Georgia’s billionaire ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said he would fill the Tbilisi flood relief funding gap if there is any and will support relocation of the flood-hit Tbilisi zoo from its current location to the outskirts of the city.
In his first comments since the deadly flood hit the capital city from the night of June 13 to June 14, Ivanishvili told journalists on Thursday that it is primarily up to the government to raise relief foods, including from donors, to tackle consequences of the disaster in which at least 19 people died and 3 others remain missing.
According to the most recent government estimations flood damage cost may exceed GEL 100 million (about USD 45m).
“They [the authorities] are trying actively to find resources to maximally cover the cost, but if they fail [to raise full amount of required funds], you can deem [shortfall] filled – they have this guarantee from me that I will fund the gap what the authorities, businesses, society fail to raise,” Ivanishvili said and added that businesses and the public is “very active” in contributing funds.
He said that he would also support relocation of the Tbilisi zoo to a water reservoir, known as Tbilisi Sea.
The Tbilisi City Hall has announced after the flood that the zoo would be relocated and the government said a park would be built on the area now occupied by the flooded zoo in memory of those who lost the lives in the flood and as a “symbol of unity and solidarity” showed by the people in overcoming consequences of the disaster.
Although there have been plans for the relocation of the zoo for many years already, it has never been implemented mostly because of financial reasons.
“I never liked zoo’s [current] location,” said Ivanishvili, who keeps his private zoo reportedly with zebras, flamingoes and penguins. “If we keep them [animals] captive, we should treat them with dignity. I think our zoo was not on an exemplary level in this regard.”
The State Security and Crisis Management Council said on June 18 that a tiger and a striped hyena still remained unaccounted for from the flooded Tbilisi zoo. Police received several reports since June 17, after a white tiger attacked and killed a man in a warehouse in the Tbilisi center, that a tiger was spotted in some of the residential areas, including in Vake and Saburtalo neighborhoods; but nothing was found after the police searched those areas. One such report also came from Rustavi, a town close to Tbilisi, on June 18.
Commenting on government’s response to the disaster, Ivanishvili said that the authorities were “doing their utmost” and were “maximally mobilized.”
“I think that everything was done well,” he said.
Asked if there were mistakes, he responded: “Not serious ones. It is impossible not to make even a slight mistake when someone is doing some deed. Nothing is perfect. But you – the journalists and society – should make objective assessments.”
Critics say that the government was late in its response to the disaster. Opponents say that the authorities should have at least blocked the traffic on the Amirejibi highway connecting Tamarashvili street with the Heroes Square, along the river Vere channel, after learning about the massive landslide outside Tbilisi.
Massive landslide, caused by heavy rainfall on June 13, on Tskneti-Betania road outside Tbilisi, dammed up Vere river, which then burst, sending torrent of fast-flowing water down all along the river channel towards the capital city center via parts of Vake and Saburtalo districts.
Meanwhile, prosecutor’s office launched an investigation, which, it said, would focus on finding out if the construction of the Amirejibi highway in the river Vere channel was properly planned. The highway, which was constructed under the previous authorities, was opened in 2010. Some senior officials, among them PM Irakli Garibashvili, have suggested that improperly planned highway in the Vere river channel exacerbated consequences.
Asked about the controversial highway, Ivanishvili said it’s up to the relevant specialists to assess. “The disaster would have probably happened anyway; now no one will probably be able to weigh what would have happened if the [Vere riverbed] was not put [at some places along the highway] into [additional] tunnels.” He said that it’s up to specialists to assess, but he shares the view of those who thinks that it was wrong to put the riverbed in additional tunnels.
Speaking with journalists after presentation of a new project, funded by his organization, involving helping business startups for students, Ivanishvili also noted contribution of thousands of young people volunteering in clearing up flood-affected areas. “They showed that the country is in reliable hands,” Ivanishvili said.