(MENAFN- IANS) Kiev, June 9 (IANS) The breaching of a major dam in southern Ukraine and the susequent collapse of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant earlier this week, will lead to devastating economic and ecological consequences, an expert has said.
"Up to 1 million people may face drinking water problems," Oleksii Kushch, an economist at "United Ukraine" think-tank, told Xinhua in an interview.
The breaching of the dam and the subsequent destruction of a hydro-electric power plant in the Russian-controlled Nova Kakhovka region in the early hours of Tuesday, have led to mass evacuations as water levels downstream rapidly increased.
Officials have said that 30 towns and villages along the river have been flooded and nearly 2,000 homes have been submerged in the city of Kherson -- the region's capital controlled by Ukraine.
Of the 30 flooded towns and villages, 20 are controlled by Ukraine and 10 are occupied by Russia.
Kiev and Moscow have traded accusations over the dam's destruction, without providing concrete proof that the other is culpable.
It is not yet clear whether the dam was deliberately attacked or whether the breach was the result of structural failure.
Apart from the humanitarian consequences, the catastrophe will take a heavy toll on the economic development of Ukraine's central Dnipropetrovsk and southern Mykolayiv, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions, Kushch said.
"The water use intensity in the regional gross domestic product will change significantly -- industrial enterprises will lack water. These are mainly enterprises in the processing industry and metallurgy," he said, citing the industrial cities of Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol among those to be severely hit by the water crisis.
In addition, the disaster will stop the water supplies to about 30 irrigation systems, which irrigated about 1 million hectares of agricultural fields, the expert said, adding as a result, Ukraine may lose 10-15 per cent of its agricultural potential due to indirect or direct influence of the breaching incident.
Consequently, Ukraine's southern regions, where vegetable growing and horticulture were concentrated, may soon turn into semi-deserted areas.
"The land use in this region will be changed. Instead of vegetables and moisture-loving plants, mostly unpretentious plants, primarily sunflowers, will be grown in the region," Kushch said.
As the Kakhovka plant destruction would cause the loss of approximately 60 percent of water resources in the regional water balance of Mykolayiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, soil salinazation may become another environmental disaster, posing risks to people's health, he warned.
"In the absence of water and irrigation, groundwaters, which consist primarily of salt marshes in this region, will rise... Some salt marshes in the region contain heavy metals and harmful substances that could be spread by the wind. They enter the human body through the respiratory system. This can lead to an increase in serious diseases and abnormalities in the development of children," Kushch said.
The expert estimated that the restoration of the Kakhovka plant and its structures would take about five years and require about $2 billion.
The attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant is possibly the most significant damage to civilian infrastructure since the Russia launched its full scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, according to UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths.
"The sheer magnitude of the catastrophe will only become fully realized in the coming days. But it is already clear that it will have grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine," he told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
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