Armed Conflict May Cause Chemical Disaster in Eastern Ukraine

On 1 February 2017, children eat a hot meal at a heated emergency shelter in freezing cold Avdiivka, Ukraine, following intense fighting at the end of January 2017. Photo: UNICEF/Aleksey Filippov
On 1 February 2017, children eat a hot meal at a heated emergency shelter in freezing cold Avdiivka, Ukraine, following intense fighting at the end of January 2017. Photo: UNICEF/Aleksey Filippov

A United Nations human rights expert is warning against the threat of catastrophic chemical disaster due to the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

“Large chemical and industrial facilities are in areas where fighting is ongoing,” said Baskut Tuncak, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes.

“Battles are now being fought in cities, close to industrial centres, with factories increasingly becoming at risk of being hit: the consequences for anyone living close-by would be severe.”

On 24 February, shelling hit a building which stored over 7,000 kg of chlorine gas. While no storage container was damaged, the rupture of just one 900 kg container would kill anyone within 200-meters and result in severe health consequences for those within 2.4 km, according to experts.

In case of extensive damage, people living within 7.4 km downwind of the facility would need to be moved away within 24 hours.

The Special Rapporteur echoed concerns expressed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) relating to the humanitarian situation in the country and the increasing risks of a chemical disaster.

Most of Ukraine’s industrial facilities are located in the eastern part of the country. These include heavy industrial infrastructures operating in the mining, metallurgical, chemical and power sectors.

The presence of a range of explosive and toxic substances at these sites is a source of serious concern.

“All parties to the conflict need to be aware of the risks that continuous insecurity brings, including for a chemical disaster. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that all precautions are being taken to prevent such catastrophe to occur, and mainly for the fighting to stop,” Mr. Tuncak added.

RMN News

Rakesh Raman