The Ukrainian Environment Ministry estimates that 600 to 800 tons of oil were dumped into the water.
Floods caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine are expected to affect thousands of people on both sides of the front, according to the UN (United Nations). The collapse of the structure is also considered a catastrophe for the environment and the local water supply.
“We assume that parts of the wilderness will be destroyed forever”, said Minister of the Environment of Ukraine Ruslan Strilets in an interview with DW.
Strilets classified the dam failure as “the biggest environmental crime committed since the 1st day of the invasion” from Ukraine to Russia in February 2022.
According to the minister, large areas of a national park were destroyed, as well as parts of the Emerald Networka European network of protected areas to preserve threatened species and habitats across the continent.
The Ministry of Environment of Ukraine estimates “that perhaps 600 to 800 tons of lubricating oil were dumped into the water”.
Other unverified Ukrainian government sources even mention that around 150 tons of oil have flown into the Dnipro River so far — and another 300 tons could still leak.
Fauna and Flora
The flora and fauna of the region should also be affected. The oil is highly toxic to all aquatic and terrestrial life. Even small amounts are enough to contaminate soil and water. Exact damage data is not yet available.
“It is a barbaric act, a veritable ecocide and a future humanitarian catastrophe. We anticipated this situation and, unfortunately, the worst case scenario was confirmed”, highlighted Strilets, adding that about 1 million people will be left without water.
Shortly after the explosion, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal spoke about the risk of flooding in up to 80 cities. Scientists at the University of Applied Sciences in Magdeburg-Stendal, Germany, initially calculated that 60,000 people could be affected, with ⅓ of them would be at risk.
According to the governor of the Kherson region, Olexander Prokudin, there are 16,000 people in the risk zone. The EU (European Union) spoke of hundreds of thousands of civilians whose lives would be at stake. Until the publication of this text, no information about possible injuries had been released.
“The direct consequences are similar to any other flood”, explains Nickolai Denisov, from Zoi Environmental Network, a Geneva-based NGO.
However, according to the expert, what differs this catastrophe from other floods is the speed of the water. “Natural areas are generally not under as much water. Even more so at this rate. So this will cause direct damage.”
Denisov points out that especially the flooding of industrial areas will cause problems. “In this case, if the water enters the industrial area, generally one is not prepared for it. Pollution is carried out of the area. It’s not the kind of pollution that comes with industrial wastewater. So it’s an additional burden, and it’s bound to happen.”
Read more about the dam failure in Ukraine:
“Unprecedented environmental consequences”
Olena Kravchenko, director of the Ukrainian NGO Environment People Lawtold the British newspaper guardian that the dam failure could haveunprecedented environmental consequences” in the areas downstream of the Dnipro, in the Dnipro estuary and in coastal ecosystems of the Black Sea. Agriculture can also be affected by chemical pollution and lack of running water.
O Ifaw (International Fund for Animal Welfare) has estimated that while local wildlife populations are harmed, many animals will return after the disaster.
The situation is worse for pets, who end up being left behind: “We’ve already received reports that neighboring animal shelters are overwhelmed with rescue requests. In New Kakhovka, in Russian-occupied territory, a small zoo was completely flooded. All animals except swans died”, said Natalia Gozak, head of wild animal rescue at Ifaw in Ukraine, in a announcement on Tuesday (June 6, 2023).
In addition to the rupture of the dam, the war has already caused other damage to the environment. Soil and water are polluted in large parts of the country by war munitions and the destruction of industrial plants, with the leakage of chemicals.
Disorganized local waste disposal is a growing problem. Fires, grenade damage and illegal logging have also destroyed significant parts of forest in the conflict area.
Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the dam explosion. At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, the Ukrainian ambassador said it was a “act of ecological and technological terrorism”.
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