I am honored to speak on behalf of the Group of Friends (GoF) of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (PoC), a cross regional network of 27 Member States.
We would like to thank Mozambique and Switzerland for organizing this important Arria Formula Meeting and our distinguished briefers for their presentations.
Civilian populations around the globe are suffering from a lack of safe drinking water and essential services related to water and sanitation as consequences of armed conflicts. This is of particular concern, when hostilities are taking place in urban areas, which is increasingly the case. Deliberately attacking, destroying, removing, or rendering useless of objects indispensable to the survival of civilian populations, such as water installations and supplies, can be serious violations of international humanitarian law. The potential consequences of such attacks can be severe, devastating and long-term and their impact on the civilian population cannot be overstated.
Essential services such as sanitation, food provision, medical services, power supply and others directly depend on a functioning water infrastructure. Quick repair and provision of alternative water resources are often by large, not sufficient nor timely. Therefore, preventive approaches are needed as much as reparative measures.
In armed conflicts, water facilities are impacted, for example by destroying them or by exerting control over them and/or the water provider personnel. Moreover, the impact on the civilian population is exacerbated if there are restrictions that prevent repairs to damaged water and sanitation infrastructure and the safe passage of equipment, transport and supplies necessary for the reparation. Such restrictions may violate IHL, and run counter to relevant UNSC resolutions.
When critical civilian infrastructure, such as water and sanitation systems, are damaged or destroyed the provision of basic needs and essential services can be disrupted. These services are often interconnected and, as result, damage to one component or service can negatively affect services elsewhere, causing harm to civilians that can extend far beyond a weapon’s impact area. In this context, the Group notes the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.
Against this backdrop, the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians would like to make the following points:
Water and water infrastructure are objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, as specifically protected by international humanitarian law. Therefore, member states and the Security Council must ensure that international humanitarian law, as well as resolution 2573 (2021) on “Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population” are fully implemented. More could be done to systematically include the protection of water-related essential services and water infrastructure in conflict settings in Security Council deliberations, including in mandates of UN missions, as appropriate. Sometimes, the already dire humanitarian situations are compounded by negative effects of climate change, such as increasingly frequent extreme weather events and disasters, as we can witness in the form of floods, cyclones or droughts. Or, the Secretary-General could more extensively include the challenges and best practices of protecting access to safe water in its reports, in particular the PoC report.
Parties to armed conflicts, including armed groups, and those with influence over them have to intensify their efforts to comply with the IHL provisions protecting civilians and civilian objects, including critical infrastructure enabling the delivery of essential services. The rules under IHL including the principle of distinction have to be complied with at all times and those responsible for related violations need to be held to account.
When designing programs and projects and allocating funding, Member States and the UN should take into account the devastating, long-term consequences of the disruption of access to safe water and of water infrastructure on civilians, including the risk of waterborne diseases and displacement, which go well beyond the direct impact of hostilities and the short-term humanitarian assistance. Efforts to enhance the resilience of water and sanitation infrastructure, especially to adapt to risks associated to climate change, are also key.
Furthermore, member states should ensure that resolution 2664 adopted by this Council in December 2022 on “Humanitarian Exemption to Asset Freeze Measures Imposed by United Nations Sanctions Regimes”, which provides for a necessary humanitarian carve-out to all sanction regimes, is fully implemented on national and regional level. It is important to safeguard and support impartial humanitarian assistance in armed conflict.