When an explosion breached the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine on June 6, 2023, much analysis focused on near-term effects, including flooding in the city of Kherson, threats to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and consequences for the Ukrainian military forces’ expected spring offensive. against Russian troops.
But the worst long-term effects will fall on the farmers of Southeast Ukraine.
The villages there were flooded. Roads, railway tracks and irrigation canals were washed away. Crops in fields and orchards in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were flooded, then left to wither after the water receded.
The long-term ecological disaster will take place in the coming decades. Crimea, a region once known for its sunny beaches and rice paddies, could dry up without irrigation.
We are a US political scientist with research expertise in the post-Soviet region and a Ukrainian economist studying agriculture. While the long-term impact of the dam break is difficult to quantify, we believe it will have a lasting impact on the climate in southern Ukraine.
Farms that are no longer irrigated and cultivated because canals are broken and reservoirs are drained dry up, making them more vulnerable to soil erosion and dust storms. Agricultural production could be reduced in the coming years, with effects that ripple through supply chains and affect food security around the world.
As we have seen, the dam explosion had all the hallmarks of a scorched earth strategy, intended to destroy anything the enemy could use. It is hard to imagine any country inflicting such damage on its own soil.
A fertile farming region
Like other Soviet hydroelectric projects, the Kakhovka Dam and power plant were hailed as signs of progress and a bright socialist future when they were built in 1956 on the Dnieper River. The North Crimean and Dnieper-Kryvyi Rih canals, built in the 1960s and 1970s, carry water from the Kakhovka reservoir to Crimea in the south and the Kryvvi Rih iron ore basin and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the north.
Local villages and towns depend on water and electricity from the dam and its reservoir. About 545,000 hectares (220,000 acres) of arable land in these two regions are irrigated, including more than 20% of Kherson’s farmland.
Kherson’s farms grow watermelons and tomatoes. The region’s cherry, apricot, peach, apple and plum orchards produce the sweetest fruit in Ukraine. Southeast Ukraine also grows large quantities of soybeans and sunflower seeds, mostly for world markets.
Flooded fields, toxic water
The dam flooded the fields along the banks of the Dnieper. By July 1, the Dnieper River near the Kherson post had returned to its natural level, although some settlements in the territory temporarily occupied by Russian forces remained submerged.
Based on the conditions reported so far, we expect that this year’s crops in the flooded area will be flooded, and many of the crops will be destroyed. Valuable perennial crops that rely on irrigation infrastructure fed by the reservoir will be flooded and then dried up. Fertile and fertile topsoil can be eroded.
Further upstream, the lower Dnieper, Southern Bug and Inhulets river basins are polluted, endangering agriculture and drinking water for southern Ukraine. During the dam break, 150 tons of oil came out, and at least 17 gas stations were flooded. There is widespread concern about the effects on wildlife in the region, including many species of nesting and migratory birds.
After the flood, water scarcity
Flooding from the reservoir also damaged infrastructure important for Ukraine’s agricultural exports, including irrigation canals, hydraulic pumping stations, river ports and grain terminals.
Most importantly, without water from the reservoir, the fields of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Crimea will dry up. Cities on the coast of the Sea of Azov, especially Berdyansk, lost their main source of drinking water.
Crimea is heavily dependent on irrigation. Before it was annexed by Russia in 2014, farms in Crimea grew rice and corn. After the annexation Ukraine blocked the water from flowing to the Crimea. When Russia captured Kherson in March 2022, it reopened the North Crimean Canal and allowed the reservoirs on the peninsula to be filled.
Without the Kakhovka Reservoir, however, Crimea is unlikely to receive irrigation water for at least another decade. Effectively, the peninsula would be a desert with a sea base.
Fewer exports, higher prices
Apart from Ukraine, the dam breach will critically affect the world’s food supplies. In Southern Ukraine sunflower seeds, soybeans and cereals are major ingredients for industrially processed foods and livestock. They provide the proteins and lipids that are the building blocks of the 21st century diet.
After these commodities, they must be dried, shipped within the country, stored and then shipped internationally. Many facilities along the Dnieper and its tributaries are key nodes in supply chains connecting Ukrainian farms to world markets.
The storage elevator and loading terminals at the port of Kozatske, located just below the dam, were flooded within hours of the collapse. The upstream ports of Kamianets-Dniprovska, Nikopol and Enerhodar are closed and likely to be out of service in the coming years.
Global food commodity prices rose hours after the dam broke, as global grain traders anticipated food shortages. UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the BBC the impact on food security would be significant.
“… That whole area down to the Black Sea and Crimea is a breadbasket not just for Ukraine but for the world,” Griffiths told the BBC. “It’s almost inevitable that we’re going to see big, big problems with harvesting and sowing for the next crop. And so what we’re going to see is a big impact on global food security.”
An uncertain future
The loss of the Kakhovka Dam is the latest blow to a region that has suffered greatly during the war. Most of the fields along the lower Dnieper are filled with mines. NASA satellite images show crops planted in 2022 that have not yet been harvested.
Before the dam broke, the area cultivated in 2023 in Ukraine had already contracted by 45%, and the total harvest fell by 60% compared to 2021 before the war. With the loss of the dam and reservoir, yields are likely to decline further.
Many residents of the 80 villages in the area are farmers. If and when they return to their land, the fields and orchards may not produce enough income to support their families, who have already suffered greatly during the intense fighting in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
In 1941, Joseph Stalin ordered Soviet troops to destroy the predecessor of the Kakhovka Dam to slow the advance of the German army. It was not rebuilt until 1956. Even if post-war relief efforts could replace the Kakhovka Dam more quickly, we expect droughts between now and then to nearly destroy rural life in southeastern Ukraine. as it existed before June 6.
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Citation: Kakhovka Dam breach in Ukraine causes economic, agricultural and ecological devastation that will last for years (2023, July 10) retrieved 10 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-kakhovka-breach- ukraine-economic-agricultural.html
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