The war in Ukraine, “toxic” to nature and future generations, warns the UN

At least 10,631 civilian casualties in Ukraine since the start of the war, including 4,731 killed and 5,900 wounded, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR, 26/06/2022) – not including the thousands of soldiers killed in combat: this figure, which is already dramatic, may increase if the environmental consequences of the conflict are taken into account.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) – the UN Office for the Conservation of Nations – has implemented a “initial power monitoring“, Based on incident reports across the country, but also on satellite images of the areas concerned.

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According to preliminary conclusions, several incidents since the beginning of the conflict have affected energy infrastructures, especially nuclear power plants – the country has a dozen reactors – but also oil and gas installations such as hydrocarbon transport ships, refineries, drilling platforms, or even pipelines.

Mining, industry – storage warehouses – and agri-food plants (especially nitrogen-containing chemical fertilizers) also suffered serious damage and released into the environment “a range of hazardous substances ranging from solvents to ammonia and plastics“, the report notes.

Pollution related to weapons of war – used massively also in inhabited areas – as well as military waste such as abandoned vehicles, in turn constitute a “great cleaning challenge“.

In general, in commercial weapons there are heavy metals and (explosives such as) DTT“, explains Doug Weir, a researcher at the British Observatory on Conflicts and the Environment, interviewed by Guardian. “Heavy metals are very persistent in the environment and most explosives are toxic to some degree.

“The war in Ukraine is literally poisonous”

In total, the UN document identifies “thousands of possible incidents of air, water and soil pollution and degradation of ecosystems“.

Mapping and initial study of environmental risks only confirm that war is literally toxic“, Launches Inger Andersen, CEO of UNEP, quoted in a press release. For each of the reported incidents, the institution will have to go to the ground to assess the environmental impact.

In addition to industrial and agricultural sites, any building that is destroyed – including homes – is a source of pollution because its structure can contain toxic compounds such as asbestos, the UN also points out.

It is also the health safety of the people of Ukraine that is at stake, given the carcasses of cattle left to rot in the fields that are likely to pollute the environment, as well as the damage caused to water treatment and disposal facilities.

Ukraine, home to 35% of Europe’s biodiversity

Fires in natural areas such as forests and protected areas have also broken out, according to the report. However, Ukraine represents only 6% of Europe’s territory, but concentrates 35% of its biodiversity, with around 70,000 animal and plant species identified under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

A unique richness, especially explained by the location of this country, in the heart of many birds’ migratory routes, as well as by its number of waterways – about 63,000 rivers and streams, a total of more than 200,000 km long – and by the extent of its wetlands (about 4 , 5 million hectares).

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Not only does military waste threaten to pollute these fragile ecosystems, but the agents and NGOs responsible for ensuring the good condition of these natural jewels can no longer perform their maintenance work due to the war.

Nearly 400,000 acres and 14 Ramsar sites (wetlands designated as of international importance by Unesco) along the coast and the lower course of the Dnipro river are threatened“, lamented Oleksandr Krasnolutskyi, the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection, quoted by Guardian (7/6/2022).

In May, fires caused by rocket fire destroyed more than 4,000 acres in the Kinburn Spit, a strip of sand about forty kilometers long that stretches Biloberezhia Sviatoslava National Park, on the Black Sea to the south of the country.

An interactive map of environmental impacts

Prior to the publication of UNEP’s preliminary results, the Ukrainian environmental NGO “Ecoaction” had already identified “potential environmental impacts caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine“through an interactive map, based on open access data from the media and official reports published by the authorities.

Of the 348 cases identified by Ecoaction to date, more than a third (133) concern the Kharkiv (49), Luhansk (47) and Donetsk (37) regions in the eastern part of the country, where the fighting is most intense. The Mykolaiv region in the southern part of the country, which borders the Black Sea, and the capital Kiev and its surroundings account for 34 and 31 environmental incidents, respectively.

The purpose of this work is to communicate the potential effects of the war on the environment and the people of Ukraine, as well as to support the Ukrainian authorities in the collection of facts, which will be used in international courts to obtain compensation (compensation). ) from Russia for the damage caused “, Explains Ecoaction as an introduction to this card.

Since the start of the war, Ukraine has opened 5,600 investigations into war crimes committed by Russia

The Ukrainian NGO recalls that a crime against the environment is likely to constitute a war crime under the Geneva Convention – a treaty laying down the essential rules of international humanitarian law: “the use of methods or means of warfare that are intended to cause – or are likely to cause – extensive, long-term and serious damage to the natural environment are prohibited;“.

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