Last year’s United Nations Environment Assembly witnessed consensual adoption of a wide-ranging and universally acceptable resolution on the environmental consequences of armed conflicts, demonstrating a common vision and a consolidated approach in relation to the protection of the environment in areas affected by armed conflict.
Ukraine was pleased that the adopted resolution found such wide appraisal and recognition among relevant international organizations, NGOs, academia and civil society, and was called by some of them, I quote: ‘the most significant United Nations resolution of its kind since 1992’.
However we believe, and many delegations will agree, that without proper implementation of its provisions all the attempts to confront the issue will fail to produce any practical results.
There is a number of countries that have raised their environmental concerns in relation to armed conflicts, namely with regards to destruction of nature reserves, illegal exploitation and trade in natural resources and other conflict-related environmental challenges that have direct impact on security, human wellbeing and enjoyment of fundamental human rights.
Without political prejudice, Ukraine has also recently faced serious environmental issues as a result of the military aggression in Donbas region. In the course of now three years of Russian aggression Ukraine’s environment was challenged by pollution from damaged industrial sites or flooded mines, increased risks to hazardous facilities, increase in forest fires, groundwater pollution with mining effluents, destruction of nature reserves, pollution of surface water with sewage and irregular removal of municipal waste, migration of animals from combat areas, mining of the line of contact.
The prevalence of potentially risky industrial infrastructure in the East of Ukraine was also noted in the 2015 EU, World Bank Group and UN Ukraine recovery and peacebuilding assessment. As a result of large-scale military and terrorist action in the area a great number of potentially hazardous facilities were affected, resulting in environmental issues that might have long-lasting negative ecological and humanitarian impact on the region.
As the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine report dated 1 February recorded, hundreds of explosions in different areas of Avdiivka-Yasynuvata affected power lines supplying, in particular, the Donetsk water filtration station. Just yesterday shellings targeting Donetsk water filtration station resumed again. The personnel were evacuated. The operations of the station are disrupted. The region is now without clean water.
Another critical facility lying along the line of contact and being threatened by shelling, according to earlier OSCE Special Monitoring Mission report dated 22 January, is phenol factory in Novhorodske which uses dangerous chemical substances with one of chemical waste reservoir being in need of repair work.
In this regard we stress the importance of practical implementation by States of the provisions of the UNEA Resolution, as well as of other relevant international law, with a view of preventing, minimizing and mitigating the negative conflict-related environmental impacts.
Partnership between UNEP and Ukraine is equally crucial in this regard. Sharing of best practices and holding of awareness-raising events on importance of environmental protection in conflict zones could be the least the leading global environmental authority (UNEP) could do to assist Ukraine as a means of ‘providing enhanced assistance to countries affected by armed conflict’.
We are not calling UNEP to be on the line of contact. But when other international organizations – OSCE, UNDP or any other, report about environmental problems in Ukraine we believe that UNEP should step up and react according to its mandate in one way or another.
Extended offers of support to the International Law Commission and UNESCO through developing joint work is another way for the UNEP to be more actively involved in the topic.
With only few NGO's actively working in Ukraine to assess the overall environmental situation in the conflict zone, little has been done to provide sufficient relevant data, with important data being currently unavailable for both planning response measures, and for developing and implementing longer-term post-conflict environmental recovery programmes.
However, through its Joint Environment Unit with the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, UNEP can mobilize and coordinate the international emergency response and identification of acute environmental risks caused by the conflict, mobilising their Flash Environmental Assessment Tool.
It is also unfortunate that allocations of funds between the subprograms negatively resulted in “financial and staffing challenges” as issues facing implementation of Disasters and Conflicts Subprogramme.
By concluding my statement I would like to reiterate my country’s full-fledged support of the issue of protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts and to urge UNEP and all UNEA member-states to continue respective cooperation.