The UN warns of the consequences for nature and future generations

A Ukrainian soldier inspects a destroyed Russian tank near the village of Bilogorivka in the Lugansk region. ANATOLII STEPANOV / AFP

In a preliminary study, the organization points to incidents in nuclear power plants, oil and gas infrastructures, which raise fears of “a toxic legacy for future generations”.

Air, water and soil pollution, declining biodiversity, more fires, radioactivity … In addition to the human drama, the war in Ukraine will have a significant impact that could leave the country and the surrounding region. “a toxic legacy for future generations“, Warned the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in a preliminary study published on 4 July. And with good reason, it is raging in one of the most industrialized territories in the world with 24,000 toxic industrial infrastructures listed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment. Neighboring countries such as Russia, Belarus and Moldova may also be affected, as well as the entire European continent.

Air, water and soil pollution

According to this first UNEP study, the war has caused damage in many parts of Ukraine. The various incidents mentioned relate to nuclear, oil, gas, mining, industry and even agri-food infrastructures. This results in the release of toxic gases or liquids and heavy metal particles – soot, methane, CO2, ammonia solvents – which lead to air pollution and potentially serious pollution of groundwater and surface water. In addition to industrial and agricultural areas,any destroyed building is a source of pollution as its structure may contain toxic compounds such as asbestos“, Points out UNEP. Pollution related to weapons of war as well as military waste such as abandoned vehicles constitute a “great cleaning challenge“, The organization continues.

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Many environmental risks also come from the sudden shutdown of the mines: the toxic water present must be permanently pumped there, otherwise it risks contaminating the drinking water. The course of the Donet, the main source of drinking water in a large part of the Donbass region, can be polluted by residues and thus cause cross-border pollution, which can reach the Azov Sea and eventually the Black Sea. In addition, the water supply infrastructure, including pumping stations, treatment plants and sanitation facilities, also suffered significant damage.

Impact on biodiversity

The report also shows a marked increase in fires in various nature reserves and protected areas as well as in forest areas. A statement to be regretted as Ukraine concentrates 35% of biodiversity in Europe, with around 70,000 animal and plant species identified under the Convention on Biological Diversity. A wealth that can be explained by the location of this country – in the heart of many birds’ migratory routes -, with its number of waterways – about 63,000 rivers and streams – and the extent of its wetlands, which stretches over about 4.5 million hectares. Military waste not only pollutes these fragile ecosystems, but also prevents agents and NGOs from carrying out their maintenance work due to the war.

As major donors, agencies and Member States meet this week in Lugano, Switzerland, to discuss Ukraine’s reconstruction, Ukraine’s top UN official, Osnat Lubrani, stressed that “environmental recovery in Ukraine must be at the top of the agenda“For her, the priority is that the millions of displaced Ukrainians can resume their lives.”in a safe and healthy environment“. When the match ends,a colossal cleanup operation must be supported«, She begs.

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