Ukraine: Humanitarian assistance, recovery and development need to go hand in hand
by Janthomas Hiemstra, Country Director, UNDP Ukraine
The conflict in the Ukraine is, without doubt, a humanitarian crisis. Almost 10,000 people have been killed in the eastern region of Donbas alone. Among the victims, some 2,000 people were civilians. Another 22,000 people have been wounded, millions are displaced and living dangerously close to heavy fighting. This crisis has affected millions, despite repeated ceasefires.
The Ukraine crisis is also a crisis of development. Amid the human tragedy, concerns about development are often easy to overlook. But the impact can be devastating in the long-term. Basic infrastructure is put under enormous stress in a conflicts like this one, and that stress can lead to economic decline, eventually weakening the delivery of crucial social services in regions like Donbas.
If we do not address human welfare and social development concerns, the impact of the conflict is likely to worsen dramatically. The burden will fall particularly on the elderly, the disabled, the poor, women and youth. This is why UNDP has set up its presence in Eastern Ukraine. for the past two years, UNDP has made its priority to contribute in finding solutions to everyday problems affecting the local population.
Take for example, water. Water is especially critical in winter when the temperature falls below minus 10°C and the frost bites. Most of the region’s water comes from the Siverskyi Donets-Donbas canal, and a water-pumping station in the village of Semenivka is central to the Donbas region’s water supply system. It is part of Water of Donbas, a communal enterprise which supplies water to 95 percent of the region’s population – that’s around 3.5 million people on both sides of the conflict.
But the water pumping station was right on the line of contact and was hit by shells causing major damages. Millions of people were looking at a potentially devastating disruption of their critical water supply. With financial help from Japan, UNDP was able to support the repair of this key pumping station and secure a reliable water source for the people of the region.
Just to be clear, we do not have to choose humanitarian needs over development concerns, or development concerns over humanitarian needs. The two can frequently go hand in hand, and often add up to more than the sum of their parts. For example, humanitarian assistance in shelters in Ukraine includes the distribution of basic construction materials. This could be complemented with labour-based, cash-for-work schemes that increase both employment and the incomes of communities caught up in the conflict.
Another example lies in the distribution of food to affected communities by humanitarian agencies. That food can be supplied by local farms and other local businesses, in turn helping to create work and boost incomes, as well as establish supply chains that will contribute to a local economic recovery. Humanitarian cash transfers can be complemented by business development schemes which assist and stabilise communities facing severe social and economic shocks. They do that by allowing local economies to diversify over time.
These kind of humanitarian-development approaches will help reduce the need for local communities to depend on aid, while also building much-needed resilience. UNDP is putting this approach into practice in the Donbas region: our job co-financing programme helped create 950 new jobs in less than a year, which in turn helped reconstruction while laying the ground for new economic growth. One of our beneficiaries was a metal-ware production factory. Again with funding from Japan, the factory was built from the ground up after being forced out of its home by heavy fighting. Now the factory is providing critical jobs for both displaced people and local workers supplying important building goods.
UNDP has been at the forefront of development efforts that support the people of the Ukraine not just right now, but long into the future. We need the international community to continue standing with us and support these efforts.
About the author
Janthomas Hiemstra is Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine.