Rising waters, rising needs: local organizations at the forefront of the response to the Ukraine’s dam explosion

Shipment leaves the Supply Centre for Ukraine

Equipment loaded onto trucks at the Bicester Supply Centre, UK, heading for Kyiv to support communities in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast affected by the Kakhovka disaster-induced flooding after the collapse of the dam. Photo: Ryan Witchalls/Oxfam

Blog by Oxfam
Published: 4th July 2023

On June 6th, the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, located about 70 km east of Kherson, was severely damaged by explosions, leading to widespread flooding and triggering a massive humanitarian and environmental crisis. This devastating event has forced more than 2,500 people from their homes and gravely impacted access to basic services, including food and water.

More than 25,000 houses have been severely damaged on both sides of the frontline and around 16,000 people are estimated to be directly affected by flooding on the Ukrainian-controlled northern bank of the Dnipro River.

One month on, Oxfam’s priority is still to ensure the safety of the affected communities. We are working in close collaboration with our local partners, who are at the forefront of the response efforts, offering our resources and technical expertise to effectively address the immediate needs and deliver vital humanitarian assistance.

700,000 people in need of clean water

The Kakhovka Reservoir, formed by the Kakhovka Dam and that stretches 240 kilometres across Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro and Kherson regions, is one of the largest water sources in the country’s south. Approximately 700,000 people relied either wholly or partially on the reservoir for their water and livelihood needs. Although mass distribution of bottled water and water trucking have begun in many places, the situation remains critical.

Many of the cities, towns and villages in the area now have no functional water supply, with some others having additional local supplies which can provide water for at most a few weeks. Contamination of water is a major concern throughout the region, with an increased risk of disease. The dam collapse has also increased danger from landmines and explosive devices previously placed on both banks of the Dnipro River that may have become dislodged by the flood.

Oxfam water points in Mykolaiv

Oxfam water points in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, January 2023. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Long-term impact on agriculture

The destruction of the Kakhovka Dam has significantly damaged the irrigation system, raising concerns over the flood’s longer-term consequences on agriculture.  It has impacted thousands of hectares of land on both sides of the Dnipro River, which has led to the disruption of agricultural activities in the midst of the season. In case the flooding persists, the reduced water levels in the reservoir and decreased irrigation capacity will lead to crop losses without sufficient time for replanting.

Additionally, the reservoir and the upstream Dnipro River served as vital fishery resources for the region. Rapid drainage may cause significant damage to these resources, potentially disrupting spawning grounds in the long term.

Oxfams and partners humanitarian response

In the aftermath of the disaster, Oxfam and partners have quickly mobilized to provide urgent assistance to the people affected by the flooding, providing food, water, cash, legal support and psychological assistance.

The Tenth of April (TTA), in coordination with Oxfam, is addressing water supply needs in the Kherson region. From June 15 to June 26, over 160,000 liters of bottled drinking water were delivered and distributed in Kherson and Mykolaiv oblast. Additionally, TTA conducted registration for emergency cash assistance to 278 affected households (including 533 individuals) from June 8 to June 20.

The Women's Consortium of Ukraine (WCU) in partnership with Oxfam and the NGO "Kherson Regional Center for Successful Woman" is distributing blankets, flashlights, and first-aid kits containing medications and medical supplies for immediate emergency aid. Moreover, 161 people have received one-time cash assistance. Additionally, plans are underway to distribute 400 grocery sets in the near future.

 “The fears of people affected by the floods are the fear of not surviving the winter: no home, no work, difficult access to medical care, there will be nothing to feed their families.”

Women’s Consortium of Ukraine

Peaceful Heaven of Kharkiv is distributing cooked meals, drinking water, and dry rations to the affected population, particularly those who are on the move. Distribution is being conducted in two locations and through mobile teams for hard-to-reach areas.

Local organisations have highlighted the devastating impact of the flood on houses, rendering them uninhabitable. While walls can be dried, furniture, appliances, and clothing have deteriorated. They are also concerned about water pollution and the unsuitability of the soil for cultivation.

People are afraid that there will be a lot of water pollution, that the soil is unsuitable for cultivation and that it will lead to the impossibility of growing vegetables. They are also afraid of the development of cholera.”

Responding to critical water needs

Oxfam is coordinating to provide 44 water tanks each with a capacity of up to 95,000 liters, along with tap stands and pumps. We are also procuring mobile water purification stations to support communities facing water scarcity due to the critical decrease in the water level in the Kakhovka reservoir and wells.

In the short and medium term, there is a need to establish alternative sources of water, which Oxfam is currently assessing through a hydrogeological study. This could involve the construction of pipelines to other locally available reservoirs, including small reservoirs currently used for industrial purposes. It could also involve exploiting groundwater resources.

Sustaining support for local humanitarian leadership

The situation in Kherson has once again shown that local organisation are the first responders to crisis and are often best placed to support the urgent needs of affected communities. Despite relative availability of resources for humanitarian responses in Ukraine, local and national organisations continue to face challenges accessing flexible funding to enable them to quickly respond when an incident like this takes place. Women’s rights and women-led organisations, who target support towards marginalised communities including women and girls and who are vital responders, often have to contend with additional barriers to access resources.

Oxfam will continue to coordinate with and support local partners to mitigate the devastating effects of the Kakhovka collapse for the affected communities. International donors, including UN Member States, institutional donors and UN agencies need to make greater efforts to ensure that flexible funding is available and accessible for local Ukrainian organisations to enable them to reach communities and provide much-needed support.