There is nothing natural about a disaster. There are natural events, occurring with unnatural frequency and severity, and there are risks associated with and determined by our levels of preparedness. In other words, disasters occur when we are unprepared for the events that cause them. Beginning in 2005, the United Nations, through its International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, coordinated a series of high-level meetings with UN member states, NGOs, and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework with achievable targets. The latest version of this instrument is known as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and is meant to serve alongside the Sustainable Development Goals from 2015–2030.
To help promote a more systematic approach to reducing them, the UN General Assembly also established 13 October as the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction. Each year the day focuses on and advocates for a different theme. This year, the official day is calling for “international cooperation for developing countries to reduce their disaster risk and disaster losses.” This theme addresses the sixth of the seven Sendai targets that the global community agreed to in 2015 as a way to urgently reduce disaster risks—at the local, national and international levels—and ultimately to prevent deaths and injuries, and to protect livelihoods, ecosystems and properties from devastation.
As the Sendai agreements are a voluntary arrangement, their implementation is entirely dependent on the ambition of national governments. In Ukraine, the process for achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the seven targets of the Sendai Framework is codified in a presidential proclamation, reflected in numerous acts of parliament and is in part exemplified by the country’s regional integration commitments under the Association Agreement with the European Union.
Ukraine is currently drafting a national strategy for environmental security and climate change adaptation, developed under the leadership of the Ministry of Environmental Protection with the involvement of academia, civil society and the private sector. The draft strategy outlines the pathway to a better adaptation to climate change, starting from a climate vulnerability and risk analysis for economy sectors and environment components, alongside integration of adaptation efforts to the relevant policies and strategies. It is being submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers this month, in October 2021, and will be supplemented with an action plan, designed with the European Union’s and UNDP’s support, outlining major steps to be undertaken for climate change adaptation in the country by 2024. One of the main elements of this strategy is to combat the high risk of desertification in vast parts of the country.
Already, some southern regions of Ukraine are experiencing water shortages, while in the west there is increasingly intense flooding. Interestingly, the overall national average rainfall has been consistent, but with droughts in some areas, and deluges in others. In addition, the nature of precipitation has changed from widespread seasonal rains to sporadic, localized downpours.
Climate change is widely believed to be the cause for the growing intensity of floods, rising temperatures, higher frequencies of extremely hot days during the year, and the expansion of the areas affected by drought and desertification. Facing these new realities, Ukraine and indeed the world are endeavouring to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the warming, while coming up with strategies to adapt to the changing and often unpredictable climate.
Ukraine faces exceptionally high risks of being negatively impacted by the climate crisis. Many of its ‘traveling’ river channels are prone to landslides, wildfires were burning in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and much of its land in the east is pockmarked with unexploded ordnance and explosives from the ongoing conflict.
Aside from being one of the most mine-contaminated regions globally, eastern Ukraine also is subject to widespread industrial risks from numerous derelict facilities from what was one of the busiest mining and heavy industry centers in the Soviet Union. Somewhat similar risks are seen in the west, where petrochemical and extractives clusters, mine tailings, and a flooded potassium quarry threaten the Carpathian mountains’ otherwise pristine landscapes. Many people in the region are understandably concerned by the excessive erosion along some of the riverbanks in the Limnytsia river, a tributary to the transboundary Dniester, and by the chaotic growth of vegetation that is clogging streams and altering currents. In June 2020, for example, this region was hit by a devastating flood that caused the deaths of five people and damaged infrastructure valued at more than UAH 3 billion (US$105 million).