Largest flood in 50 years devastates western Ukraine (photos, videos). Why again?

Over the Ivano-Frankivsk region, Ukraine. Source: MVS 

Ukraine

After an abnormally dry winter and spring, that destroyed planted fields in southern Ukraine and caused dust storms throughout the country, abnormally heavy rains caused flooding in the Carpathians and on the plains along river beds.

Almost constant rains were falling in the country’s west in June, especially in the Carpathian mountains. June 2020 is estimated to become the rainiest June in the last half of a century in the Carpathians. As a result, villages and roads were destroyed by streams and landslides in the mountains. Yet, the harsh disaster hit villages along the rivers in the plains around the mountains. In particular, along the Dnister river in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts as well as along the Borzhava river in Zakarpattia oblast.

The flooding affected 165 settlements. Water flooded 6 hospitals, around 10,000 homesteads, and more than 3,000 hectares of agricultural land. 130 bridges were damaged. Emergencies counted 107 trips to help people eliminate the effects of the weather. Rescuers involved 255 units of equipment and 1,090 people. 285 people had to be relocated so far. Yet, the evacuation of the entire town of Halych populated by 6,000 inhabitants is being considered right now since the water level continues to rise.

Over Halych town, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast:

Over the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, Ukraine. Source: Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior

According to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the flooding in western Ukraine in 2020 exceeds the scale of the previous 2008 flooding when people’s houses were also destroyed. Therefore, 2020 flooding is the biggest one since the 1970s. In 2008, the government paid huge compensation for those people who lost their homes. Today it may be a hard test for the country already hit by the COVID-19 lockdown.

On Wednesday 24 June 2020 Shmyhal visited western Ukraine to estimate the scope of the tragedy and plan relevant measures.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal inspects the scope of disaster. Source: Ukrayinska Pravda

The flooding has washed off several roads in the mountains. On the video below, the family was walking while the road started shifting beneath their feet.

River Black Cheremosh:

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In Yaremche:

Also, around 10,000 people are left without gas. The overflowing Cheremosh river destroyed the pillars that supported gas pipes across the river.

Destroyed gas pipe in Chernivtsi oblast. Source: Chernivtsigas

According to the Digi24, heavy flooding is also in Romania. More than 160 settlements were flooded in Romanian Carpathians, several roads are blocked. June 2020 experienced the strongest rains in the last 60 years in Romanian Carpathians.

Finally, the entire Kryve lake disappeared in the Ukrainian Carpathians due to a landslide. The lake was 350 meters long and 5-20 meters wide. Nature created it in 2008 during the previous flooding when trees and land blocked the bed of a small stream. This year the next landslide smashed the new lake that already became a tourist attraction.

Lake Kryve in the Carpathians (2019) that disappeared due to landslide. Source: Ukrayinska Pravda

Why these disastrous floods?

According to ecologist Petro Tiestov, the main cause of such a disastrous flood is not deforestation, as people usually thing (although it has an impact), but the destruction, melioration, and construction on the natural river floodplains. Such floodplains were destroyed in the Soviet era due to the barbarous policy of melioration to “have more arable land.” Streambeds were deepened, aligned, and strengthened by dams. Such artificial measures make river streams faster and more dangerous. Also, as experience proofs, dams can’t help since water finds its way out anyway.

Therefore, the only solution is to concede to nature and preserve floodplains. Floodings will happen anyway at the time of heavy rains and the main question is what areas will be flooded and what human activity should be allowed in such areas.

The other issue is to return rivers to their natural state. In particular, make streambeds curve, wide, with islands, as they naturally were until humans decided to have more land and leave less for rivers. Such restoration of rivers has already become an effective policy in other countries, in particular, in Switzerland.

River Thur before and after restoration in Switzerland. Source: texty.org.

Another reason for the suffering that western Ukraine endures from the floods was offered by Yevhen Hlibovytskyi, a member of the Nestor Group think tank.

He stresses that western Ukraine suffers from an absence of strategic planning. The development of the Carpathian regions takes place along roads constructed in the first half of the XX century, all of them along the rivers that are devastated by abnormal floods every decade or so. Richer countries have changed this practice 150 years ago, says Hlibovytskyi: building roads on the ridges or by traversing costs more but requires fewer maintenance expenditures than roads along rivers or with many bridges, which is why most mountain roads in the Alps or the Sudetes no longer follow mountain rivers.

Only if the risks of building roads in disaster-prone areas are monetized through insurances with a span of 20-25 years will local communities start thinking of investing prudently, Hlibovytskyi stresses. Until then, Ukraine will be forced to dole out emergency funds to restore destroyed infrastructure each time a catastrophe strikes – with the latest devastating floods happening in 1998 and 2008 – and the frequency of those catastrophes are prone to increase as a result of climate change.

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