The status of water in the law of armed conflict
31-12-2000 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 340, by Théo Boutruche
Abstract of the article " Le statut de I’eau en droit international humanitaire "
After reviewing the provisions of international humanitarian law relating to water, the author offers some thoughts on the nature of the legal protection accorded this resource in time of war. The lack of a proper and autonomous legal framework for protecting water would appear to be explained, on the one hand, by the many roles that water can play – for example, as a weapon, target or victim – and, on the other, by the very manner in which it is treated in international humanitarian law. Water is taken into account only in connection with that body of law’s basic objectives of protecting victims of war and regulating the conduct of hostilities – and even then only in its capacity as one of man’s basic needs, or as a danger, or as part of the natural environment. Water as such is not given legal protection. This arrangement may be inadequate, but it is enough to serve as a firm basis for improvement. In view of research carried out recently on international rules on the use of water in peacetime, a fresh look should be taken at the status of water in the law of armed conflict. A better understanding of the issue’s complexities will mean better protection for “blue gold”.