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Fifth World Water Forum: war victims need better access to water and sanitation

16-03-2009 News Release 09/52

Istanbul/Geneva (ICRC) – The international community must do more to ensure that the victims of armed conflict have access to safe water and sanitation, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC is calling on governments taking part in the Fifth World Water Forum in Turkey this week to make a serious commitment to protect water and sanitation systems in times of war and to maintain services in conflict-prone areas to prevent them from collapsing.

" Water, sewage and electrical power systems, along with medical facilities, are usually the first things to be disrupted when a war breaks out, " said Robert Mardini, who heads the ICRC's water and habitat unit. " They can be damaged or shut down completely by shelling and explosions, or overwhelmed by influxes of displaced people. Such incidents are often followed by massive shortages and by rapidly spreading disease that can result in loss of life. " Mr Mardini cited Iraq, Gaza, Sri Lanka and Somalia as examples of places where the delivery of water supplies and sanitation services has been severely hampered by recent armed conflicts.

Roughly a quarter of the estimated 1.2 billion people unable to obtain clean drinking water, and 15 per cent of the 2.6 billion without access to proper sanitation, are in war-torn countries. " Access to safe water and adequate sanitation are fundamental for conflict-affected people, " said Mr Mardini. " The ICRC aims to use the World Water Forum to put this issue higher up the international agenda and to remind governments of their responsibilities in this respect. "

Mr Mardini drew attention to the double adversity faced by war victims struggling to survive a natural disaster. " When a natural disaster, such as a prolonged drought, exacerbates the devastation wrought by conflict, as in Somalia, people become far more vulner able to poverty and disease. "

The ICRC's efforts to improve water and sanitation involve working with communities and Red Cross and Red Crescent partners to provide emergency assistance where needed and to develop sustainable practices. The organization's neutral and impartial role enables it to talk to all sides in a conflict, and thereby to help restore access to water even as fighting rages on.

Read more:
  - Interview with Robert Mardini
  - New ICRC publication Water and war
  News footage will be available from 13 March.
Please contact Didier Revol, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 36 81 or  

Information for editors:

In 2008, close to 15 million people benefited from the ICRC’s water, sanitation and construction projects. About 400 expatriate and local engineers and technicians were operating in 43 contexts around the world. The beneficiaries included victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence, IDPs, returnees, people deprived of their freedom and those living alongside affected populations. Many of those whom the ICRC helped were located in rural areas or in areas difficult to reach owing to insecurity or lack of infrastructure.

The ICRC's budget for water and sanitation projects in 2008 amou nted to around 132 million Swiss francs.


For further information, please contact:
  Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18
  Elif Unal Arslan, ICRC Ankara, mobile +90 530 323 67 06