Gaining Access to Safe Drinking Water in Ukraine


Much of Ukraine’s population lives in rural areas, where access to safe drinking water is not easily available. (Photo credit: Yevgen Timashov/beyond/Corbis)

When you think of Europe, you probably don’t think of polluted drinking water. But such is the case for the citizens of Ukraine. Ukraine is located in eastern Europe and borders several countries, including Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland to the west, and Romania to the south. It was a part of the Soviet Union until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

Unfortunately, most of Ukraine’s water infrastructure has not been upgraded since Soviet times, meaning much of the country’s pipelines and sewage treatments centers are in desperate need of improvement. According to the International Relief & Development (IRD) humanitarian organization, more then 50 percent of Ukraine’s pipelines and water distribution systems are in need of urgent repairs and/or replacement.

The lack of access to safe drinking water in Ukraine is due in part to a general scarcity of water in the country. Over the last 10 years, almost 20,000 of Ukraine’s small rivers have disappeared. Development has led to the loss of many natural springs that feed water sources. In Ukraine, the majority of people get their water from the Dnieper River, the fourth longest river in Europe. The river, like many waterways in Ukraine, is polluted by agricultural and industrial run-off. Though there are regulations in place to prevent companies from dumping waste and sewage directly into waterways, many companies ignore the rules (and the costs associated with them). Lack of enforcement means that these companies see little to no consequences to their illegal practices. According to the country’s National Security and Defense Council, 70 percent of Ukraine’s groundwater contains chemical amounts that exceed acceptable levels and 40 percent of Ukrainian water wells do not meet sanitary standards.

While 80 percent of urban inhabitants have access to safe drinking water, only 20 percent of those living in rural areas do. Water testing indicates that much of the country’s tap water is contaminated with unhealthy amounts of chloride and nitrates. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 25 percent of the Ukrainian population is at risk of contracting water-borne diseases such as diphtheria, cholera, hepatitis A, and typhoid. Recent years have seen outbreaks of several of these diseases. According to the WHO, more than 4.5 million residents of Ukraine get water from local sources that do not meet regulatory requirements. In recent years, the Ukrainian government has taken steps to attack this problem head-on. In 2010, the government developed new health rules that requires greater control over water quality. Government members also approved a budget to fund the “Drinking water in Ukraine” project, which has a goal to improve the country’s water quality by 2020.

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Country: Ukraine
Location: Ukraine is located in eastern Europe. It is bordered by the Black Sea to the south, Poland, Romania, and Moldova to the east, and Russia to the west.
Area: 603,550 sq km (land and water) (slightly smaller than Texas)
Climate: Ukraine has a temperate climate. The western and northern portions of the country receive more precipitation than the east and southeast.
Terrain: The terrain of Ukraine includes steppes and mountains.
Natural Resources: Coal, iron ore, graphite, magnesium, manganese, mercury, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, timber, titanium
Economics: $335.4 billion (est. 2012)
Environmental Issues: Water contamination, air and water pollution, deforestation, radiation contamination from the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident.
Source: CIA – The World Factbook 

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