Сatastrophe getting closer: How to prevent threat of poisoning of Donbas inhabitants

Author : Sebastian Kurz

Source : Die Presse

All participating parties should pay attention to the well-being of the population in the relevant region and put aside political conflicts. For this reason, Austria in OSCE strongly supports the initiative to minimize the risk of catastrophe in Eastern Ukraine
17:48, 14 September 2017

Read original article at Die Presse


The crisis in Ukraine and around it has been going on for four years already. Although the media interest in this conflict has diminished, however, the fighting continues. Every day, numerous violations of the ceasefire are reported, and this particularly affects the civilian population, which often falls under crossfire. The life of unarmed observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is threatened and armed militants impede in the performance of their tasks.

Contrary to the Minsk agreement concluded to stabilize the situation and establish peace in the region, heavy weapons are still in the conflict zone, ammunition is being delivered and mines are being laid. Despite the negotiations within the Normandy format (Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine), the political process has stalled. Regular meetings of the tripartite contact group (Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, including representatives of certain regions of Donbas), could not yet lead to long-term ceasefire.

Infrastructure is under fire

It will take time for diplomacy to bear fruit. However, on the other hand, actions are urgently needed in order to prevent the aggravation of the humanitarian crisis and the threat of ecological catastrophe in Donbas.

One of the centers of heavy industry in Europe has become an arena of constant fighting. The basic infrastructure is constantly under fire, there is a danger of serious damage to chlorine storage facilities, chemical and metallurgical plants, warehouses of harmful substances and coal mines, which can have corresponding severe environmental consequences in this region. Here we have a ticking time bomb.

Since the belligerents directly oppose each other, incidents on one side of the conflict have an impact also on the other side and even go beyond these boundaries. So, for example, this year the building of the Donetsk filtering station with seven tons of chlorine got under fire. It is difficult to imagine the consequences of the explosion of this storage, which would inevitably lead to a catastrophe.

Contaminated drinking water

If chemicals hit the rivers and groundwater, hundreds of thousands of people would be affected. Flooding of coal mines could infect groundwater and lead to devastating consequences for the supply of drinking water to large cities, as well as for agriculture - even in neighboring Russia. Ecological catastrophes know no bounds. Therefore, all players in this region should be interested in avoiding such a catastrophe.

And we must prevent, until it's too late, a threat of such catastrophe. As a necessary step, all the parties to this conflict must recognize the non-military nature of vital infrastructure and spare it. The relevant facilities should be respected as security zones, and emergency communication channels should be established. This will also require the preparation of appropriate rescue services with the necessary equipment. Do not underestimate the dangers for such basic supplies as water and electricity. So, for example, because of low temperatures last winter, the supply of electricity to the settlements around Avdiivka was interrupted. Power lines were repaired, then again destroyed as a result of shelling and again repaired. Thousands of people were forced to live without heating and drinking water.

About pumping stations

In recent weeks water purification facilities and pumping stations in the conflict zone have been constantly falling under the bombardment. Over a million people on both sides of the conflict, as well as half a million in Mariupol, depend on water supply in the southern Donbas.

Because of the accident in Chernobyl in 1986, Ukraine experienced one of the most terrible disasters caused by the human factor. Now the population suffers because of a war that undermines the relations of Donbas with the rest of Ukraine, destroys ties between Kyiv and Moscow and inflicts severe damage to relations between Russia and many European and other states.

Therefore, all participating parties should pay attention to the well-being of the population in the relevant region and put aside political conflicts. For this reason, Austria's OSCE presidency strongly supports the initiative to minimize the risk of a catastrophe in Eastern Ukraine.

Intensive discussions

The tripartite contact group (Ukraine, Russia, OSCE) was sympathetic to this circumstance and will intensively discuss it at the next meetings. Factual agreements should be implemented as soon as possible in order to prevent the daily threat of poisoning the already suffering inhabitants of Donbas.

To restore peace in Eastern Ukraine, the parties involved must cease hostilities. The first important step in this direction would be the cessation of bombing and the destruction of basic and vital infrastructure.

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