U.S. Sees Need for Food in Georgia

ReutersA man yelling "Russia Out!" while marching with refugees to a Russian checkpoint on the Tbilisi-Gori road Tuesday.
TBILISI -- The need for food in Georgia is growing, a U.S. general said Tuesday as C-130 transport planes ferried in tons of supplies and the U.S. military said it would aid Georgians displaced by the war with Russia for as long as they need help.

U.S. Army Brigadier General Jon Miller said he was told that food was the major issue for people west of the capital, Tbilisi, because only sporadic convoys carrying rations had been able to get through.

Georgian government officials said Russian checkpoints had made it difficult to get supplies into some areas, including Poti, a port city on the Black Sea cost.

Georgian Finance Minister Nika Gilavri said the government hoped to truck 30,000 meals ready-to-eat and 40,000 humanitarian daily rations, a two-day supply, to Gori later Tuesday. In a meeting with Miller and members of USAID on Tuesday, Gilavri said they also hoped to take 12,000 rations of food to smaller towns in western Georgia.

Efforts to get food elsewhere had, in some cases, been slowed by Russian troops, Gilavri said.

"Right now there are Russian soldiers and tanks at Poti," the Black Sea port, Gilavri said. "They want to open every single container" and inspect them.

Miller said best estimates show that about 80,000 Georgians were displaced by the fierce fighting, about 50 percent of those in and around Tbilisi, the capital.

"People were pushed out of their homes literally with the clothes on their back," Miller said.

The United Nations refugee agency estimates that a total of 158,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, including those within the breakaway region of South Ossetia, the center of the conflict, and across the Russian border in North Ossetia.

Miller said that in Tbilisi, most refugees were being sheltered in schools, municipal buildings and, in some cases, structures that were previously condemned.

Those refugees were in need of blankets and cots, but Miller said Georgia's government says it has been able to provide them with enough food. Miller arrived in Georgia on Monday with a team of 25 personnel to begin a thorough assessment of the humanitarian needs in the small, U.S.-backed country, and has met with nongovernmental organizations on the ground and Georgia government officials.