The World Health Organization (WHO) has requested that Russia allow aid workers into territory seized from Ukraine in order to help people affected by the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam.
In an interview with POLITICO, Hans Kluge, the director of the WHO’s Europe office, said the health authority is assisting flooded zones in Ukraine, sending people and equipment to help with disaster relief. Around 300 WHO health workers have been mobilized, along with medical kits to care for about 16,000 people. Twenty thousand cholera laboratory test kits have been sent to strengthen disease surveillance efforts.
Kluge said that the WHO was also concerned with the health situation in territory controlled by Russia, to which it doesn’t have access.
The now-defunct Nova Kakhovka dam straddled the Dnipro River in Ukraine’s Kherson region, which is mainly under the control of Russian forces. The structure was critically damaged on June 6 and since then dramatic flooding has affected residents on both sides of the line of control between Ukrainian and Russian forces.
In addition to immediate, emergency health needs, Kluge said that patients suffering from chronic diseases, such as cancer or diabetes, are most at risk from disruption created by the flooding if they can’t access medical care.
“We see the biggest threat when the water recedes,” said Kluge.
Kluge said that for more than half a year the WHO has been in discussion with Russia to allow health workers to reach Luhansk, Donetsk and other Russian-controlled territories, where people are also facing medicines shortages. HIV treatment is a particular worry, said the WHO health official.
The recent environmental disaster has added renewed urgency to these calls. But “as of today, we are stuck,” Kluge said.
A sticking point in discussions has been from where health workers enter the occupied territory. Ukrainian officials insist that they cross over into the occupied zones from Ukraine. Moscow wants the health staff to enter Russia first.
Kluge said the WHO is following Ukraine’s position. In talks with Russia, the WHO has pointed to the precedent created by the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where International Atomic Energy Agency officials crossed from Ukraine to inspect the plant, which is in Russian hands.
The health official said that it is urgent that a solution is found. “It’s a ticking time bomb and time is running out,” said Kluge.