IsraAID tackles humanitarian challenges of Ukrainian dam burst

With settlements facing flood evacuations, IsraAID has faced other major issues, such as contamination and a limited supply of food available.

 Local residents take drinking water, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, after the Nova Kakhovka dam breached, in Kherson, Ukraine June 10, 2023. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Local residents take drinking water, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, after the Nova Kakhovka dam breached, in Kherson, Ukraine June 10, 2023.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The evacuations from the floods caused by the destruction of Ukraine’s Kakhovka Dam on June 6 have largely ended, but waterborne disease, safe drinking water, damaged infrastructure, and exposed minefields still offer significant challenges for the organizations addressing the disaster, IsraAID communications and translation officer Anna Pantiukhova told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Twenty-eight settlements had been hit by the flooding. The initial number of evacuees was estimated at 1,800 people. Active evacuation programs by the state emergency services and volunteers have come to a close, said Pantiukhova, but this doesn’t mean that everyone is out of the disaster area.

“It turned out there were more people who were willing to stay with their properties rather than evacuate unless they absolutely had to with their houses completely flooded,” said Pantiukhova.
There were fewer internally displaced people in the Kherson region than expected, and as the water level receded, they were returning to their homes to pick up the pieces. IsraAID had provided motorized pumps and hoses to help flush out the water, but as they returned, new dangers faced them.

“There is a need for food for many people, because a lot of their stock is underwater and there is obviously a need for stabilizing the situation,” said Pantiukhova. “Some of the aid needs to be delivered by boat.”

 A view shows flooded residential buildings after the Nova Kakhovka dam breached, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kherson, Ukraine June 8, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/Vladyslav Smilianets)
A view shows flooded residential buildings after the Nova Kakhovka dam breached, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kherson, Ukraine June 8, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/Vladyslav Smilianets)

Struggles created by contamination

Simple things like buying fish has been fraught since it is feared they may have been caught in contaminated waters. Transportation routes have been made unnavigable, so IsraAID helped channel boats from donors to local beneficiaries to use until the water level decreased sufficiently.

“There is a big problem with access to electricity because infrastructure suffered a lot as a part of our response,” said Pantiukhova. “We’re procuring flashlights and power banks to power cell phones, at least for people to stay connected, for them to be able to know when area alerts come on.”
Suffering the disaster of the flooding doesn’t mean the residents are exempt from the ongoing disaster of the broader war. Russia has continued to launch artillery, cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones into Ukrainian territory as Kyiv’s offensive continues. Parts of Kherson are under occupation -- so the front line isn’t far. Ukrainian authorities are unable to help flood impacted residents there.
Being close to the front already brought with it the danger of landmines, but far from staying in their fields, Pantiukhova said that “now all these mines arrived to where the water flow brought it.”
“We cannot deal with demining, but what we can do is we do first-aid training in the region, both for civilians and for the representatives of state emergency services,” said Pantiukhova. “The trainings were scheduled beforehand, but as it turned out, we actually held those trainings at the very point where they were super needed for the people to deal with such simple things as mine danger and first aid in case somebody happens to step on a mine.”

Larger problems posed

As much as too much water had become a problem, it had created the danger of not having enough clean water. The United Nations has estimated that 700,000 people in the region are without access to drinkable water.

“We purchased two mobile water treatment stations, which will be shipped to our local partner next week,” said Pantiukhova. “When they get access to any water, they can treat it and convert it into drinkable water. Rather than bringing in bottled water, and bringing in more plastic. We’re bringing in water treatment stations that will help cover at least some of the need and drinkable water in the region.”
The danger of not enough drinking water is not just a matter of dehydration, but waterborne diseases that spread in contaminated water.
“Very bad things such as cholera are already being found in Odesa,” said Pantiukhova. The disease had spread in other locations due to the water flow. “Another expected problem is botulism, for instance.”
Such diseases are not something that can be treated at home, and can be deadly without professional healthcare.“That’s why our initial response was sanitation items,” Pantiukhova explained. “We’re purchasing a special pill that you dissolve in water. It dissolves in water for some time after that, turning this water into usable. It’s not perfect for drinking, but at least you won’t get cholera.”
Pantiukhova said that the Israeli disaster and long-term relief NGO would continue to aid Ukrainian communities as events unfolded. IsraAID works on a long-term aid framework, and doesn’t leave after the immediate problem is addressed. The NGO is constantly in the impacted areas, addressing the long-term effects of the crisis.
IsraAID has two bases of operations in Ukraine, one office in Kyiv and the other in Odesa. From Odesa, many of the teams travel into the field. In the city, they also have a logistics hub, where they keep a stock of items for emergencies, like the one currently facing flooded communities.
The Kyiv team covers more of the operational aspects of the program, dealing with nationwide coordination and finances. They also have a special project embedding psychologists in the healthcare system to help treat those suffering from the horrors of war, but also with medical staff dealing with stress and burnout.
“We trained 60 psychologists; the majority of them are already assigned to hospitals in three regions of Ukraine,” said Pantiukhova.
The thing that IsraAID needs most now is trust. As part of its standard operating procedure, it works with local actors and communities to verify what they need, directly from the people who need it.
“We need the trust and all the aid that people all over the world are willing to give us to donate in any way they can,” said Pantiukhova.
She reminded that Ukraine has been dealing with the even more serious Russian invasion. Although the floods were a result of the war, she said it felt like another trial that the people have to endure. She described it as ecocide, since an entire ecosystem had been destroyed.
“It feels like there is an attempt to destroy Ukraine to its very core; its nature, its people, their resilience, their very existence,” said Pantiukhova. “Israel is here to provide any help we can in terms of mental health and psychosocial support and help people be more resilient and go through whatever this period of life harbors with as much dignity and as much strength as possible.”