UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak has issued a warning about the threat of a chemical disaster in eastern Ukraine in the wake of the ongoing armed civil conflict there.
A statement he released in Geneva on Friday urges the parties to the conflict to take all the essential measures for assuring the safety of chemical factories and the industrial infrastructure in general.
“Large chemical and industrial facilities are in areas where fighting is ongoing”, Tuncak said. “Battles are now being fought in cities, close to industrial centres, with factories increasingly becoming at risk of being hit: the consequences for anyone living close-by would be severe”.
He recalled a particularly graphic instance that occurred on February 24 when an artillery shell hit a building where 7,000 liters of chlorine were stored. By a lucky chance, it did not damage any of the containers but if it had, the aftermaths would have been dire, as the destruction of just one 900 kg container with chlorine can kill anyone within the radius of 200 m around the epicenter of the incident.
“Humanitarian partners continue to call on parties to the conflict to respect the civilian nature of water infrastructure, de-militarise the adjacent areas and give a wide berth during fighting,” Tuncak said.
“A reasonable, limited supply of essential safety equipment for the staff of water treatment facilities must also be allowed into areas of the country not controlled by the government so that in case of any damage to chlorine storage, the staff can not only survive but also take action,” he said.
The bulk of Ukraine’s manufacturing sector located in the eastern part of the country. It includes heavy industrial infrastructures operating in the mining, metallurgical, chemical and power sectors.
The presence of a range of explosive and toxic substances at these sites is a source of serious concern for security and environment experts.
“All parties to the conflict need to be aware of the risks that continuous insecurity brings, including for a chemical disaster. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that all precautions are being taken to prevent such catastrophe to occur, and mainly for the fighting to stop”, Baskut Tuncak added.