The Nova Kakhovka dam has been constructed on Ukraine's Dnipro River.
The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine along the Dnipro River in the war between Ukraine and Russia has brought in a scary new dimension to the conflict between the two countries. The water that has flown from the reservoir has now flooded large parts of the Khersov region, and it has endangered the war supply to Crimea, which Russia occupied in 2014. The dam also provides water of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. As the dam is part of the Russian-controlled area since the war broke out, the Russians are saying it is the Ukrainians who created the breach in the dam, while the Ukrainians hit back saying that it is the handiwork of Russians themselves. It is indeed necessary for the world to know how the huge dam, built in the Soviet-era in the 1950s, has become the target of war. It has generally been the case that big constructions like dams have remained outside the ambit of war. And this convention has been broken. The destruction of the dam brings with its untold suffering to people in cities and villages in the region.
The waters are already spreading at an alarming rate, and the Russians have been trying to evacuate the affected people. This would also create long-term problems like disruption of water supplies to people in Crimea and elsewhere which has been made available through the reservoir. And there will be unforeseen damage because the flooding system of Dnipro river, which had been tamed through the Kakhovka dam.
There has been an unwritten convention that during a war, schools, hospitals, residential neighbourhoods and large structures like dams would be spared. If Ukraine and Russia claim they have not done it, and point an accusing finger at the other, it becomes very important that there should be an impartial and fair inquiry to know how the dam was busted. This is no small matter, and it becomes as important as human rights violations of non-combatant populations in the conflict zone. It is understandable that the Ukrainians and the Russians have been a fighting a fierce war for over a year now. But the demolition of the dam cannot be part of a war plan. If it is proved that either of the two sides have broken with this time-honoured conventions, then it is necessary to name them and shame them so that dams in conflict zones across the world are given certain immunity.
The war does not seem to be ending. Ukraine, buoyed by Western arms supplies is putting up a tough fight in defending its territory. The Russians had hoped to win the war in a couple of weeks, but the Russian plans have gone awry.
So, in the middle of a fierce war that is caught in a stalemate, the destruction of a huge hydro-electric dam is a serious act of sabotage. Even as attempts are being made to keep the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant away the actual battle, and both sides recognize the responsibilities involved in keeping the nuclear power plant safe and running , so a similar protocol needs to be worked out with regard to huge hydro-electrics dams across big rivers. The United Nations would have to initiate the process of safeguarding large man-made structures like dams across rivers. And the breaching of dams, which would throw open the floodgates as it were of the huge amounts of water stored in the reservoirs, has to be considered a criminal act. Russia and Ukraine must be responsible and restrained in talking about this issue of the dam. It cannot be made part of bitter exchanges through media, including social media platforms.