Landmine and Cholera Danger After Ukraine Dam Collapses
CARE staff assist after the collapse of the wall of the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine

Hours after the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine was destroyed, causing widespread floods, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that cholera and other waterborne diseases posed a risk, while the humanitarian agency CARE warned of landmine explosions.

The Kakhovka dam is located on river Dnipro in the city of Nova Kakhovka, in the Kherson region of Ukraine. Russian troops occupy the left bank of the river, while the right bank is under Ukrainian control. 

The wall of the dam collapsed early on Tuesday resulting in the flooding of tens of villages and parts of Kherson as well as the total destruction of the hydro-electric station providing electricity to the region. 

While the exact cause of the collapse is unknown, Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the destruction while some speculate that the dam could have been weakened in previous attacks. However, Norwegian seismic monitoring group Norsar registered seismic activity on the night of the collapse of the dam wall which indicates there was an explosion at the dam.

Since the dam collapse, thousands of people have been evacuated on both sides of the river and tens of thousands of hectares of agricultural land has been flooded. The authorities have not yet announced the official death toll following the dam collapse. 

“The impact of the region’s water supply, sanitation systems, and public health services cannot be underestimated,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, said during a media briefing on Thursday.

“The exact information and the exact extent of the impact is yet to be seen because water continues to come downstream… figures at the moment show that initially 16,000 people were immediately at risk of flooding, on the river banks. Thousands have been evacuated,” Dr Teresa Zakaria, technical lead at WHO’s health emergencies program, told the briefing.

Dr Teresa Zakaria, WHO technical lead on health emergencies.

“The reservoir serves around 700,000 people downstream and there are over 30 settlements that are at a risk of flooding.” 

Zakaria added that while no cases of cholera have been reported in Ukraine since the war started in 2022, environmental samples show that the pathogens still exist in the region and  “that constitutes a risk”. 

Ukraine’s health ministry has also warned of water contamination caused by thousands of fish dying in the shallow water.


Landmines and oil

Meanwhile, Fabrice Martin, Country Director of humanitarian organisation CARE Ukraine, warned that “the area where the Kakhovka dam was, is full of landmines, which are now floating in the water and are posing a huge risk”. 

“We are very worried about the catastrophic consequences this explosion could have on the environment”, said Martin. “At least 150 tons of oil have been released into the Dnipro River with the risk of further leakage of more than 300 tons. This may lead to the Nyzhniodniprovskyi National Nature Park to disappear, which is more than 80 000 hectares of protected land.”

Ukraine’s president, Vladimir Zelensky, has accused Russian soldiers of firing on rescuers attempting to evacuate civilians affected by the flooding.

The dam also supplies cooling water to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant around 160 kilometers away. The plant is currently under Russian control and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that there is no immediate danger to the plant and that it is monitoring the situation. 

The flooding has heightened the risk of water-borne diseases and food insecurity due to the destruction of agricultural lands. 

Ukraine’s agriculture ministry warned of a massive impact on farming, saying 94% of irrigation systems in the Kherson province, nearly 75% in Zaporizhzhia and about 30% in Dnipropetrovsk have been left without a water source. “Fields in the south of Ukraine next year can turn into deserts,” the ministry said, as reported in USA Today.

Support for Ukraine and Russia?

While emphasising that the WHO’s priority is to offer assistance and monitor health risks equally to all affected parties during a war, Dr Mike Ryan, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies, said that Ukrainians were in more need since Russia’s invasion. 

“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have focused on being able to support the people to whom we have the greatest access, and that has been people on the Ukrainian side of the conflict,” said Ryan.

“ We continue to engage with, coordinate with and receive information on a regular basis from the Russian authorities regarding the health situation of the people in occupied territories,” he added. 

The WHO does not have a permanent presence on the Russia-controlled bank of the river but that before the war, the agency had access to both sides of the river, Ryan added.

“We would be delighted to be able to access those areas and monitor health as we would in most situations. But again, it will be for the authorities of Ukraine and Russia to agree on how that could be achieved.”

“We have more presence at the moment and more visibility on needs [of the people] on the side of the river that is under Ukrainian control,” Zakaria added. 

“However, we are monitoring, especially through the leadership of our regional office in Europe, to make sure that all information coming from the other side of the river [controlled by Russia] is also monitored”. 

Marburg over in Equatorial Guinea

Forty two days since the last patient affected with Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) was discharged from treatment, Equatorial Guinea declared the outbreak as over, the WHO announced at the media briefing.

The announcement comes days after Tanzania announced that the MVD outbreak in the country was over. 

Equatorial Guinea reported its first three cases of MVD in February and subsequent cases in March. Seventeen people were confirmed to have contracted MVD, of which 12 died. In addition to this, 23 probable cases were reported and all of them died.  

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