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Conflict cuts water supply for thousands in eastern Ukraine

16 Jun 2017
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Clashes continue to damage critical infrastructure (file photo). Credit: Iva Zimova, People in Need

Tens of thousands of residents in eastern Ukraine cannot access safe drinking water, as pumping stations are increasingly being targeted in a rapid escalation of shelling by parties to the conflict.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, expressed concern for nearly 400,000 people on both sides of the ‘contact line’ in the Donetska Oblast in eastern Ukraine who had been without access to safe drinking water for several days. This followed damage to the South Donbass water-pumping station.

"The conflict, now in its fourth year, is denying vulnerable people of their most basic need: water,” he said. “I appeal to all parties to the conflict to immediately ensure a prolonged cessation of hostilities to allow critical repair and maintenance to restore the water supply, including the facilitation of any movements across the contact line."

The pumping station restarted operations yesterday, with the water supply expected to resume in Government-controlled areas (for approximately 210,000 people) and non-Government-controlled areas (for approximately 180,000 people).
Despite this welcome development, damage to critical civilian infrastructure caused by ongoing fighting remains a severe problem. A limited and irregular water supply has become the norm, and damaged and dilapidated structures cannot be repaired due to a lack of funds and insecurity, including the presence of landmines.

In May, partners working in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector recorded at least 15 incidents of shelling of interconnected critical electricity and water facilities in Government-controlled and non-Government-controlled areas, compared with four incidents in April.

Other essential services, such as health and education, have also been affected by continuous shelling. In May, for example, a school in Marinka (in the Donetska Oblast, Government-controlled area) was shelled, forcing the evacuation of about 140 children. Shelling also occurred close to a school in the same location, forcing students to take cover in bomb shelters. And more than 230 houses were damaged in multiple locations in Government-controlled and non-Government-controlled areas, leaving many people in need of shelter and essential services, according to humanitarian partners operating close to the contact line.

Increased shelling in Krasnohorivka, Donetska, affected more than 70,000 people after the Central District Hospital serving the Marinskyi raion area was damaged.

Hostilities have not escalated in eastern Ukraine since early 2017, but daily clashes continue to claim civilian lives and cause damage to critical infrastructure.

"I remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to respect civilian areas and infrastructure, and that the intentional disruption of access to sufficient quality water supply in conflict-affected areas is a clear violation of international humanitarian law," added Mr. O'Brien.