Protection of water resources of Ukraine: from crisis to recovery

Ukraine is on the 32nd place among 40 in terms of drinking water provision in Europe and is on the list of countries threatened by water scarcity. At the same time, 75% of the water supplied to consumers is taken from surface sourcesrivers.

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Ukraine is on the 32nd place among 40 in terms of drinking water provision in Europe and is on the list of countries threatened by water scarcity. At the same time, 75% of the water supplied to consumers is taken from surface sourcesrivers.

The existing problems with the outdated water supply stations and sewage treatment plants, which are unable to cope with the current loads and do not meet modern requirements for water and wastewater treatment, were worsened by the destruction and damage to water infrastructure, caused by the full-scale war that began in Ukraine over a year ago.

In one year of the war losses in water supply and sewerage sector due to the conduct of hostilities on the territory of Ukraine have been estimated at approximately $7.5 billion.[1] Infrastructures on the territory of combat operations have been destroyed and cannot be restored. Furthermore, excess mercury, copper, zinc, and manganese concentrations have been recorded in the rivers in de-occupied territories.

The destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant and its effects

On June 6, 2023, the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant was undermined, unleashing a cascade of unprecedented consequences. The ramifications were not limited to Ukraine’s southern regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Mykolayiv, and Zaporizhzhya; rather, they have escalated into one of the most severe environmental and humanitarian catastrophes the country has faced in modern times:

  • A staggering 70% of the water in the Kakhovka reservoir has been depleted.
  • An expansive area, amounting to 600,000 hectares, has been adversely affected.
  • Financial damages to the environment are provisionally estimated at $4 billion.

The undermining led to the collapse of crucial hydraulic structures, thereby decimating water supply systems and leading to a precipitous decline in local ecosystems. This situation poses a grave, global environmental risk. Additionally, the diminished availability of potable water has exacerbated both sanitary and environmental conditions in regions already compromised by occupation and military conflict. In these areas, water contamination from military ordnance and untreated sewage has become a pressing concern.

Recovery Initiatives: On the Path to Restoration

To prevent humanitarian and environmental disaster, water utilities need to provide the population with water supply and wastewater collection and treatment services, while rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure. Restoration of water supply in Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhya regions is one of the key issues. Only for Kherson region there is an urgent need for 50 new artesian wells.  This requires significant funding and the help of the international community.

The construction of a new water pipeline in Kryvyi Rih region has begun as part of the implementation of four projects to provide the area with water. The main funding comes from the state budget. The Government has allocated $41 million for the construction of a new main water pipeline, which will help to provide water supply to Kryvyi Rih, Nikopol and Manganets.

At the end of July water to supply residents of Kryvyi Rih began to flow. This water is already from a new line of the main water pipeline, which now fills the canals and the Southern Reservoir from the Ingulets River. The first part of the large-scale state project has begun to work. The new waterway is in the process of construction. It is aimed at providing all those affected by the tragedy at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant with centralized water supply. And this, including 70% of residents of the Kryvyi Rih region, as well as part of consumers of the Nikopol region.

Work in the Nikopol region is moving hard, sometimes delayed due to active hostilities and regular and systematic shelling of the city’s critical infrastructure by the Russian Federation.

Ongoing Challenges and the Road Ahead

Efforts give results, water has been supplied to the homes of 40% of the population of Nikopol, but so far with reduced pressure. Still the modernization of networks continues. Today, drinking and technical water continues to be transported by tank trucks around the city. There are more than 60 points for its bottling.  

The attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant is a big problem for the whole of Ukraine. Eliminating the consequences of this tragedy is an important task. Now the water from the first line Ingulets – Southern Reservoir has just begun to fill the canals.

The current water quality is unfortunately subpar compared to pre-war standards. We expect that upon the completion of the construction of the water pipeline, the treatment facilities will be 100% loaded, and the water quality will be at the proper level as it used to be before the undermining of the hydroelectric power plant.

Both the Ukrainian government and the United Nations have conducted preliminary assessments, following internationally accepted methodologies, to gauge the extent of the damage and the consequent needs for recovery.

The water and sewerage sector requires about $700 million as a cost of recovery and reconstruction to meet the needs of flooded areas downstream and territories upstream that suffer from water scarcity.

However, it is crucial to remember that these are initial estimates. A significant portion of the affected region remains under Russian control, complicating on-ground assessments. Additionally, last winter’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure have had a cascading effect on the water infrastructure, necessitating considerable time and effort for restoration.

The public utilities system of Ukraine continues to repair, restore and prepare infrastructure facilities for the coming winter, including help and support of our partners. War requires the mobilization of resources that could be invested in water supply and sewerage.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has greatly affected the provision of water supply services due to damage of water infrastructure, pollution of water sources, disruption of water supply chains, etc. Population displacement and humanitarian response challenges further exacerbate difficulties in ensuring safe and proper supply of drinking water to affected communities. To address emergencies, Ukraine primarily needs to develop and implement appropriate policies and mechanisms that will ensure access to safe drinking water for the population of the affected regions, as well as to prevent and timely respond to diseases that may occur in regions with limited access to water suitable for human consumption.

[1] – data according to (02.2022-02/2023);