Ukraine’s Kakhovka dam collapse causes catastrophic humanitarian, environmental, and agricultural costs

228

8th June 2023 – (Beijing) The Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant in Ukraine was recently attacked, causing a catastrophic dam burst that holds back the country’s largest reservoir. The result was a torrent of contaminated water being released into cities and towns downstream. The collapse of the dam is causing significant humanitarian, environmental, and agricultural costs upon the flooded zone, with a potential impact that is likely to ripple across the world in the years to come.

The humanitarian cost of the disaster is already playing out as more than 4,000 people have been evacuated from the flooded areas in the Kherson region, and more than 40,000 people have been affected by the flood. The UN has warned of “grave and far-reaching consequences” following the dam breach. The disaster is likely to get worse as water levels are still rising, and more villages and towns are being flooded. This will impact people’s access to essential services and seriously raise health risks.

Access to water is another concern. Hundreds of thousands of people depend on the reservoir formed by the dam for drinking water, and the levels are dropping rapidly. The environmental cost of the dam failure is also significant. Damaged equipment at the power plant could be leaking oil, and the river has been contaminated with 150 tonnes of industrial lubricant. Another 300 tonnes are at risk of leaking. Environmentalists have said that pollutants from industries clustered along the banks of the Dnieper River, downstream from the dam, can be swept into the Black Sea, affecting the marine ecosystem.

The agricultural consequence of the incident is significant as Ukraine has long been the leading supplier of corn and wheat in the global market. Water from the Kakhovka reservoir irrigated the farming region of southern Ukraine, which produces much of the country’s significant agricultural exports. After the dam’s breach, agricultural land in the region has been washed away, and the Kakhovka disaster will stop the water supplies to about 30 irrigation systems, which irrigated about 1 million hectares of agricultural fields. The damage is estimated to reach millions of tons of agricultural products, and the Ukrainian government has warned that the country’s grain fields “may turn into deserts as early as next year,” and damage to the reservoir could affect global food supplies.

The attack on the dam has caused possibly the most significant damage to civilian infrastructure since the start of the Ukraine crisis in February 2022. UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said, “The sheer magnitude of the catastrophe will only become fully realised in the coming days. But it is already clear that it will have grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine.” The incident’s rippling effect has been felt worldwide, with fears that the dam attack could disrupt Ukraine’s exports of agricultural products, causing global prices for wheat and corn to soar since the dam collapsed.