Progress made in documenting damage to water resources and infrastructure in Ukraine

4 Mar 2023 by The Water Diplomat

A year into the war in Ukraine, progress is being made in documenting the damage to water resources and infrastructure, although many gaps still remain. 

The Ukrainian government has requested the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to assist in the assessment of environmental damage in the country, and already it is estimated that 618 critical industrial or infrastructure sites have been damaged or destroyed.

Also, the Centre for Environmental Initiatives (Ecoaction) Ukraine, working with Greenpeace Eastern Europe, has been mapping environmental damage in Ukraine as the result the Russian invasion of the country. The aims of this research are both to raise awareness of the environmental consequences of the war, and to ensure that environmental restoration is included in Ukraine’s post-war restoration initiatives.  The data collected relates to water, land and air pollution as well as wildfires caused by missile strikes and has been cross checked and mapped by Greenpeace.

In parallel, a study led by Oleksandra Shumilova published in Nature Sustainability, focuses specifically on water resources and shows that water infrastructure such as dams, water supply and treatment systems, and subsurface mines have been impacted by the war.  The authors state that the conflict in Ukraine is a special case in that the conflict is taking place in an area which features a heavily modified and industrialised water sector, with multi-purpose reservoirs, hydropower dams, cooling facilities for nuclear power plants, water reservoirs used for industry and mining, and extensive water distribution networks for irrigation and household water supply. In total, 64 impact sites were identified, which include disruption of water transfer, surface water pollution, damage to dams, flooding of mines, bacterial pollution, and interrupted hydroelectricity generation.  About half of these are located in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and in 17 cases, water infrastructure was directly attacked – an act prohibited by the Geneva list of Principles for the Protection of Water in times of Armed Conflict.  The authors mention special concern for the large reservoirs along the Dnieper River which are critical for energy production, the cooling of nuclear power stations, irrigated agriculture, and household water supply. In addition, the interruption of wastewater treatment is leading to the pollution of surface waters, and the continuous disruption of water treatment and supply of safe water is generating risks for the spread of diseases, as was already the case with the outbreak of cholera in Mariupol.