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Save the Tigris

Civil Society Statement on Kakhovka Dam Disaster and Restoration Challenges

June 20, 2023 Ukraine Nature Conservation Group, International Rivers, and the undersigned organizationscondemn the weaponization of the Kakhovka hydropower dam, whose destruction hasprecipitated the

By coordinator

June 20, 2023

Ukraine Nature Conservation Group, International Rivers, and the undersigned organizations
condemn the weaponization of the Kakhovka hydropower dam, whose destruction has
precipitated the manmade disaster unfolding in Ukraine, the impacts of which will be
experienced by the environment and people for generations to come. Dams must not be used
as a weapon of war.


The destruction of the Kakhovka dam has severely affected the lives of hundreds of thousands
of people upstream and downstream, impacted over 40 protected natural areas with dozens of
endemic species, exposed or carried to the sea the toxic sediments accumulated in the
reservoir over the dam’s 70-year history, inundated at least 50 settlements on both banks
causing mass displacement, and cut off water up to 500,000 hectares of irrigated fields, among
other impacts. Restoring a new liveable environment will take many years if not many decades.
This destruction of the dam represents the most serious single blow to the environment during
this war, constituting a war crime that should be investigated by the International Criminal Court
as “ecocide” or another appropriate article of international law. The international community
should hold Russia accountable for all the myriad environmental and humanitarian crimes
committed during this war.


The unfolding tragedy has not prevented the dam industry from promoting its services, even
while the flood waters were still drowning towns located downstream. The International
Hydropower Association (IHA), in a statement that conspicuously avoided mention of Russia
starting the war, pledged to support “the redevelopment and reconstruction process as and
when the time comes,” hinting at future lucrative contracts. The day after the blast at the
Kakhovka dam, the IHA celebrated the release of the new “Hydropower Outlook,” calling for
doubling the world’s hydropower fleet while ignoring the negative impacts of this industry and
the catastrophe underway in Ukraine.


Meanwhile, the bursting of the Kakhovka dam caused by the brutal Russian military invasion in
Ukraine has reminded humankind that large dams can often be a weapon of mass destruction.
Building dams upstream of populated areas can threaten the lives of thousands – in the case of
Kakhovka, 40,000 people live in harm’s way, at least 50 of whom have been already confirmed
dead and up to a thousand are still missing. The deluge has also taken a heavy toll on natural
ecosystems and biodiversity of the unique wetlands and valleys of the Lower Dnieper – one of
Europe’s largest rivers. Unsafe in times of peace, these dams become a mortal danger in times
of war, civil unrest, and terrorist insurgence.


This disaster also represents a glaring reminder of the dangers that dams can pose. In addition
to warfare, dams are increasingly at risk of failure as decades-old dams reach the end of their
lifespans, and climate change-induced floods threaten dams and communities located
downstream. By 2050, most people will live downstream of a large, aging dam.


More than ever Ukraine needs support for its speedy and sustainable recovery. However, the
destruction of obsolete Soviet infrastructure also brings an opportunity for economic, social, and
environmental improvements by using new efficient and nature-friendly approaches and
technologies while avoiding mistakes of the past.


The restoration of the 350 MW Kakhovka hydropower plant has been estimated to cost over €1
billion, though the full cost is likely to be much greater when factoring in the restoration of the
vast reservoir. It would also take years to complete, and restoring water supply from the
reservoir to Crimea may take over a decade. Rebuilding the dam and its 2000 km2
reservoir would not represent the best path forward given its extraordinary expense, high environmental
impacts, climate vulnerability, remaining threat of destruction, and availability of more
sustainable solutions.


A comparable solar power plant, for example, would occupy less than 1% of the former reservoir
area, cost a fraction of restoring the hydropower facility, and could be completed in less than two
years.


Dedicated water supply systems and more water-efficient irrigation schemes that do not require
restoring the dam can and must be undertaken immediately, rather than choosing an option that
would take many years to complete. These efforts are already underway.


Developing solar energy in the former reservoir could serve to power pumps for new water
systems while protecting native vegetation from drought. This could be complemented by wind
farms to harness naturally strong winds in the valley. The emergence of over 1000 km2 of vacant
land is a real opportunity to develop renewable energy and other nature-friendly economic
activities.


Sustainable and beneficial alternatives are possible if supportive governments and international
companies genuinely decide to help the sustainable development of Ukraine, not just see a
future “recovery” as a business opportunity for industries no longer welcome at home.
Our hearts are with the victims of this crime. Our anger is against its perpetrators: those who
started the war and, likely, blasted the dam and those who built it and then did not properly
maintain it. As friends of Ukraine gather at the international Ukraine Recovery Conference in
London on June 21-22, we hope the world will join Ukraine in planning and implementing a truly
sustainable recovery.


Ukraine Nature Conservation Group
International Rivers
Ecoaction – Centre for Environmental Initiatives, Ukraine
CEE Bankwatch Network
NGO “Merry Dolphin”, Ukraine
The Corner House, UK
Banktrack
Save The Tigris
Balkanka Association Sofia, Bulgaria
Recourse, The Netherlands
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP)
Waterkeepers Bangladesh
Save Our Rivers
Riverwatch
GegenStrömung, Germany
Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, Canada
Scientists for the Mekong
Balkani Wildlife Society, Bulgaria
Perangua, Spain
Ohrid SOS, Republic of Macedonia
Tigris River Protector Association
Mesopotamia Ecology Movement, Kurdistan
OT Watch, Mongolia
Rivers without Boundaries-Mongolia