Leanne Bolano, fourth year undergraduate student in Environmental Science and Management at UC Davis and PATA Blum Grant Awardee 2016.
September 12, 2016
The D-Lab Satellite, two-week intense training in Georgia at the Bediani Regional Education Center (BREC) has been completed, with much success. Although my students have so many great ideas pertaining to natural resource management, I cannot help but think about the challenges they will all face because of one simple artificial resource—roads. There are over 1000 kilometers of roads in Georgia that are deemed “some of the most dangerous roads in the world” . But there are around 6943 kilometers of roads total in Georgia managed by its Department of Roads . It is an interesting dilemma, because it would seem that communities in need would require the latest technological advancements in agriculture or engineering. But in fact, Bediani Village, like many other impoverished areas in the world, would benefit greatly from improvements to road infrastructure.
I can definitely say that I absentmindedly took roads for granted before I came here. In a grand position of privilege, I was genuinely shocked and rode in the car with disbelief as I journeyed from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to my project site in Bediani Village with my project client and BREC Founder, Kakha Bakhtadze. And that was nothing compared to our road trip to Batumi in Western Georgia. The roads in this trip were not only broken, but they were on the side of a mountain cliff most of the way for several hours. The governor of Bediani, Zviad Khapava, informed me that this trip should have only taken eight hours, but due to the bad condition of the roads most of the way, the trip duration lasted double that amount. And in other trips we took around Georgia, we experienced flat tires and scratched exteriors because of the rough terrain.
Although the people here in Georgia seem unfazed by this as they drive on these roads, the issue comes up in conversation at some point during the day, maybe at the dinner table or just in passing. I remember one day before I started teaching, my students informed me that it was “The Day of Bediani”, a local holiday established by a former villager who left Bediani to become rich, and came back to set this day. My students complained, “He comes every year on this day to throw an extravagant party with dancing and lots of food and vodka, yet doesn’t use his riches for real improvements, such as better roads”. And thus, even though a fraction of the village recognizes and celebrates this day, it was clear to me that those that I knew looked at the “holiday” with contempt.
In another example, while I was visiting our farm plot, I was excitedly spewing out some of my ideas for how to develop the 75 acres of land. I told them we could establish a training center where we would invite university students to take classes and work on the farm, and guest lecturers to teach. I also thought that we could invest money in constructing a parking lot so our guests could drive themselves to Bediani. Upon sharing these ideas, Zviad and Kakha told me that perhaps that would not be feasible. When I asked why, they regretfully explained how the rough drive might discourage folks from visiting the center in the first place.
It is disheartening to think that the dreams of my students and others in Georgia might be hindered by the inconvenient access to the project sites. Of course, it would be a misfortune if there were no roads at all—only recently has Georgia established its many roads, allowing travelers to bravely access towns and villages deemed historically, culturally, or naturally significant. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s, Georgia has been attempting to strengthen its role as a transit corridor between its many surrounding countries . However, the number of travelers and the desire to brave those roads are only a small amount due to the condition.
But it seems the Georgian government is making it a priority to improve the quality of the roads. The government has recognized the importance of doing so, considering that Georgia is located between Asia and Europe . There has been an identified desire for increased tourism whether eco-tourism, agro-tourism, or other types. The Georgian government also wishes to increase commerce to and from its own borders, to have a greater variety of goods . Not only are they trying to make the roads safer for more comfortable and convenient travel, but they are also working against a tragic and staggering statistic—around 200,000 travelers die every year because of the dangerous roads .
Regardless of the dangers of the roads in this country, there is no doubt that these roads not only provide access but also breathtaking views. Some of the most scenic vistas in Georgia are located along these routes. From the Georgian Military Road to the Roki Tunnel, these areas attract daring, adventurous travelers each year . But perhaps after some advancements in infrastructure, the enjoyment of these sights can be more inclusive. Some of the best pictures I took during my time in Georgia were from the car, or from a stop on the side of the road. So at the least, I am thankful to have been able to travel on these roads at all—our road trips definitely made for some unforgettable memories. But I hope my friends in Bediani get to make some easier trips sometime soon.
 “Georgia – in BBC’s World’s Most Dangerous Roads Documentary.” GeorgianJournal. Georgian Journal, 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Sept. 2016. http://www.georgianjournal.ge/discover-georgia/21905-georgia-in-bbcs-worlds-most-dangerous-roads-documentary.html/
 “Dangerousroads.” Georgia. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2016. http://www.dangerousroads.org/eastern-europe/georgia.html/
 “Improving Safety on Georgia’s Roads.” Agenda.Ge. Agenda.Ge, 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 5 Sept. 2016. http://agenda.ge/news/52587/eng/
 “Roads of Georgia.” GIRCA. GIRCA, 2016. Web. 5 Sept. 2016. http://girca.org/