Rivers and Water Systems as Weapons and Casualties of the Russia-Ukraine War

| October 27, 2023 | Leave a Comment

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Publication Info: e2023EF003910

Date of Publication: September 28

Year of Publication: 2023

Publication City: Hoboken, NJ

Publisher: Wiley

Author(s): Peter Gleick, Viktor Vyshnevskyi, Serhii Shevchuk

Journal: Earth's Future

Volume: Volume 11, Issue 10


The geophysical, hydrological, and ecological consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war for the major rivers and water infrastructure in Ukraine are addressed here, focused on the dams and reservoirs of the Dnipro (Dnieper) River and major tributaries, up to and including the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in June 2023, using remote sensing systems, on-the-ground reports, and official sources. The rivers have long played a role as physical barriers during conflicts, but in the current war, water and built water systems have also been targeted for attacks and used as both offensive and defensive weapons. Among the consequences of the conflict have been both direct and indirect effects on civilian populations, agriculture, military operations, water supplies and quality, and natural ecosystems. A historical review shows that such attacks have occurred in the past, but the extent and severity of the current violence appear unprecedented, raising important questions of international law and how international legal and scientific communities should respond.

Plain Language Summary

The Ukraine-Russia war has led to extensive attacks on water resources and water infrastructure. Using remote sensing, media reports, and on-the-ground observations, we review the types and history of violence against water systems in Ukraine from the start of the conflict. Among the most serious impacts are a series of attacks on dams in the Dnipro river watershed, with severe impacts on humans, ecosystems, energy, water supply, and irrigation, including the destruction of the Kakhovkha dam, one of Europe’s largest. This review raises important questions about how the international community should respond to water-related conflicts.

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