Ukraine: tackling risks in the decade of action

October 13, 2021

Taking stock of progress on the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Ruins of a riverfront building, which was destroyed by the 2020 flood in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. Photo: Anastasiia Bondarenko / UNDP Ukraine

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).

Post-flooding cleanup work along the Limnytsia river, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. Photo: Anastasiia Bondarenko / UNP Ukraine

Focusing forward on solutions

Through the Sendai and SDG frameworks, UNDP is helping the Government to better respond to future events and to reduce possible disasters by making the country’s infrastructure, institutions and governance more robust and resilient. In this way, if and when events do strike, their negative effects can be limited in area, scope and time.

UNDP has been helping Ukraine to integrate climate risks into national and sub-national development planning through its EU4Climate and Green Caucus projects. In addition, we have introduced several individual Disaster Risk Reduction programmes, while providing long-term support to the development of carbon-neutral and sustainable economies that are also resilient to climate change impacts.

Other initiatives involve the restoration of natural ecosystems by using nature-based solutions such as wetland restoration and the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and mobilizing communities to stop open burning practices—which often trigger wildfires across dry landscapes.

UNDP also provides emergency communication equipment to remote Carpathian villages suffering from periodic flooding. Emergency Services in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts receive equipment for addressing the multiple hazards stemming from conflict legacies, numerous industrial sites and the Azov Sea basin contaminants. Also in the east, UNDP advises on risk and threat management coordination and trains local communities to run their own disaster management capacities within the decentralization reform.

UNDP experts are further developing additional solutions for the Government and local communities to help them better govern disaster risks while safeguarding and advancing the country’s development pathways. Current areas of focus include:

●       introducing risk-oriented, analysis- and forecast-based approaches across all layers of public administration as well as in the private sector, including international standards and good practice;

●       spreading collaborative practices among the national disaster risk reduction stakeholders, at the country and sub-national levels, including the civil protection and climate change adaptation practitioners;

●       setting up a countrywide system for environmental monitoring to track pollutants in air, water and soil and cataloguing the multiple hazards;

●       upgrading early warning systems with best-of-class technology and community-oriented solutions; and

●       developing decentralized technical, fiscal and operational capacities for addressing disaster risks on local levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to the importance of strengthening disaster risk reduction and the significance of international cooperation, which is this year’s primary theme. The Government of Ukraine has demonstrated its seriousness and its commitment to reducing disaster risks within its borders while also cooperating with the international community to do its part in the climate crisis, a massive disaster risk looming on the horizon. For example, in July 2021, the Government updated its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent by 2030 from the 1990 levels. Ukraine’s renewed climate goals include reforms in all sectors to reduce negative impacts on the environment while improving livelihoods, promoting clean and smart cities, and ensuring economic competitiveness.

On this International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, we at UNDP would like to reaffirm our commitment to working closely with the people and Government of Ukraine and providing support where needed, bringing best practices and experiences from our network of 170 countries and territories. We also will surely share the innovations and successes developed here in Ukraine with the rest of the world. By working together through international cooperation in this way, we have no doubt the seven global targets of the Sendai Framework and the 17 goals of Agenda 2030 will be achieved, thus creating a world of shared prosperity where no one is left behind.