochamchira, an almost deserted port in Abkhazia, will probably soon revive. In August, leader of Latvian expert group, Doctor of Economics Uldis Osis submitted the program on building a deep-water sea port surrounded by a free economic zone to Abkhaz authorities. The project may change the entire economic situation in the region and thus inevitably affect the Georgian-Abkhaz relationship. In an interview to GeorgiaTimes, Georgian expert Giorgy Khukhashvili told about what may happen if large-scale economic projects are realized on both sides of the border.
economic projects are realized on both sides of the border.
International observers who have travelled over Abkhazia during the recent presidential elections say that life in the republic stops somewhere around Kodorsky Bridge, a notional boundary between the country's central and eastern parts. Perhaps, that's not quite so but the fact is that the after-war breakdown and economic depression in the east of Abkhazia are not yet overcome unlike in west resorts. New roads have been built and houses have been repaired but there are still only two ways to earn money here: small business and a kitchen garden.
Ochamchira is one of the most depressive towns of the country. There is a nice highway running towards the town but the locality opens with an abandoned filling station and a row of old houses overgrown with wild grass, with mini-hotels standing out unexpectedly from this row. Over one half of the town housing stock is empty, for it's impossible to earn one's living here. There are five thousand people living in Ochamchira, so there is no point in building large shops. People are few and they have no money. The sea is crystal-clear and vegetables are cheap here but that's not the way out.
A project presented by leader of the Latvian group of experts may become a remedy for the town. The main point of the program is the construction of a deep-water sea port with the starting cargo transshipment in the volume of ten million tons per year.
"The Program also implies developing the adjoining territory of the sea port into the Ochamchira free economic zone (FEZ) including an innovation center, industrial zone, entertainment zone, an exhibition complex, hotels and other facilities with a relevant logistic system", - the program goes.
It means, in fact, that the depressing town will be transformed into a transport hub to provide thousands of workplaces to the region suffering from permanent unemployment.
The construction of a large-scale seaport within 30 kilometers from the Georgian-Abkhaz boundary shut for the civilized economic activity may at first seem utopic. But Latvians are always reasonable. In their estimation, they do not reckon on those opportunities that may open if political problems are settled. The port will be meant for the transshipment of bulk cargos from Abkhazia and Southern Russia. Under conditions when the Black Sea coast is engaged in tourist facilities construction, it is clear that Ochamchira has got every chance to find its niche in the regional overseas transportation market.
There is a port in Ochamchira already. It services Turkish vessels carrying coal from the mines located in the Abkhaz mountains. A railroad runs from the mining town of Tkuarchal to the coast; a coal train running along from time to time. Coal is mostly carried out by automobile transport. Private houses are lining the railroad outside the town; people say that they are not afraid to leave the cattle roaming about near the road. Trains are so seldom here, moving at such a low speed that no cow is in danger.
By the way, people are so far unaware of the presented program on reviving their town. Local authorities have been "suspended" after the elections, busy with other things. But Latvia's initiative could not be missed by the neighbouring Georgia.
We asked a well-known Sakartvelo economic expert Giorgy Khukhashvili about the way the situation in the region will be affected by such a powerful project. He says the positive effect of the free economic zone construction in Ochamchira is possible if the project is a joint one.
"Of course, the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict could be best settled through joint economic activity and common projects. If political circumstances were favourable, joint projects could help change the situation profoundly. However, I feel skeptic at the moment, for I see no steps towards each other", - Khukhashvili stated.
At the same time, in the expert's opinion, considering the current political reality, active economic activity only brings the parts of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict apart. "Large-scale economic projects realized separately by Georgia and Abkhazia in the near-border zone do not help settle the conflict. If Georgia does not accept Abkhazia as a partner, the latter will seek investments in other countries. These investors do not care at all whether the conflict will be settled or not. Thus, Abkhazia and Georgia are building different economic areas and if Abkhazian economy goes up there will be no point in any joint projects with the Georgians", - the expert says.