FILE PHOTO: David, 8, and his mother travel to the council building in Pavlopil, eastern Ukraine, to collect safe waterUNICEF/UNI356687/Filippov
FILE PHOTO: David, 8, and his mother travel to the council building in Pavlopil, eastern

More than 6 weeks of conflict in Ukraine have devastated both water and electricity networks, leaving 1.4 million people without access to piped water in eastern Ukraine and a further 4.6 million people across the country at risk of losing water supply.

At least 20 separate incidents of damage to water infrastructure have been recorded in eastern Ukraine alone. The intensification of fighting in the east and the widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas threatens to further decimate the water system, which is now at risk of complete collapse, following 8 years of low-grade conflict on an already ailing network.

Power cuts have stopped water pumps, and explosion-related damage to pipelines are disrupting the flow of water.

In Mariupol, thousands of people are using dirty sources as they seek any water they can find. Major cities across Donetsk and Luhansk regions are also cut off from water supplies and an additional 340,000 people will lose water supply if a reservoir in Horlivka runs dry.  

Sumy and Chernihiv cities experienced serious water stoppages in early March and Kharkiv’s system is also seriously affected. Restoring water access and providing emergency supplies to these cities and other areas of intense fighting is urgent.

Since the start of the conflict, the WASH Cluster has confirmed that four water technicians have been injured in Chernihiv and one in Kharkiv, adding to at least 35 water engineers who have been killed or injured in Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014.

One year ago, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2573, recalling the international humanitarian law (IHL) obligations of all parties to armed conflicts to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including water facilities. However, civilian infrastructure, including water, sanitation and electricity networks have been destroyed during the war in Ukraine, severely hampering people’s access to vital services.

The WASH cluster urges all parties to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and remove military hardware and personnel from positions close to civilian infrastructure.

“Young children who live in conflict zones are 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal diseases linked to unsafe water than from direct violence, as a result of war, said UNICEF Ukraine Representative, Murat Sahin. “Their access to water, wherever they are, must not be jeopardised as a result of war – for children, it is a matter of life and death,” added Sahin.

The WASH Cluster, led by UNICEF, have:

  • Provided generators and equipment to repair damaged infrastructure to power water pumps and operationalize the water system in Sumy and Chernihiv.
  • Procured 57.4 tons of liquefied chlorine for the Kharkiv Vodokanal water system, which will purify water for a three-week period and 4.5 tons of liquified chlorine gas to operate the Uzhgorod Vodokanal. This will ensure safe water for 1.4 million people in Kharkiv and 140,000 in Uzhgorod, which have seen an influx of displaced persons.
  • Provided safe drinking supplies through water trucking or bottled water to over 184,500 people in locations where access to safe water has been severely compromised, including parts of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Sumy and Zakarpattia oblasts.