We have seen water being increasingly weaponised in conflict situations, including, most recently, in Ukraine and Gaza. These are, however, by no means the only situations in which water infrastructure, or the electricity infrastructure that is critical to the supply of water, has been deliberately attacked or abused by parties in a conflict. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and others have also seen attacks on water infrastructure.
We believe that every individual, regardless of their location, religion, ethnicity, gender, or other difference, deserves access to clean and safe water at all times, in accordance with the human right to water. As signatories to this statement, we express our commitment to the principles of justice, equality, non-discrimination and respect for human rights.
Destruction of infrastructure or stopping of water supplies results in significant harm and is a form of collective punishment, illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Diseases like cholera and diarrhoea spread fast, with high levels of fatalities due to the lack of clean water to treat those affected. Hospitals are unable to provide treatment. Malnutrition and wasting increase. Children, the elderly and the ill are most affected, and most particularly those in poor communities. Women and children who are forced to search for water are exposed to increased risks of sexual harm and violence.
Reconstruction of water infrastructure, which requires large budgets to be spent swiftly, is vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement, particularly in conflict or post-conflict situations, leading to further violations of the human right to water.
International law, including the Geneva Conventions, stipulates the obligations of all parties involved in conflicts to ensure the well-being of civilians and protect their access to basic needs, including water. ‘The Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure’ reiterates the obligations of parties to a conflict as the related to water specifically. As per principle 4, parties to a conflict should refrain from using water infrastructure and water-related infrastructure as a means of warfare. Principle 6 makes it clear that infrastructure related to water is assumed to be a civilian object and as such cannot be attacked or damaged unless it is being used for military purposes.
In the light of the above, we call for an immediate cessation of the weaponisation of water in all and any conflict. We call on all nations to abide by International Law and uphold the Geneva Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure at all times. We call for the United Nations to develop a process for economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation to be imposed on any country that uses water as a weapon of war and the establishment of an international body to monitor and investigate cases of water weaponisation.