'Poisoned Waters of War'—Public Health Crisis Follows Dam Destruction in Ukraine

Devastating flooding caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine continues to cause "immense human suffering," according to a special editorial in in the January 2024 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"[S]ome hundreds of thousands of civilians...may face health problems for years to come, due to the environmental impact of the [dam] collapse," according to the article by Marc Wilkenfeld, MD, of NYU Langone—Long Island Hospital and Manijeh Berenji, MD, MPH, of UC Irvine Schools of Medicine and Public Health.

In June of 2023, the Kakhovka Dam was destroyed, causing at least 52 deaths and evacuation of more than 11,000 people in both Ukrainian- and Russian-controlled territory. "The dam's destruction and the flooding that ensued have wreaked havoc on the Dnipro River plain, displacing thousands of families and leaving many more susceptible to contaminants that are still dispersing," Drs. Wilkenfeld and Berenji write.

The authors discuss the devastating public health effects facing the "invisible victims" of the dam's destruction, including exposure to sewage, industrial chemicals, mold, and spilled fuels. The researchers add, "The floodwaters have destroyed millions of hectares of farmland, which will ultimately lead to food shortages and price increases this winter."

Drs. Wilkenfeld and Berenji call for immediate action by NATO, in conjunction with non-governmental organizations and international humanitarian agencies, to mitigate the spread of disease in areas affected by the flooding. They emphasize the urgent need to provide "clean, safe water for as long as needed."

Other priorities including preparations for mold testing and remediation; education and prevention to address the risks of infectious disease and chemical exposures; and access to health care, including mobile clinics as well as mental health services to help displaced people to better process and cope with the traumatic events they faced.

"As fighting is now again intensifying along the Dnipro River, the people of Ukraine cannot yet know when peace will return to their country," the authors conclude. "In the meantime, responding to the still-unfolding public health crisis in their midst will help spare some of the war's future victims."


Wilkenfeld, Marc MD; Berenji, Manijeh MD, MPH. Poisoned Waters of War: Ukraine’s Invisible Victims. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 66(1):p 9-10, January 2024. | DOI: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000002977