‘We stand by you’ declares UN relief chief, outlining emergency plan for Ukraine dam disaster
“We need to focus on an emergency response right now”, he said, highlighting a three-step plan to provide humanitarian assistance to all Ukrainians impacted, who have faced more than one year of war following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. “We need to save people and get them to places where they are safe and can eat, and get safe drinking water.”
Latest situation report
Four days since the destruction of the dam in southern Ukraine, flooding has started to recede, although the disaster is still causing displacement and rising humanitarian needs, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which Mr. Griffiths heads.
In the Kherson region which is under Ukrainian control, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 320 people have been displaced over the past 24 hours, increasing the total number who had to leave their homes, to more than 2,500.
Across the Ukrainian-controlled areas of Kherson, nearly 40 villages and towns have been severely affected by the flood, with more than 3,620 houses recorded as damaged to date OCHA said, in its latest situation report released late Friday afternoon.
Three-phase response plan
Highlighting the UN’s three-phase response plan, the UN relief chief said emergency actions include getting people to safety, delivery life-saving supplies, and assessing the longer-term consequences. An appeal for emergency assistance is also in the works, he said.
Responding to media reports referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s comments on the slow reaction by aid agencies, Mr. Griffiths said an immediate response had always been the priority.
“I understand the President’s frustration,” he said. “What we focused on was trying to get the response moving as quickly as possible.”
Providing an update on recent efforts, he said two convoys departing on Thursday had reached 30,000 people in Kherson along with another delivery made on Friday, adding that “the engine is moving”.
Phase one priorities in the coming days will be to continue to both rescue people and deliver medical supplies and food aid, including via boats operated by the World Food Programme (WFP), he said.
The next phase will aim at reaching those in need, including the 700,000 people who currently lack safe drinking water, and providing livelihood assistance.
Examining the environmental and economic consequences will make up part of phase three, he said. This may be the most “awful shock” to the people of Ukraine and the global South, because it is bound to have an effect on food security as the “bread basket” of Ukraine is most certainly going to be affected, he warned.
Reaching out to Russian authorities
“We have been in touch with the Russian authorities in the last half hour,” he said, noting that his Office is seeking permission to have safe access across lines.
Turning to the ongoing mis- and disinformation campaign over responsibility and circumstances surrounding the dam disaster, he said “our obligation is to tell the truth about needs and to deliver on that.”
“Our message to the region is one of solidarity and sympathy,” he said. “The idea that you would go through more than a year of war… and then suddenly to be woken up in the middle of the night by this blast and that torrent, which takes away any future that you might have known before…under these circumstances, the message from the world is very simple: we stand by you in this time of need.”
Crisis in Sudan
Turning to the crisis in Sudan, where fierce fighting continues since rival military forces clashed in mid-April, Mr. Griffiths expressed hope that the latest imminent ceasefire, set to begin on Saturday, will work and “give us a window of opportunity”.
“We’ve agreed on cross-border operation from Chad into Western Darfur so that we can actually begin to see the level of needs,” he said.
“What is fundamentally important is the beginning of a process which brings an end to this war, which deals with the reasons it started, and which returns it to civilian rule and the proper embrace of its people by government,” he said.
“That’s what all humanitarians want: to be driven out of business by the resolution of the conflict,” he added.