Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ukraine at risk from chemical disaster, water safety in escalating conflict: UN experts

Ukraine is facing new risks of chemical disaster and water safety
Ukraine is facing new risks of chemical disaster and water safety after an escalation of conflict near water supply facilities in the east of the country, two UN special rapporteurs warned Friday.

"We are alarmed by recent reports of shelling around water installations containing chlorine gas and other extremely dangerous chemicals in Donetsk region," said Baskut Tuncak, whose mandate includes hazardous substances, and Leo Heller, whose mandate covers safe drinking water and sanitation.

Their warning came two days after the UN resident humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine Neal Walker said there is deep concern at the recent escalation of hostilities near water, electricity and gas supply infrastructure in Donetsk province, eastern Ukraine.

He warned: "As we enter winter, any disruption of essential services, such as water and heating amid freezing temperatures could have grave consequences for millions of Ukrainians."

The conflict between government troops and pro-independence rebels began in eastern Ukraine in April 2014. So far, it has left about 700,000 hectares of land in the area contaminated with landmines and other unexploded ordnance.

The Donetsk water filtration station was reportedly shelled repeatedly between Nov. 3 and 4, causing damage to a back-up chlorine pipeline.

If the main pipeline currently in use or any single 900-kg bottle containing chlorine, stored in these facilities was hit, it could have killed anyone within a 200 meter radius, including the staff of the facility, the experts said.

It also would have disrupted the water supply to almost 350,000 people on both sides of the contact line.

On Nov. 5, a second water filtration station Verkhnokalmiuska, which supplies clean water to 800,000 people and stores 100 tons of chlorine gas, was hit by multiple shells.

Both UN experts called on the hostile parties to create and respect demilitarized zones around critical water sites in Donetsk region, as what was agreed by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine on July 19.

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