The South Caucasus region is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, mudflows and avalanches mainly directly related to the mountainous nature of the region. The risks of earthquakes are particularly high and have caused larges casualties and damages (e.g. in Spitak, Armenia 1988, Baku, Azerbaijan 2000 and Tbilisi, Georgia 2002). Meanwhile, the risks related to landslides, floods, mudflows, avalanches and debris flows appears to have increased in recent years mainly due to forest clearance, blocking of water courses, mineral exploitation processes and poor infrastructure construction. Further, extreme weather is among frequently occurring hazards.

Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan are the most populated cities in the region and all of them are showing intense economic activity. At the same time, these cities are highly vulnerable to earthquakes and potentially vulnerable to floods. In June 2015 a flash flood affected one of the central districts of Tbilisi. The flooding, which left 19 people dead and caused damage put at 50 million EUR, was the biggest natural disaster to befall the city in living memory.

Even though 57% of the South Caucasus population lives in urban surroundings, considerable DRR initiatives involving urban communities have not started yet. Climate change is expected to exacerbate disasters associated with hydro-meteorological hazards. Furthermore, a main long term impact will be a decrease in water availability and potential for droughts. This could have negative influence particularly on the population of remote and less developed areas where agriculture is still the main means of income. This is complemented by the fact that more than 30% of the population lives below the poverty line, making it highly vulnerable to the adverse consequences of climate related disasters.

Against that background, the Red Cross/Red Crescent DRR programmes’ focus is directed by a range of natural and technological disaster threats and experiences in all three countries, including earthquake, flood and drought, as well as a growing understanding of the complexity and scale of urban vulnerability in each country, and the likely impact of climate change. The change process being supported is guided by the relationship between disasters and poverty, access to water and the livelihoods challenges of isolated rural communities.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement

The regional approach towards disaster risk reduction dates back to Sept/Oct. 2009, when an assessment was carried out in each Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia looking at the DRR context and needs at the levels of South Caucasus, country and region. Further, the institutional capacities, resources, strategies, plans, and ongoing Disaster Preparedness (DP)/ Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) activities of the potential implementing partners (Georgia Red Cross Society GRCS, Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society AzRC and Armenian Red Cross Society ARCS) were assessed together with those of other DP/DRR actors and stakeholders. The assessment was conducted by a joint team of the Danish Red Cross (DRC), the Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC), the Icelandic Red Cross (IRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) with the full participation of the potential implementing partners GRCS, AzRC and ARCS.

Starting from April 2010, the DRC started its first regional community based disaster risk reduction programme in Armenia and Georgia, supported by funding from DIPECHO with co-financing from the DRC and IRC, in a consortium including the IFRC. The programme was implemented by the ARCS and GRCS working closely with at-risk communities, local Red Cross branches and volunteers, and local, regional and national government authorities and rescue services. It developed new community based volunteer emergency response and preparedness teams in twelve communities, worked through schools in the same communities to promote awareness of disaster risk reduction to implement family level emergency preparedness planning and conducted risk mitigation projects in the communities in Georgia.

The Regional Programme for Building Resilient Local Communities in Georgia and Armenia is a Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) programme implemented by the national Red Cross Societies in the two countries, in line with the DG ECHO Humanitarian Implementation Plan 2014. It is co-funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department and Civil Protection (DIPECHO) and by Danish Red Cross (DRC) which leads a consortium comprising IRC and Austrian Red Cross (AutRC) as well as the Swiss Red Cross (SRC) and the IFRC.

The objective of the programme (in Georgia) is to enhance the resilience of people in South Caucasus by reducing their vulnerability to underlying risks and disasters’ impacts. The area of intervention is Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti and Imereti regions, mainly: Sachkhere, Tkibuli, Chiatura, Lentekhi, Tsageri, Ambrolauri, Oni and surrounding villages.

The objective of the programme (in Armenia) is to reduce the vulnerability and improve the resilience of the people in the South Caucasus living in rural communities most prone to natural disasters. The area of intervention is Shirak region with its 25 rural communities and 170 schools.

The regional programme Building Safe and Resilient Communities in South Caucasus (BSRC) is being implemented – under the lead of Austrian Red Cross – by ARCS, GRCS and AzRC respectively, with financial support of the Austrian Development Cooperation and the AutRC and SRC.

The overall objective of the programme is to contribute towards reduced vulnerability and safety of rural and urban population in the Southern Caucasus; while the specific objective is to enhance and sustainably strengthen resilience of targeted vulnerable rural and urban communities to natural and manmade disasters in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Areas of interventions are Lori region (Armenia); Ismayilli and Gusar regions (Azerbaijan) and Kakheti region (Georgia). The project was launched end of 2012 and continues to be implemented until end of 2018.

Synergies with other actors

Both regional programmes are designed to complement and build on the Consortium Partners' strategies, experiences and strengths in not only South Caucasus but also the global approach of sharing DRR lessons learnt undertaken by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and the wider humanitarian sector.

They aim is to develop from and complement the experiences gained with DIPECHO partners over the previous phases. Joint South Caucasus DIPECHO evaluations have been consulted to build on the regional lessons learned and ensure regional programmatic cohesion. The programmes are engaging with DIPECHO partners in South Caucasus to coordinate and ensure standardization of approaches within community volunteer groups and school safety as well as deliver trainings and facilitate simulations. Agreements have been made to ensure cooperation in both methodology and implementation. This includes cooperation with UNICEF and Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB), the Armenian National DRR Platform (ARNAP) that covers joint workshops, updating of tools and methodologies and cooperation on implementation of specific activities. The cooperation will enhance the communication between the DIPECHO partners and create room for continuous information and experience sharing to increase impact and quality of implementation.

Synergies are also being explored outside the South Caucasus region with the German Red Cross led DIPECHO IX action in Central Asia where a common Red Cross approach is applied and sharing of lessons learnt benefit all programme partners.

Having IFRC as a valuable consortium partner on board, the regional programmes also benefit from the Red Cross Movement’s global experience with DRR and community resilience by exchanging experiences with the Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Centre and other initiatives.