Ukraine

WASH Cluster Ukraine: Contingency Plan, Final Version – June 2021

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In the event of a new deepening of the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the appropriate 1-page response outline in this document will form the basis of discussions by WASH cluster partners, within 24 hours, to help decide which partner will do what; where; and how much funding is required overall.

Background and summary of risks

In 2021, seven years after the start of the conflict, 3.1 million people still need WASH support in the Eastern Conflict Area of Ukraine, an increase of around 300,000 people, from 2020. Significantly this is due to the COVID-19 pandemic: at the end of 2020 an estimated 1.85 million people, in the conflict area, specifically required assistance to improve their level of hygiene and understand the risks of COVID-19.

Previously identified needs in water supply and sanitation remain and have deepened during 2020. Several agencies are additionally now targeting improvements in solid waste and medical waste management, as well as water supply. There is still a need for small-scale support, for example through water trucking, but also for significant support to water companies working at a larger scale, for example to initiate recovery work and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) approaches for some war-damaged pipelines and pumping stations, and within specific communities. Meanwhile, in a country where winter temperatures regularly drop to -20 C, the link between water supply and heating should not be forgotten: if water systems are stopped, the centralized heating to multi-storey apartment blocks, where many elderly and vulnerable people live, will also stop.

There are risks from industrial pollution incidents: the conflict area is highly industrialized, with coal mines, steel works and chemical plants. Both chronic and acute pollution risks exist, from mine water effluent; subsidence causing broken water and sewage mains; and pollution of rivers by sewage effluent and/or effluent from waste lagoons at chemical plants. In particular the waste lagoon at Toretsk Phenol plant is located on the frontline, and there is a risk, either due to shelling or lack of dam maintenance, of pollution of the Siverski Donets river, which would negatively affect Luhansk oblast as well as the Russian Federation, further downstream. Drinking water quality has proven to be an issue in 2020, with Lead and Zinc detected in raw water samples, and low levels of chlorine found in tap water at household level.

In times of crisis some settlements have backup reservoirs, for example Avdiivka has 3-4 days’ backup supply in winter, or 1-2 days in summer when usage is higher, however other places have no backup supply at present: Volnovakha, Dokuchaievsk and Pokrovsk face that risk. When water is cut, people resort to using alternative water sources, relying on bought bottled water, trucked water supply or on local wells. Attempts to fix shell-damaged power lines or pipes often fail as windows of silence do not hold, occasionally with technicians also being fired upon. In that case supporting windows of silence becomes the main priority, to allow demining, electrical repairs and water pipeline repairs. Damage to chemical plants, mines and sewage pumping stations expose people to additional environmental risks.

The Ukraine crisis continues to be a scenario where WASH work can contribute to alleviate health and wellbeing of affected people, but also where transboundary approaches and water workers that operate across the line of contact have the opportunity to promote recovery and peacebuilding approaches. The actual number of incidents since the July 2020 ceasefire renewal has been greatly reduced in 2021. However, in early 2021, four recorded incidents of small arms fire at water workers, coupled with an incident in Verkhniotoretsk where pipeline repairs could not be completed for three weeks due to lack of a Window of Silence, highlight that security issues remain. In Q2 of 2021, a widely reported buildup of Russian Federation troops close to the Ukrainian border, and similar buildups of Ukrainian defensive forces, emphasized the need to maintain our readiness for rapid reaction and response in the WASH sector.

The following scenarios were considered by WASH cluster partners for planning purposes, including scenarios defined by OCHA which relate to troop buildups:

A. Return to the situation in Summer 2020
This remains likely, but with the number of WASH incidents increasing, a real risk of damage of critical infrastructure could lead to multisectoral and complex adverse impacts on normal people.

B. Moderate scale-up of violence badly affecting specific zones along the Line of Contact (LoC)
Multiple incidents occurring in localized zones along the LoC might lead to significant damage of water infrastructure near Yasynuvata or Shumy, or in other locations. There is the potential for up to 3.1 million people to be cut from water supply (one weapon strike could cause this), or for more than 1 million people to be cut if pipelines running along the LoC, or pumping stations nearby, were hit. Affected people would live on both sides of the LoC, and such an event would affect people living a long way away from the line as well. Smaller, contained incidents might also affect villages along the LoC, and there would be some displaced people (IDPs).

C. Larger scale-up of violence, not limited to the previous Eastern Conflict Area (ECA)
As well as Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, WASH experts consider Kherson to be vulnerable, given water supply problems currently experienced in Crimea, by the stoppage of the North Crimean Channel.

Option C, which would be devastating, still seems less likely than Scenario B. Therefore, Scenario B is taken by the WASH Cluster to be the most relevant planning scenario, being more likely than it was in 2020, and leading to a high risk of significant water stoppages.