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Nova Kakhovka Dam

Volume 830: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2023

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and the international response.

My Lords, at least 80 communities and 40,000 people are affected by flood water. Damage to homes, infra- structure and agriculture will affect thousands more. Our partners are working hand in hand with the emergency services to evacuate people and provide vital relief. We have also provided an additional £16 million to the United Nations and the Red Cross to help civilians, including those affected by flooding and others elsewhere in Ukraine in humanitarian need. To bolster efforts, we are also sending boats, water filters, pumps and waders to Ukraine.

I thank the Minister for his reply; it is particularly good to hear of the support the British Government are giving to those affected by the floods. My Question concerns a different aspect of the matter: adherence to the Geneva conventions. Article 56 of the 1977 Protocol 1, additional to the 1949 Geneva conventions, says that dams and nuclear sites must not be the object of attack if civilians are going to suffer. Over 170 nations have signed up to this, including Ukraine; Russia originally signed up and then withdrew ratification. Will His Majesty’s Government reaffirm the importance of adhering to that in a world where there are now so many dams and nuclear power stations?

My Lords, I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord. The essence of all the Geneva conventions was to ensure that these important elements are protected during conflicts, so I very much support his sentiments. However, I remind the House that, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, our intelligence communities are still looking at the incident, and it remains too soon to make a definitive judgment as to the cause.

My Lords, vast areas of Ukraine are now under water. Is the Minister aware that there is a big shortage of boats there, as he might expect? Will he work with me to try to repurpose some of the boats coming across the channel with so-called illegal immigrants, so that they can be reused in Ukraine, instead of being wrecked to stop them being reused in this country?

My Lords, the basis of what the noble Lord says is important: we need to ascertain what the needs of Ukraine are and to meet them. If boats are required, as I said in my first Answer, we will seek to provide them.

My Lords, the consequences of the breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam have been described as “generational” in their impact. Does the Minister agree that this underlines the importance of next week’s Ukraine Recovery Conference and the need for it to address ecological issues as well as infrastructure and economic development matters?

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble and gallant Lord. In preparation for this Question, I saw the mapping made of the flooding, which is on both sides of the Dnipro river; half is on the Russian side. Even organisations such as the ICRC cannot access the area, and people are suffering. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord that there are issues concerning agriculture and the natural habitats, which will be impacted, but as the waters recede we will be able to make a better assessment. However, we will not be able to make that assessment unless Russia allows access to its side of the river.

Further to the noble and gallant Lord’s question, it is very welcome that London is hosting the second Ukraine Recovery Conference jointly with Ukraine, but if that is to be successful for the state’s future, proper scrutiny, oversight and accountability of any private sector reconstruction work for Ukraine will be necessary. The Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, is not included in the agenda for the recovery forum. Does the Minister agree with me that Parliaments and their scrutiny are very important for effective, sustainable recovery after any conflict? Will he ensure that there is always an eye on proper parliamentary involvement in these fora?

My Lords, my understanding is that parliamentarians are also attending that conference. As the noble Lord will be aware, it is primarily aimed at the private sector and focused on reconstruction, but I note what he said.

I accept what my noble friend says. The challenge has been that, as the dam broke, pollutants and other substances such as oil and petrol contaminated the whole river. As I said to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, there are implications for both agricultural land and the ecological habitats along the river. The assessment is still yet to be made fully.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. Like many other parliamentarians, I am an ambassador for the Halo Trust. The breach in the Kakhovka dam is flooding extensive minefields and dislodging many thousands of landmines. In fact, Halo has cleared 5,000 landmines from that area in the last month alone. Looking ahead, as the noble Lord is constantly being invited to do, to 21 June and the Ukraine recovery conference, there can simply be no talk of reconstruction in Ukraine without first focusing on making the land safe from explosions. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that landmines and unexploded ordnance, of which there is an incredible amount in that country, are firmly at the forefront of delegates’ minds as they gather in London later this month?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. What is very evident, as he said, is that large sections around the dam and the river have been cleared of landmines. The United Kingdom Government have worked with the Halo Trust, and its CEO, James Cowan, will be addressing the Ukrainian conference on the specific issue of demining in advance of reconstruction in Ukraine.

My Lords, I return to the question of agriculture. I know it is early days to undertake a full impact assessment, but can the noble Lord reassure us that our expertise will be used fully to support Ukrainian agriculture in the long and medium term? Will he ensure that the issue of the impact on agriculture is properly addressed at the Ukraine recovery conference?

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. In a previous Question, we talked about the importance of Ukraine’s supplying the world’s economies with grain. We have yet to see how this will impact, for example, the Black Sea grain initiative. The Dnipro river goes straight into the Black Sea, so of course there are implications. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, pointed out, many mines have been washed through and that assessment has still to be made, but specific parts of the conference are allocated to agriculture. Half a billion people used to get their grain from Ukraine, so there is a major task ahead of us.

My Lords, further to my noble friend Lord Selkirk’s remarks about drinking water, is it right that this reservoir provided drinking water for Crimea, and what are the implications long term for that?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we are seeking to make early assessments of the full implications. What is clear is that this provided water to many parts of Ukraine, including those areas currently occupied by Russia. Frankly, a full assessment cannot be made until we get full and unfettered access. I regret to say—I would be glad to be proven wrong—that I do not think we will be able to make that assessment until Russia does the decent thing and withdraws from Ukraine.

My Lords, one of the perhaps unintended consequences of this tragedy is the recreation of considerable areas of wetland that previously had been drained. Will thought be given to the preservation of some of that wetland and the biodiversity that it might offer to the people of Ukraine?

Again, the noble Lord is correct. When we look at the devastation, many of the natural habitats and wetlands have been impacted. A full assessment has yet to be made but what is clear from early reports is that much has been damaged and impacted. Of course, areas are being damaged further downstream because of the pollutants being carried forward by the river, and there is the impact of the mines. The noble Lord is correct and I assure him that that will be very much part of the work of the international community. That is why it is necessary to involve the private sector at this time, next week, to make sure we can have a collective effort in rebuilding Ukraine.

My Lords, the Government should be congratulated on their initiative in convening the reconstruction conference next week. Has an attempt been made to estimate the cost of reconstructing the dam when conditions allow? It can only add to the costs of the damage Russia has caused, and of course add considerably to food prices and affect food availability in the developing world.

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, of course, the developing world, particularly parts of north Africa, is severely impacted by the lack of grain supplies from Ukraine. On his earlier point, I have asked that specific question, and assessments are being made. According to an early assessment, the dam is irreparable and would require rebuilding. Then, of course, there is a timeline associated with that, which runs into not weeks or months but years. The other issue to bear in mind is that one side of the dam is in Russian-controlled Ukraine territory. A concerted effort will be required to ensure that, first and foremost, we see peace and see Russia withdraw, so that all arrangements can be put in place to rebuild the dam, which serves so many people across Ukraine and the wider region.