With conflicts and urban warfare raging around the world, we see more people struggling to access healthy drinking water. Climate change exacerbates this humanitarian issue, making it even more difficult for people to get safe water in war zones.
For example, more than 10 years of conflict in Syria have damaged the water infrastructure, reducing the supply by up to 40%. In the Sahel region of Africa, climate change has worsened living conditions for millions of people trapped in the conflict. Many steps can be taken to protect civilians in conflict zones and ensure everyone is guaranteed access to safe drinking water.
Learn more about water conflict in the world and how you can help provide clean, safe water to those in need.
Water = Life
Access to safe drinking water is a fundamental need and human right. Water is life, and protecting reliable and clean water services is essential for the survival of millions of people, especially children. The main factors causing water disparities worldwide are conflict, climate change, and poor infrastructure.
Since 2000, 2 billion people have gained access to reliable, safe water. However, 771 million were still without essential services in 2020, with 367 million using unimproved sources and 122 million collecting drinking water from lakes and rivers. Data shows those people living in rural and poor areas are less likely to have access to basic water services.
The connection between war and water access is not always straightforward. Geography plays an integral part since many types of conditions face different challenges. The dependence on water resources for survival, the marginalization of certain groups, and the technical and financial capacity to deal with water-related challenges also have an effect. Beyond limiting access to water and damaging infrastructure, the economic and social damage caused by war compounds water management issues.
Among the countries vulnerable to climate change and least ready to adapt, more than half are entangled in a conflict, further disrupting their access to clean water.
How Conflict Impacts Water Access
Conflict impacts water access in many ways, from damaging water-supply facilities to trapping people in their homes without access. Many facilities supply water and treat wastewater. Damaging or restricting access to these facilities affects the long-term health of civilians, harming people already struggling with the effects of armed violence.
As urban areas are overtaken by conflict zones, the risk of damaged infrastructure increases, especially in areas where explosive weapons are used. Since 2019, 95 attacks against water and sanitation infrastructures in Palestine have left more than 1.6 million people without access to safe water.
Trapping People in Their Homes
In many parts of the developing world, water is not typically piped into homes and must be collected a considerable distance from the house and carried back. In most countries, women and girls are more likely to collect water and become exposed to harm in conflict zones. In several Ukrainian cities, people are trapped in war zones without running water — many have resorted to melting snow or using water from radiators since they cannot safely leave their homes. Those forced from their homes in search of water are potentially exposed to violence and harm.
Contaminating Natural Resources
Water conflict in the world can also occur in other ways. For instance, during the Vietnam conflict from 1961 to 1975, chemical agents were used in areas of South Vietnam along with bombing. These chemicals, like dioxin and agent orange, and bombs contaminated the water resources and increased the spread of malaria when water stagnated.
It's hard to come by clean water in war zones. Without safe water, diseases like diarrhea and cholera spread and can be fatal. In conflict zones, children under 5 are 20 times more likely to die of diseases caused by unsafe water than by direct violence. In Yemen, 122 airstrikes on water infrastructure have led to a cholera epidemic, affecting thousands of children a week. About 15.4 million people in Yemen urgently need access to safe water and sanitation.
The Weaponization of Water
Because water access is vital, it is common for militaries to use water as a weapon of war for the power it holds. Whether the water is redirected, poisoned, or stolen, people in conflict zones are often displaced and vulnerable to disease and death due to unsafe water.
In many areas, militaries will take control of water resources or bomb water supply pipes and treatment plants. Warring parties have used water as a weapon by controlling dams, manipulating the flow of water, causing flooding, and threatening the lives of millions of people. It's also common for militaries to bomb oil pipelines to contaminate water sources. This contamination affects civilians and has consequences for agriculture and livestock.
Conflicts can also affect water systems indirectly when power supply systems and sanitation facilities are impacted. Electrical power is required to pump water, while damaged waste treatment systems can contaminate drinking water. Clean water in war is often targeted or polluted for its far-reaching impacts on the population, largely affecting health and sanitation, which in turn affects human lives.
How You Can Help
Even after wars are over, it's frequently difficult to restore access to safe water since developing nations often have few financial and political resources to aid in the process. Donating to organizations that provide these resources is an excellent way to help.
People will leave conflict zones if they can in search of safer places to live, and many end up in areas with limited infrastructure. Even when bottled water is available in stores, many residents are impoverished by war and depend on donations from abroad. Save the Children is one organization that provides relief, including clean water, to children in war-torn areas.
When governments, local authorities, and the private sector work together, they can strengthen service providers in times of need. You might support organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that bring water and sanitation to areas affected by conflict. You might also get involved by partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide climate-resilient drinking water and sanitation support.
Warring parties have often used water as a weapon, significantly impacting civilian lives. Fortunately, there are ways we can help get people safe drinking water, from donating to volunteering with human rights groups.
For more information on how you can improve your family's water, contact Multipure today.