Monday, 5 June, 2023

‘Mines may ruin Ukraine farmland’

GENEVA: Unexploded bombs, shells and mines not only threaten human life in Ukraine but also risk rendering swathes of fertile farmland unusable for years, the Red Cross said Tuesday, reports AFP.

Remnants of the war that has been raging since Russia's invasion in February 2022, as well as the drawn-out conflict that began eight years earlier with Russia's annexation of Crimea, have left Ukraine among the most mine-littered countries in the world.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that mines and unexploded shells in the Ukrainian countryside could have serious long-term implications for agriculture, a vital part of the country's economy.

"Farmers often face an impossible choice," Andrew Duncan, the head of ICRC's weapons contamination unit in Kyiv, told reporters in Geneva via video from the Ukrainian capital. "On a daily basis, they have to decide whether to risk their lives in order to farm their crops, or risk losing their income and the financial means to support their family," he said.

Duncan added that the contamination was continuing at a faster rate than weapons remnants could be cleared.

In addition to the immediate risks, the ICRC said the widespread weapon contamination posed long-term problems, requiring significant effort to survey the affected areas and then begin the long and dangerous task of clearances.

"This could render significant portions of arable land unusable for years to come," it said in a statement.

The diminished production capacity would be a huge blow domestically but also at the global level, as Ukraine is one of the world's main grain exporters.

Ukraine's fertile black soil "is crucial for providing an affordable grain supply to feed people on a global basis," Duncan said.

The conflict triggered fears of a global food crisis when major Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea were blocked by Moscow's warships.

But in July 2022, an agreement allowing Ukrainian grain exports to restart was signed, as well as a parallel memorandum on unhindered Russian food and fertiliser exports despite punishing Western economic sanctions over the invasion.

More than 30 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain have been exported under the agreement, of which half are corn and more than a quarter wheat.

But the most recent extension of the deal is set to expire on Thursday.