13 November 2015 – The lives of some 700,000 children and the wider population are at risk if repairs to the water network in Ukraine’s conflict-affected regions are not urgently made, warns Unicef.
Central heating systems in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts rely on water, but conflict related damage to pipelines and infrastructure, as well as debris from destroyed bridges are hampering the flow of water. This increases the possibility of freezing that could result in a system shutdown, affecting water, heating and electricity supplies leaving children and adults without heating in extreme cold.
“We need to do all we can to protect the most vulnerable children during the winter months,” said Giovanna Barberis, Unicef Representative in Ukraine. “This means ensuring humanitarian access to areas where water infrastructure is damaged to repair it. It is unimaginable to even contemplate one single family without heating at this time of the year,” she added.
There is a precedent for central heating systems failing in Ukraine. In 2006, equipment froze and ruptured in the town of Alchevsk, Luhansk oblast, resulting in the evacuation of many of the town’s 120,000 inhabitants.
“The reality is that we need to repair damage to water infrastructure in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts right now,” said William Fellows, Head of Unicef Ukraine’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene section. “Not only are people’s lives in danger due to lack of heating and drinking water because of damaged infrastructure, but the time and costs to re-start any system failure would be extensive,” he added.
Staff from the relevant water authorities and humanitarian organizations already risk their lives to keep the water flowing. The presence of mines, explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordnance (UXO) seriously hinders efforts to make repairs safely.
There are also still restrictions on access to non-government-controlled areas, put in place by the de facto authorities in Donetsk oblast. In addition, the Government of Ukraine’s cuts to all social services and benefits to the population living in these areas will negatively affect families and their use of utilities.
If central heating systems fail, the back-up would be electric heaters and coal stoves. However, with hundreds of thousands of people relying on additional electricity, the added pressure on the system at a time when electricity generation will already be affected by limited water, may lead to a grid overload. Schools, kindergartens, residential care institutions and medical centres would also seriously struggle to continue operating.
Unicef calls to ensure safe humanitarian access to non-government-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine to provide life-saving supplies to children, remove UXO and urgently repair the infrastructure to keep the water supply, sewage and heating systems functioning.
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