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World Water Day: Access to water is vital

21-03-2003 News Release 03/20

Geneva (ICRC) – When war destroys water supplies and sewage systems, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helps to restore safe drinking water and decent sanitation.

When the fighting stops, the problems continue – it may be months or even years before water and sewage systems function normally again.

Water and proper sanitation are essential – they keep people healthy. And prevention is always better than cure. Victims of conflict are entitled to a healthy environment – and access to water is a vital part of that. This is especially relevant on World Water Day, 22 March.

Providing water and sanitation in conflict zones around the world has been an ICRC priority for many years. In 2002, the organization supplied some 14 million people with water. It ran 540 water and habitat projects and held health/hygiene education sessions in over 40 countries. Other activities ranged from providing emergency water and sanitation (pumps and water-treatment systems) to ensuring proper sewage disposal in towns and villages affected by armed conflict. The ICRC also repaired hospitals damaged by fighting and took steps to improve hygiene in places of detention. In all, about 400 ICRC staff took part in these projects.

In Iraq, the ICRC has been providing vital reagents and spare parts for water-treatment plants since the beginning of the 1990s, and the ICRC team currently in the country is ready to carry out emergency work on water and sanitation installations. In Afghanistan, where the ICRC is building wells and repairing traditional water-collection systems, some 2.7 million people benefit from its projects. In Angola, the ICRC protects water points in resettlement areas for displaced persons and trains them to maintain the installations themselves. In Ethiopia, the ICRC helps communities to manage water resources more efficiently and boost crop yie lds.

The theme of World Water Day 2003 is “Water for the Future”. Across the battlezones of the world, the ICRC is turning this theme into reality.

 Further information about ICRC water and habitat projects: www.icrc.org