Georgia, Travellers information

Region / Country specific information - Georgia

From the CIA World Factbook
Click for a larger map of Georgia.

(click for larger map )

Background:

Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Ethnic separation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, poor governance, and Russian military bases deny the government effective control over the entirety of the state's internationally recognized territory. Despite myriad problems, progress on market reforms and democratization support the country's goal of greater integration with Western political, economic, and security institutions

Location:

Southwestern Asia, bordering the Black Sea, between Turkey and Russia

Geographic coordinates:

42 00 N, 43 30 E

Area:

total: 69,700 sq km
water: 0 sq km
land: 69,700 sq km

Land boundaries:

total: 1,461 km
border countries: Armenia 164 km, Azerbaijan 322 km, Russia 723 km, Turkey 252 km

Coastline:

310 km

Climate:

warm and pleasant; Mediterranean-like on Black Sea coast

Terrain:

largely mountainous with Great Caucasus Mountains in the north and Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the south; Kolkhet'is Dablobi (Kolkhida Lowland) opens to the Black Sea in the west; Mtkvari River Basin in the east; good soils in river valley flood plains, foothills of Kolkhida Lowland

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Black Sea 0 m
highest point: Mt'a Shkhara 5,201 m

Natural resources:

forests, hydropower, manganese deposits, iron ore, copper, minor coal and oil deposits; coastal climate and soils allow for important tea and citrus growth

Land use:

arable land: 11.21%
permanent crops: 4.09%
other: 84.7% (1998 est.)

Irrigated land:

4,700 sq km (1998 est.)

Natural hazards:

earthquakes

Environment - current issues:

air pollution, particularly in Rust'avi; heavy pollution of Mtkvari River and the Black Sea; inadequate supplies of potable water; soil pollution from toxic chemicals

Environment - international agreements:

party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography - note:

strategically located east of the Black Sea; Georgia controls much of the Caucasus Mountains and the routes through them

People

Population:

4,934,413 (July 2003 est.)

Age structure:

0-14 years: 18.6% (male 466,743; female 449,440)
15-64 years: 68.4% (male 1,628,757; female 1,744,922)
65 years and over: 13% (male 252,031; female 392,520) (2003 est.)

Median age:

total: 34.8 years
male: 32.6 years
female: 37 years (2002)

Population growth rate:

-0.52% (2003 est.)

Government

Country name:

conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Georgia
local short form: Sak'art'velo
former: Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic
local long form: none



Government type:

republic

Capital:

T'bilisi

Independence:

9 April 1991 (from Soviet Union)

National holiday:

Independence Day, 26 May (1918); note - 26 May 1918 is the date of independence from Soviet Russia, 9 April 1991 is the date of independence from the Soviet Union

Economy

Economy - overview:

Georgia's main economic activities include the cultivation of agricultural products such as citrus fruits, tea, hazelnuts, and grapes; mining of manganese and copper; and output of a small industrial sector producing alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, metals, machinery, and chemicals. The country imports the bulk of its energy needs, including natural gas and oil products. Its only sizable internal energy resource is hydropower. Despite the severe damage the economy has suffered due to civil strife, Georgia, with the help of the IMF and World Bank, has made substantial economic gains since 1995, achieving positive GDP growth and curtailing inflation. However, the Georgian Government suffers from limited resources due to a chronic failure to collect tax revenues. Georgia also suffers from energy shortages; it privatized the T'bilisi distribution network in 1998, but collection rates are low, making the venture unprofitable. The country is pinning its hopes for long-term growth on its role as a transit state for pipelines and trade. The start of construction on the Baku-T'bilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-T'bilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline will bring much-needed investment and job opportunities.

GDP:

purchasing power parity - $15 billion (2002 est.)

GDP - real growth rate:

4% (2002 est.)

GDP - per capita:

purchasing power parity - $3,100 (2001 est.)

GDP - composition by sector:

agriculture: 20%
industry: 25%
services: 55% (2002 est.)
Population below poverty line:
54% (2001 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 2.3%
highest 10%: 27.9% (1996)






Distribution of family income - Gini index:

37.1 (1996)

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

5.2% (2002 est.)

Labor force:

2.1 million (2001 est.)

Labor force - by occupation:

industry 20%, agriculture 40%, services 40% (1999 est.)

Unemployment rate:

17% (2001 est.)

Budget:

revenues: $499 million
expenditures: $554 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (2001 est.)

Industries:

steel, aircraft, machine tools, electrical appliances, mining (manganese and copper), chemicals, wood products, wine

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Biking in Georgia - A different experience.

Submitted by Kevin Cain, residing in Georgia;

Biking in Georgia is certainly different and the country does not really have a biking culture. There was some biking activity in the old Soviet days, mainly speedway and some motocross, and the farmers and police have always used Ural bikes with sidecars as a cheap means of transport, but it was never really seen as a leisure activity until recently.

