What is ecocide?

The blowing up of part of the Nova Kakhovka dam during the Ukraine war, which formed the Kakhovskyi reservoir – one of the largest in Europe – was an act of ecocide. The Sunday Times reports on it in their article, “The drowned earth strategy is ancient but it has a modern name – ecocide”.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a group of international lawyers were drawing up a definition of ecocide for it to be used by the International Criminal Court. The International Criminal Court prosecutes crimes against humanity and war crimes. It should also prosecute crimes under the umbrella of ‘ecocide’.

Ecocide illustration by MikeB

The definition that I have is that ecocide describes “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

Although the breach of the dam has caused widespread economic loss it has also had an impact on biodiversity. It is not only in the Kherson region but further downstream.

The consensus is that the Russians blew up the dam in order to place further economic pressure on Ukraine, to weaken the country further. That’s my interpretation. It’s been devastating to fisheries and to farming and that single act of wanton criminality will prevent the production of about 4 million tonnes of grain and oilseed worth about $1.5 billion.

President Zelensky has called the breach of the dam “an environmental bomb of mass destruction”. And the president noted the environmental impact. He added that the event is “an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe”. And that it was a “barbaric attack”.

The release of water from the reservoir behind the dam will result in “massive inflows” of water from the Dnipro River into the Black Sea. This is likely to upset ecosystems and biodiversity levels of marine wildlife and the plants in that region.

Saving animals from the flood
Saving animals from the flood. Image: Reuters.

There have been other acts of ecocide in Ukraine by the Russians. The Ukraine government has recorded a thousand cases of environmental damage thanks to the diligent work of Ukraine’s environmental protection and natural resources ministry.

The Russians have mined farmland or it’s been ruined by shelling. Forest have been burnt. National parks have been damaged by the fighting.

The EcoZagroza app allows Ukrainian citizens to record and upload details for assessment by officials of environmental damage caused by the Russian invasion. The images can then be assessed in conjunction with video and satellite imagery.

Kyiv estimates that the losses from environmental damage at more than US$50 billion. The intention is to seek damages when the war is over. Russia will have a massive obligation to repair Ukraine and it is going to cost many billions of dollars.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us that wars have ecological and environmental consequences. The scorched earth policy of Russia has happened before. Their red army burnt crops and destroyed bridges and factories when the Germans advanced during the Second World War.

Ironically, the whole of humanity is engaged in an act of monumental ecocide in warming up the planet through mass human activities some of which are illegal and all of which are wanton because we know what we are do is causing climate change. Climate change is probably the biggest catastrophe to affect the planet. It is human generated. Wildlife is going through a sixth mass extinction currently. There’s much worse to come.

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