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Chemical disaster fear in Eastern Ukraine prompts UN expert to raise alarm

GENEVA (10 March 2017) – A United Nations human rights expert is warning against the threat of catastrophic chemical disaster due to the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.  

“Large chemical and industrial facilities are in areas where fighting is ongoing”, said Baskut Tuncak, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes. “Battles are now being fought in cities, close to industrial centres, with factories increasingly becoming at risk of being hit: the consequences for anyone living close-by would be severe”.

On 24 February, shelling hit a building which stored over 7,000 kg of chlorine gas.  While no storage container was damaged, the rupture of just one 900 kg container would kill anyone within 200-meters and result in severe health consequences for those within 2.4 km, according to experts. In case of extensive damage, people living within 7.4 km downwind of the facility would need to be moved away within 24 hours.

The Special Rapporteur echoed concerns expressed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) relating to the humanitarian situation in the country and the increasing risks of a chemical disaster: “Humanitarian partners continue to call on parties to the conflict to respect the civilian nature of water infrastructure, de-militarise the adjacent areas and give a wide berth during fighting. A reasonable, limited supply of essential safety equipment for the staff of water treatment facilities must also be allowed into areas of the country not controlled by the government so that in case of any damage to chlorine storage, the staff can not only survive but also take action.”

Most of Ukraine’s industrial facilities are located in the eastern part of the country. These include heavy industrial infrastructures operating in the mining, metallurgical, chemical and power sectors. The presence of a range of explosive and toxic substances at these sites is a source of serious concern.

“All parties to the conflict need to be aware of the risks that continuous insecurity brings, including for a chemical disaster. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that all precautions are being taken to prevent such catastrophe to occur, and mainly for the fighting to stop”, Mr Tuncak added.

ENDS

(*) Mr. Baskut Tuncak (Turkey), was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization, and serve in their individual capacity.

(*) The latest OCHA Humanitarian bulletin on Ukraine is available here

For more information and media requests, please contact Alessandro Marra (+41 22 91 79 882) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / mediaconsultant1@ohchr.org)  

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