The Georgian Traffic Law and Highway Code have no provisions for motorcycles; there is no training and no form of driving test. Any Georgian biker who has the appropriate stamp on his driving licence must merely convince the issuing office that he is competent (and normally a small present helps). There is no requirement for insurance and indeed no means of insuring a motorcycle here. Of course helmets are not compulsory and I have even been stopped by the police, to be told that it was not right to wear a helmet in Georgia! The police in Tbilisi have recently been equipped with some old Moto Guzzi’s, and though they do wear open face helmets, they do not fasten the straps!

The situation is slowly changing as far as the number and type of bikes is concerned. When I first arrived on my BMW R1100GS in 1997, it was one of the first foreign motorcycles in Georgia, and then a Gold Wing was imported followed by a Super Tenere. One or two other expats followed my example and imported KTM’s from a dealership in Istanbul. A Bikers Club (Camelot) was formed and consisted mainly of old Soviet machines as well as beautifully restored BMWs from the Second\World War (of which there are many just lying around in bits). Some of the more ingenious Georgians have constructed chopper type bikes from what was available. In the past year there has been an increase in the number of bikes imported, mainly second hand from Europe, including some very fast sports bikes. I myself was riding a Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird for a while, but it is entirely unsuited to the poor roads in Georgia and it was impossible to really enjoy the bike here. My R1100GS was far more suited to the local conditions and I was also able to make a further return trip to Europe on this bike. It has now been replaced by a new R1150 GS Adventure, which is perfect.

A further problem facing Georgian bikers is a complete lack of any dealership or workshop. All spare parts must be individually imported, but there are several good mechanics available to do regular maintenance. Because of the lack of formal training and the fact that most journeys are limited to a small radius around Tbilisi, there is considerable ignorance concerning the correct usage of modern motorcycles, and most Georgians will not believe me when I say that 80% of braking should normally be via the front brake. They ride with considerable abandon in traffic and most of the bikes are dropped regularly, fortunately with minimum damage to the riders. Motorists are also unused to seeing bikes on the road. The Bikers Club is trying to do some basic training and I have tried to help training by supplying videos, but there is much more that needs to be done.

Georgia is in fact an excellent country for biking though the roads are generally very poor. On the other hand the scenery is beautiful and the weather very suitable for biking. We are a bit off the normal route for travellers, though we do see the occasional long distance rider coming through. Two German tourists came through on BMW R1100RT’s not long ago and made the mistake of offloading their panniers and leaving the bikes in the street overnight. Of course by morning they had gone. Because bikes are still fairly rare here, Georgians seeing a parked bike feel that this is an open invitation to sit on the bike and see how it feels. I learnt to my cost that it is always best to leave my bikes on the centre stand and only to park where I can keep an eye on the bike. On one occasion my bike was pushed over causing considerable damage.

In defence of the Georgian bikers, it must be said that with a few exceptions, very few have enough money to buy a good bike. Most Georgian Bikers are very young and new tyres and spare parts are very expensive for them. Very few indeed have any form of proper protective clothing. Even though recently some have started to wear helmets, in most cases these are borrowed from friends and do not fit properly. There is a very small market for second hand bikes and though more and more people are becoming interested in biking as a leisure activity, the cost of a good second hand bike is more than most Georgians would pay for a car. The Bikers Club makes every effort to raise public awareness of biking with frequent articles in the press and appearances on local television programmes. Two Georgian bikers were recently invited to join the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan trip on their own bikes and received some sponsorship to cover their expenses. Georgian bikers are very enthusiastic about biking, and in view of the obsta cles and difficulties they are facing, it requires considerable determination and commitment to enjoy their hobby.

Though biking is a different experience in Georgia, the Georgian bikers are very enthusiastic and deserve all the support that they can get. Biking in Georgia has been a very rewarding experience for me and has enabled me to make very many friends. The trend towards bike ownership is increasing year by year and this is a very positive factor towards the development of biking here. There is an urgent need for basic and advanced training but I can just see the face of my old instructors in London if faced with a group of Georgian bikers with no helmets or proper protective clothing! I also have a small (185cc) Honda which I have been using to teach some friends, but in most cases new Georgian riders are learning on much more powerful machines and in the absence of a legal limitation on the machines which can be ridden by new riders such as we have in Europe, then this state of affairs is likely to continue. We look with envy on the sort of training and rides that (riders) are able to organise in Turkey, an d even though we are the neighbouring country, it takes two days hard riding to reach Istanbul. If ever an event were to be organised towards the East of Turkey then I am sure that we could find some Georgian bikers to participate.

From a personal point of view, I have now crossed Turkey 4 times by bike – twice along the Black Sea route and twice through Erzerum/Kars, which is the most spectacular and beautiful ride with very little traffic. Unfortunately I have twice fallen foul of the Turkish road repair gangs who spray the complete surface of the road with hot tar and then wait before adding chips. This has the effect of covering the whole bike and rider with a coating of black tar. If this should happen to you I recommend the car wash facility at the Ankara Hilton who have twice done a spectacular job of cleaning up my bikes. As for my boots, I can also recommend the shoeshine guy in Seville, Southern Spain, who spent many dirty minutes cleaning up my boots as I sipped a cold beer at a café.



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