By Nino Abdaladze, Nanuka Bregadze and Mariam Ugrekhelidze
Today the amount of green cover, land covered with natural or planted vegetation, is 3 square meters per person in Tbilisi. While 40 years ago this number was up to 13 square meters. The reason, besides construction, is that the green cover policy has no purpose. In 2016-2018 in Tbilisi 82,449 trees died and were cut down. Currently, 22 thousand trees are marked as diseased and 20 thousand will be cut down.
During a four-month investigation, iFact found out that Tbilisi City Hall does not take proper care of those trees which survive being cut down. It does not have long-term strategy for treating diseased trees and does not follow the recommendations of the specialists:
- Despite specialists’ recommendations, chemical tree spraying has been 3-4 months too late for the last 3 years. During this delay, parasites, both plants and bugs, reproduce and damage trees even more severely.
- The spraying method that the contractor companies have been using, has not been effective.
- Tbilisi City Hall instructs contractors to reduce the number of times they spray each tree. For example, they spray trees in an area two times instead of three and use the extra spray in another area.
Treatment process starts with the phytosanitary research. City Hall hires companies with laboratories to inspect trees and recommend what treatment is needed and when and how often they should be treated.
After the phytosanitary research, Tbilisi City Hall announces the tender for hiring the company which will spray trees against diseases and parasites.
Late spraying does not save trees from dying
Despite the specialists’ recommendations spraying has never started on early Spring in last 3 years.
LLC “Gard Service” is the company that sprayed trees for the last two years. Obligation fulfillment documents, presented by the contractor company, say that in 2017 spraying started in August and in 2018 – in mid-June. In 2016 the company that did the work was LLC “Tbilisi Anano and Giorgi” and it started in the end of June.
Director of LLC “Gard Service”, Levan Devdariani, says that in order to save trees, spraying should start on early Spring, so that parasites do not have time to reproduce. “Spraying starts at the end of May – beginning of June. When the nature awakes, parasites awake as well. It manages to produce one-two generations and then you start to work. The phytosanitary research tender should be announced in winter, so that spraying can start in April.”
Tbilisi City Hall does not agree with Devdariani’s opinion that spraying starts late. Giga Gigashvili, head of the City’s Environmental Protection Department thinks that starting work in May-June in 2018 was not late and it would not have affected the condition of trees in a negative way.
Andro Khetereli, head of the “Agrarian Movement” based at Georgian Agricultural University, explains the effect of delaying treatment: “Spraying the trees in November instead of May allows parasites to produce more generations. One parasite produces 100 others. Each of these 100 produce other 100, and so it goes.”
Wrong spraying has worsened the condition of pine trees
Safe Space NGO head Ana Gabriadze agrees with the specialists. By on time inspections and spraying she saved pine trees in Dighomi Park.
Ana Gabriadze managed to save pine trees in Dighomi Park, but in the rest of the city those trees are in the worst condition. The disease was not defined correctly and therefore, treatment was not effective. According to deputy mayor Maia Bitadze, all pine trees in the city are diseased, including those that have been sprayed for years.
Giga Gigashvili, head of the City’s Environmental Protection Department, admits pine tree spraying has been ineffective: “We did not know the exact disease,” he said. “Georgian specialists said it was a fungal disease, but it was not proved by laboratory works later. Therefore it was impossible to plan accordingly.” Gigashvili also cited lack of experience, money and technical equipment.
In order to study the condition of pine trees, Tbilisi City Hall invited Spanish expert Maria Jose Briongoso in October of 2018 to study the condition of pine trees. Her conclusion has not been shared with the public. Gigashvili said “it may cause a diversity of (public) opinion.” We requested the research done by Spanish expert, but the City Hall said it is their “internal working document” and refused to send.
Based on the Spanish expert’s findings, City Hall has decided to use an injection method in 2019. Gigashvili said the method has not been used in Georgia. However, a 2016 study by the company LLC “Geoanalytics” suggested this method could be used. But nobody took their recommendations into account. Gigashili claimed the company did not give them this list of chemicals. While the research clearly shows the names and exact amounts.
Partial Treatment Does Not Save Trees
The analysis of obligation fulfillment documents showed that Tbilisi City Hall has not sprayed all the addresses indicated in the research. It means that the City Hall does not accurately follow the recommendations.
We created a database of those addresses that should have been sprayed according to phytosanitary researches. Then we compared this list to the one given in obligation fulfillment documents presented by the companies after they had finished spraying.
The documents show that first the company indicates in phytosanitary research which addresses should be sprayed. Then Tbilisi City Hall decides where to actually spray. For example, in 2017 LLC “Eco environment” recommended to treat Linden and Plane trees throughout Tbilisi. But instead of the entire city, only certain territories were sprayed. Gigashvili said “some territories may be left without treatment”. He again blamed a lack of money.
We checked trees at three different addresses which should have been sprayed three times in a year, but weren’t. Some trees in these areas are dying.
Despite the fact that Tbilisi City Hall does not spray all the streets, it also reduces the amount of spraying. For example, if the research advises them to spray trees 3 times on certain territories, they do it once or twice.
According to obligation fulfillment documents, in 2018 only 1% of areas, that should have been sprayed three times in one year, actually received three treatments. In 2016-2017 documents show there were no such areas that have been treated 3 times.
On May 10, 2018 Tbilisi City Hall signed an agreement with LLC “Gard Service” to spray 40,000 trees three times. In September, City Hall informed the company that trees which were sprayed twice did not need to be treated again. So the company sprayed trees at different addresses.
Gigashvili says that the decision was made based on reports of specialists at Tbilisi City Hall. “I am also responsible for those 40,000 trees being sprayed only twice,” he said. Among these 40,000 are pine trees in 9 April Park. Many of them are diseased.
Giga Gigashvili said that reducing the amount of spraying happens because of the lack of resources. In 2019 phytosanitary research and spraying tender documents Tbilisi City Hall does not indicate the number of spraying anymore.
It is difficult to visually see the difference between the tree that has been sprayed and the one that has not been. We discussed all the possibilities and trees, especially pine trees are dying.
We also checked three places that were sprayed three times. It appeared that some of these trees are dying.
“When 50-year-old pine trees die, it breaks my heart. If you take Aspirin for the infection, you may feel better, but you won’t recover. It’s the same. Pine trees have a parasite and they instructed me to spray with different chemicals, not the ones are used against parasites. Those chemicals do not kill parasites.” – says Levan Devdariani, director of LLC “Gard Service”.
Gigashvili admitted that the chemicals used were not effective. He says that their partner foreign experts also share this opinion.
Chemicals are defined by phytosanitary research. Then Tbilisi City Hall tells the spraying company to use those chemicals.
According to the interviews with the company director Levan Devdariani and Tbilisi City Hall representative – Giga Gigashvili, the chemicals used were not effective. We tried to interview those companies that have prepared the phytosanitary researches in 2016-2018 years. All of them refused to talk to us.
Giga Gigashvili, head of the City’s Environmental Protection Department says that the City Hall has just started to work on the long-term strategy. This year the same company will do the phytosanitary research and spraying. The finances has increased with 93 223 Lari since last year and is up to 160 532 Lari. 22 thousand diseased trees are marked around the city and 20 thousand is being cut down.