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Restoring ecological safety in Donbass: Strategic foundation of peaceful process and key demand for region reintegration

Ecological consequences of losing Donbass:

A near-critical flooding of a large quantity of interconnected mines, which lost it’s pre-war organised maintenance that provided regular extraction of mine waters. If the flooding continues, an irreversible fragmentation of the landscape (economically impossible to restore) will take place: a mix of healthy territories with stable surface and a plethora of flooded and swamped, mineralised, poisoned by mine waters territories.

The high intensity of uncontrolled mine flooding seen today is starting to cause ground subsidence and, hence, destruction of buildings, infrastructure and surface biosphere. This threatens a large quantity of industrial enterprises that handle hazardous chemicals, including hazardous radioactive underground sites. The process is true for all the territory of Ukrainian Donbass, that is composed of kilometres of mines. The destruction of dangerous sites resulting from subsidence will lead to uncontrolled chemical and radioactive pollution of groundwater and surface water and the Sea of Azov ecosystem. In any case deformation of the ground surface in the cities residing above former underground work sites, including intensification of anthropogenic earthquakes, is inevitable. A predicted outcome is destruction of living conditions in a number of densely populated territories on both sides of the division line.

Mine water kills all living organisms and can be used neither as drinking, nor as industrial water under any circumstances. When it emerges at the surface, the level of water basin pollution of the large territory will be disastrous. Seversky Donets river is a main source of drinking water in the east of Ukraine. 90% of Donetsk and 30% of Lugansk regions depend on Donets water. All the ecological processes in question are directly connected to rivers and other bodies of water. The water quality is already threatening lives of millions of local people.

The conditions are being created where highly toxic compounds will transfer into the food chain of the population when they are released into the environment, including the ground surface and agriculture, in case of an accident.

The processes in mines activate and enhance greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, carbon oxides, nitrogen and radon.

The environment appeared to be a concealed victim of the war. We have passed a point of no-return for many industrial regions of Donbass. Protection of people and territory of Donbass requires inclusion of ecological imperative into the processes of peace settlement and reintegration.

Objectives of the eco-peaceful process in Donbass:

The primary threat is the resumption of war itself. In the existing conditions it can be a trigger for ecological disaster in Donbass.

The «save the common house» principle should be the basis for policy of peaceful settlement
and be an imperative for drawing out protocols and mechanisms of relations between Ukraine and unrecognised republics. The principle of territorial ecological integrity should be set as a foundation for Donbass reconstruction policy. A healthy ecosystem and sustainably regulated resources are core factors for minimising the risk of the resumption of an armed conflict in the future. Meanwhile deterioration of environment can be used as ecological weapon by any party to the conflict.

Steps that should be taken in order to save viability of Donbass (as a national natural asset and a place to live):

To form an international analytical team of scientists in association with National Science Academy of Ukraine, inviting scientists from respective institutions from Lugansk-Donetsk People’s Republic. An ecological dialogue based on exchange of information on actions and parameters, first of all regarding mine flooding and extraction of mine waters, is necessary. The team will become a platform for production of a continuing updating ecological expertise and development of relevant ecological programmes, implementation of which will allow to contain key threats to the ecological safety of Donbass. The expertise of the team should be a priority in the process of peace negotiations and should be binding for all parties. The only systematic solution of the prime problem of ecological instability in the region is implementation of comprehensive measures regarding decrease of mine water level – the team’s task will be to develop a comprehensive program of respective transboundary arrangements.

A bilateral monitoring system of ecological situation should be established: a comprehensive report on utility systems, buildings, gas supply lines etc is necessary. Integrated monitoring system for level and movement of mine waters in order to control the risks should be developed. The next step is to create a common ecology restoration body with special powers ( simplified procurement procedures, easy access to all territories and facilities, agreed resources etc) under «Donbass Ecology Center» using special form of financing.

Laying out Ukraine – LDPR cooperation protocols regarding mutual eco-jobs: water pumping appliance, filtration systems instalment, fortification of unsafe sites etc. Each step should be overseen by an OSCE monitoring mission. It is suggested to expand the mission (expansion of the mandate to include new «ecological functions») which has to include the necessity to ensure safety of the key critical infrastructure facilities: safeguarding systems of regional water supply, protection of construction teams, disaster zones exploitation prevention etc. (Donbass shouldn’t become a ground for conducting tests or burying toxic waste and garbage. There is a threat that a «shadow market» of potentially nonviable and abandoned territories and industrial-infrastructure facilities exploitation will appear in order to bury more highly toxic and nuclear waste. Control and prevention of such scenario should be included into task list of the expanded OSCE mission.)

Implementation of the ecological program requires establishment of the relevant international reconstruction fund (consequences of the worst ecological scenarios will be transboundary). This will allow to finance all measures that will establish a foundation for security of priority areas that need reconstruction as well as to stop uncontrolled emissions of a dangerous greenhouse gas methane.

The system of «Severskiy Donets – Donbass» channel may only function as one ( «Donbass Water» company): it remains a united establishment under executives in the uncontrolled territory and control office in the government- controlled Ukraine. Taking into consideration an extensive list of threats and influence on the water supply system (clean drinking water is a priority challenge for the Donbass population) – this structure’s reintegration and teamwork «without borders» must be a binding provision of peace negotiations. Along with the launch of mine waters decrease program, the ecology restoration works should include drilling of boreholes network for protected fresh drinking underground waters. This will allow to provide safe water for the population while the ecological stability of the Donbass is being restored.

It’s necessary to establish an effective peaceful ecological process, that will be promptly carried out in a short-term period and will involve multilateral cooperation. This is a matter of international ecological safety. The absence of «ecological peace» will destroy the common subject of war – in a short term the point of any «reintegration» will disappear – densely populated Donbass territories will lose a foundation for life. Ukraine and nearby countries will be flooded with ecological refugees. The unfolding negative anthropological-natural processes, if consciously ignored, will destroy the basis of fragile peace in the country.

Strategic Group Sofia