1. Lack of maintenance and obsolete water and sanitation infrastructure
Donetsk oblast in eastern Ukraine is water-scarce. Built in the 1960s, the water supply system there is centralized, much more extensive than required and extremely inefficient. State company Voda Donbassa owns the system – including treatment and transportation – supplying water to 3.9 million people. Most secondary water providers in the region then buy water from Voda Donbassa to supply it to cities and small towns and treat sewage for consumers. Water is also the energy source for electricity and heating in the area. The obsolete supply system is exceedingly power consuming, causing financial challenges to pay the bills, and subject to an excessive corrosion of water pipes, adversely affecting the water quality.
2. On-going hostilities damaging existing infrastructure and impeding access of workers and humanitarian actors
Ongoing hostilities have significantly increased the damage to the system and further hampered utility companies’ capacity to repair the damaged infrastructure. In 2017, ceasefire violations hindered access to safe drinking water for 3.7 million people in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and cut services for 3.0 million people. That year, shelling or other conflict-related problems directly affected water and sanitation systems 135 times. Due to its location right on the ‘contact line’, one of the facilities hardest hit by the conflict is the Donetsk Filter Station; it officially supplies water to 345,000 people in Donetsk Oblast.
3. Instrumentalization of water
All water intakes are located on the government-controlled area, along the Donets River – the main water source in the region, leaving non-government-controlled areas dependent for water. Whilst the water company in the government-controlled area bears the costs of water extraction, the majority of profits are collected in the non-government-controlled areas, where most of the population lives. This has resulted in tensions, including disputes between parties across the ‘contact line’ regarding payments to the main water company, further leading to major utility cuts when the bills are not paid.