Time to fight the causes of environmental disasters, not just wipe up the mess


At a press conference representatives of the Working Group of Ukrainian Nongovernmental Organizations on Climate Change presented their conclusions regarding the causes and consequences of the recent catastrophic floods in the Dniester Basin and Danube’s mountain tributaries from 23 to 27 July. The findings were explained by the Head of the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine [NECU] Ihor Sirenko and Head of the Environmental and Humanitarian Organization “Zeleny svit” [“Green World”] Oleksandr Stepanenko. They also spoke of the action needed by the authorities to prevent and adapt to natural phenomena, as well as to safeguard people’s right to a safe environment.

The Working Group’s findings were based on visits to the areas affected. These were organized with the help of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union public advice centres and “Zeleny Svit”.

The environmentalists believe a number of factors are at play, including climate change and irrational human activities. As far as the latter is concerned, they point to irrational forest, agricultural and water planning of the territory and construction of inhabited areas, as well as mining for precious stone. The key conclusion is therefore that the catastrophic scale of the floods and ensuing violations of people’s rights are caused by long-term disregard of the principles of sustainable development which entails taking environmental factors into account.

The figures for forestry in the Carthanian Mountains and in the Podilsk area around the Dniester are lower than the environmental optimum. Unfortunately, there have been many man-made changes in the last decades to the forests, valley and estuaries of rivers, with the water regime of many of them being significantly changed.  This is contributing to an increase in surface water, due to extreme changes in temperature and amount of rain, as well as reductions in the amount of vegetation, forest, etc, and other factors draining the natural capacity of the land.

They pointed out that the second half of the twentieth century had seen excessive tree felling in Western Ukraine, with the amount of forest in the Dniester Basin halved over the century. The scale of felling exceeds the natural capacity for renewal.

Measures set out in the State Programme on Ukrainian forests for the period from2002 - 2015 have not been implemented. At this rate, the optimum level of forestation (20%) could only be reached in 2184!

The Working Group says that since independence, a totally corrupt network of shadow business in the Carpathian forest has developed. Their only interest is in quick deals which run counter to the State’s interests and to sensible economic calculations. They endanger the safety of local inhabitants and are leading to the destruction of the natural heritage. Law enforcement and controlling agencies, other authorise as well as the local population are being dragged into the shadow business. Over the last decade the forestry industry in the Carpathians has become virtually out of control.

Examples were given of wide-scale felling of reservation forest in the Carpathians and the Dniester Canyon. These included the destruction of:

  • the reservation tracts “Hayivka” in the Kosmatske forest (territory of the natural park “Hutsulshchyna” (Ivano-Frankivsk region)
  • “Stinka” (the landscape park “Dniester Canyon”, Ternopil region).

The lack of result from investigations carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the prosecutor’s office testify to the activity of organized criminal groups.

The local authorities deliberately sabotage implementation of the national programmes and decrees of the President on creating new natural-reserve territories, and provoke the bodies of local self-government and the population to unlawful acts. One example is the opposition over many years to the formation of national parks “Hutsulshchyna” in the Ivano-Frankivsk region and the “Dniester Canyon” in the Ternopil region.

Mention was also made of cases where building raw materials are being taken from the mountain streams in the valley of the Dniester. This unlawful practice is exacerbating water erosion of the shores, and hence the disastrous impact of floods and landslides, with river sources becoming dredged, disruption to the hydrological regime of the stresses, creating serious risk of banks overflowing, including in populated areas.

The Working Group has prepared a number of recommendations to avert the risk of further environmental disasters in order to reduce risks from climate change.

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