UN warns of toxic environmental legacy for Ukraine following conflict

Preliminary monitoring has identified thousands of possible incidents of air, water and land pollution and degradation of ecosystems, including risks to neighbouring countries

Big Zero Report 2022

The UN has warned of a toxic environmental legacy for Ukraine “for generations to come” following the invasion of the country by Russia.

According to initial impact monitoring conducted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organisations, preliminary monitoring of the conflict suggests “significant impacts” on urban and rural environments, with thousands of possible incidents of air, water and land pollution and degradation of ecosystems identified, including risks to neighbouring countries.

However, it adds the full range and severity of consequences will require verification and assessment.

UNEP has conducted an initial scoping visit to Ukraine and is mobilising more support to help assess the broad range of environmental impacts.

According to data from the organisation and partners, the conflict has seen damage across many regions of the country, including incidents at nuclear power plants and facilities, energy infrastructure, including oil storage tankers, oil refineries, drilling platforms and gas facilities and distribution pipelines as well as agro-processing facilities.

That has resulted in multiple air pollution incidents and potentially serious contamination of ground and surface waters.

In addition, water infrastructure, including pumping stations, purification plants and sewage facilities, has suffered significant damage and multiple industrial facilities, warehouses and factories have been damaged, with some storing a range of hazardous substances ranging from solvents to ammonia and plastics.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “The mapping and initial screening of environmental hazards only serves to confirm that war is quite literally toxic. The first priority is for this senseless destruction to end now. The environment is about people: it’s about livelihoods, public health, clean air and water and basic food systems. It’s about a safe future for Ukrainians and their neighbours and further damage must not be done.

“Ukraine will then need huge international support to assess, mitigate and remediate the damage across the country and alleviate risks to the wider region.”

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