The War In Ukraine And Sustainability Concerns
Author: Chinonso Nwanevu, Nigeria
A nuclear disaster bigger than Chernobyl was feared after a Russian strike on a nuclear power station in Ukraine in the beginning of March 2022. Thankfully, the fire at the Zaporizhian plant was put out without causing any damage to crucial machinery or altering radiation levels. The incident did, however, draw attention to the numerous dangers that the conflict posed to environmental security. As with many previous wars, the fighting in Ukraine is killing a lot of people and, at the same time, poses a threat to the environment. The conflict's diverse and profound environmental effects have, up until now, mainly gone unnoticed. As the situation in Ukraine shows, the effects of conflict-related environmental degradation are extensive and long-lasting, necessitating international cooperation to overcome. This has become a major issue of global concern and we at the International Student Environmental Coalition.
The conflict's environmental impact started long before Russia invaded on February 24th, 2022. The battle that broke out between the Ukrainian Army and forces supported by Russia after Moscow invaded Donbas in 2014 is an appropriate example of some of the environmental concerns associated with war. There are several collieries, metallurgical factories, mines, and hazardous chemical industries in the heavily industrialized Donbas region. When these industrial facilities were shelled, hazardous waste was released, causing water, soil, and land to become contaminated.
Furthermore alarming, 70 of the 94 mines in the Donbas region ended up under separatist control after 2014. Concerns over the pollution of ground and surface water have grown as it is impossible to verify whether the mines in the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, which are not recognized by the international community, are being properly maintained. Water from the area feeds into the Siverskyi-Donets, the largest river in eastern Ukraine, providing a transnational threat to water resources both inside and outside of Ukraine.
It was planned to establish treatment plants to cleanse the water in an effort to lessen these impacts, but with the ongoing full-scale Russian invasion, it is unlikely that this will happen. Instead, as more crucial infrastructure passes into Russian control, the threat to the quality of the water is expected to grow and extend to other Ukrainian districts.
Farmers won't be able to collect this year's crop because to the continuous violence, and if they can't grow crops this spring, there may be a food crisis that lasts into next year. The threats to the environment rise as more land comes under Russian control and shelling continues. More than 20 industrial facilities experienced spills, explosions, or fires that had a negative impact on the environment during the first week of the Russian invasion in 2022. Cyberattacks on monitoring equipment also compromised efforts to address environmental hazards and their possible long-term effects.
Risk of food supply; Especially bread supply.
Together, Russia and Ukraine produce around 25% of the world's wheat and are major producers of corn, barley, and sunflower seed oil. Farmers won't be able to collect this year's crop because to the continuous violence, and if they can't grow crops this spring, there may be a food crisis that lasts into next year.
While countries may be able to lessen their reliance on the region in the long run, it is likely to worsen current food difficulties in the near run. Russia and Ukraine are very important to the Middle East and North Africa. Yara International, a fertilizer firm, has already issued a warning that the dispute will result in just the favored few having accesses to enough food, which will cause starvation and further bloodshed in fragile nations.
Direct military activity, which runs the risk of harming landscapes, escalating deforestation, and raising the likelihood of forest fires, poses a threat to Ukraine's ecosystems. Global wheat production is already being hampered by climate change, which also affects demand by intensifying food shocks and increasing local reliance on imported food. The protracted conflict poses a potential to make things worse in areas that already depend on exports from Russia and Ukraine to lessen the effects of climate change on their own food output.
Biodiversity and Conservation Concerns
In addition to being the world's breadbasket, Ukraine is home to 35% of Europe's biodiversity. This biodiversity is at risk from the conflict both directly and indirectly. Direct military activity, which runs the risk of harming landscapes, escalating deforestation, and raising the likelihood of forest fires, poses a threat to Ukraine's ecosystems.
However, the war is also having an influence on conservation efforts, which is no less significant. International conservation organizations rely on peace and stability to carry out their work in Ukraine. The Russian incursion has pushed conservationists to flee or arm themselves. Beyond Ukraine's borders, the conflict is also impeding efforts to conserve the environment and combat climate change. Belarus has closed down environmental NGOs, and the EU has postponed its biodiversity strategy because of worries about food security.
Towards A Peaceful and Sustainable Environment
It is important to not undervalue the situation in Ukraine and its effects on the environment. Degradation of the environment will have long-lasting, wide-ranging effects. Industries that, if threatened, constitute a serious threat to national security are threatened by the ongoing conflict. After they stop producing, mines, chemical plants, and nuclear facilities all need meticulous long-term maintenance but can also hurt the environment greatly.
The conflict's devastation also extends beyond the borders of Ukraine; it unavoidably has an effect on nearby nations through shared ecosystems and waterways, as well as on nations further away owing to disruptions in global food supply chains and biodiversity loss. The environment shouldn't be considered an inevitable wartime casualty. Since environmental security and human security are inextricably connected, the conflict in Ukraine is endangering the environment in ways that could last well past the signing of any peace agreement. A key component of the international community's reaction to the crisis must be dealing with these risks.