Western Ukraine swept away in a flood: Is deforestation key reason here?

Author : Petro Tiestov

Source :

Recently, the attention of society has been riveted to the disastrous situation in Zakarpattia. Facebook blames foresters for it Zelensky’s team promises to "stop the barbaric deforestation of the Zakarpattia region"
14:47, 25 June 2020

Carpathians and part of Western Ukraine flooded
112 Agency

Of course, the water conservation role of forests is undoubtful. A full-fledged forest holds many times more water than young monocultures. And to restore the water-protective functions of forests after clear-cutting, 25-40 years are needed. The impact of deforestation on floods and during the environmental impact assessment procedure is assessed. By the way, contrary to the requirements of the legislation, Zakarpattia foresters ignore this procedure. With the support of the environmental inspection and regional authorities.

Related: Ski resort Bukovel in Ukraine washed away by disastrous deluge: Photos, videos

However, deforestation is important but far from the main cause of floods.

Firstly, the situation with deforestation in Ukraine, in particular in the Carpathians, is not as catastrophic as it seems.

Secondly, more than a third of the area in the forests of Zakarpattia is a nature reserve area where clear-cutting is generally prohibited, and selective cutting is very limited.

Thirdly, it is not the mountainous regions that suffer the most from the floods, but the lowlands.


What is the real reason?

In general, floods are a natural occurrence. For thousands of years, rivers have been flowing, overlooking the banks and forming a floodplain - an area that is periodically flooded with water. And therefore floods cannot be prevented in principle. Floods also affected countries with a high level of forestry and a small volume of clear-cutting - Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, etc.

The Europeans realized that how many kilometers of dams are not operating, how many billions of euros are spent on their maintenance - during abnormal rains, water will still find a way out of the coast somewhere. But then the consequences will be disastrous. Therefore, they introduced a comprehensive assessment of flood risks and plans for managing these risks, namely, by introducing a mandatory directive for all EU members on the assessment and management of flood risks.

In short, each EU member state should:

- assess risks and threats, make appropriate flood maps;

- develop flood risk management plans;

- develop mechanisms for warning the population and teach him how to act in case of floods;

- take measures to minimize the negative impact of floods;

- not to conduct new construction in territories that have high risks of flooding;

- adapt economic activity, taking into account the risks of flooding;

- if possible, restore natural rivers and their floodplains in order to prevent flooding.

Related: Chronicle of Great Flood: The Carpathians and part of Western Ukraine ‘went under water’

The simple construction of dams will not help: the water will still find a way out, only the consequences will be even worse. We must act comprehensively!

State Emergency Service of Ukraine

Flood control can also be beneficial for the environment. It includes restoration of natural backwaters (sometimes it is even necessary to buy land from private owners), restoration of natural channels (meanders reduce the speed of the water flow and the corresponding flood power, but straightened channels, on the contrary, “disperse” it), construction of temporary reservoirs for floods water on agricultural land. For example, in neighboring Hungary, a major EU project was implemented to reduce floods on the Tisza River.

Fortunately, Ukraine is gradually implementing this directive in the framework of the Association Agreement with the EU. The State Emergency Management Service is doing this together with the State Water Resources Agency, which, until 2022, must develop appropriate flood risk management plans.

Borzhava River destroyed

Let us return to Zakarpattia and see the old Austro-Hungarian map of the early 20th century. We can clearly see the wide and deep valley of the Borzhava River with its tributaries and settlements, located mainly on high sections. Although even then the floodplain began to be developed (two constructed dams are indicated). In the area of ​​the village of Mali Komyaty (red arrow), there is still a large swamp at the confluence of the Irshava River and the Borzhava River. And in the area of ​​the village of Vilkhivka (yellow arrow), the still not straightened tributary of Borzhava, the Berberke River, which flows directly under the slope, is visible.

If we take the Soviet topographic map of the second half of the 20th century, we can see that the Borzhava river was deepened, the tributaries (Irshava and Berberke) were canalized and partially empty by other channels, and the whole floodplain was reclaimed, turning into fields.

Related: More than hundred children will not be able to pass external independent testing due to flood, - PM

Floodplains and upstream of the Borzhava and its tributaries were also destroyed.

The greenhouses, which are flooded today near the village of Borzhavske and part of the houses of the village of Vilkhivka, were built precisely on the former floodplain.

So the main factor that leads to such catastrophic consequences of floods is the destruction of river floodplains.

What should be done?

Unfortunately, the standard way for officials to react to floods is to mass-build new dams along the banks and to straighten and clear the rivers.

Restoration of the Tours River (Switzerland)

We hope that the State Emergencies Ministry will develop adequate flood risk management plans by introducing truly European approaches (not earlier than in 2022). Therefore, we must act now, namely, to preserve the floodplains of the rivers.

Fortunately, in Ukraine, a significant number of floodplain areas remained in state and communal ownership, and they do not need to be redeemed from private owners. It is necessary to stop the provision of such lands for use, plowing, new land reclamation, dredging, bank protection, etc.

Related: Carpathian forest would not have saved Ivano-Frankivsk region from floods, damages, - PM

And local residents should stop building up areas that are at risk of flooding (as recommended, for example, by the European Commission). Although, of course, blaming the problems of the authorities and foresters is much easier than admitting their responsibility.

Recommendations to Zelensky’s team

And regarding the initiative of the Zelensky team to limit logging in the Zakarpattia region, the president’s powers in forestry matters are insignificant. This is the competence of BP and the government, which, most likely, will form the Zelensky team after the parliamentary elections.

And if his team is really worried about deforestation, then it is worth starting with the separation of the economic and control functions of the State Forest Agency, budget financing of forest managers and forest pathology enterprises, streamlining the regulatory framework, etc.

Related: Floods in Ivano-Frankivsk region: Over 10,000 houses inundated

Although the president can demonstrate his indifference to the conservation of nature even now, it is enough to sign the draft documents already prepared by the Cabinet on the creation of territories of a nature reserve fund of national importance.

One signature could protect and preserve thousands of hectares of forests in the Luhansk region and Desna Valley in Chernihiv. It is enough just to sign the decree on the creation of the Kremin Forests National Nature Park, the Muravyivsky national reserve, and several other reserves.

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