Attacks on water, sanitation and conflict workers around the world put the lives of 48 million people, including children, at risk and deny them access to critical services, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In the report “Water under attack 3: Attacks on water and sanitation services in armed conflict and the effects on children”, the UN agency underlines that the protection of water and sanitation services is “essential” for the survival of millions of children.
In fragile countries, children under five die 20 times more often from diarrhea than from violence, and children in extremely fragile countries are often more than eight times worse off than stable-born children and sheltered contexts in terms of water, sanitary indicators and sanitation .
The report, which examined the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), Iraq, Libya, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen focuses on the “big ones.” Impact “on children and their families if the water and sanitation infrastructure is attacked, damaged or destroyed, controlled or otherwise restricted in countries besieged by armed conflict. It also stresses that children’s access to water is under threat in almost all conflict-related emergencies to which UNICEF responds.
For example, eastern Ukraine has seen four attacks on its water infrastructure since the beginning of the year. 380 attacks have been recorded since 2017. Around 3.2 million people need water and sanitation.
Yemen, which has been in conflict for more than five years, experienced 122 air strikes on its water infrastructure between March 2015 and February 2021. Around 15.4 million people are in dire need of safe water and sanitation as the cholera epidemic continues causing thousands of children sick every week.
Since 2019, 95 attacks on 142 water and sanitation infrastructures have been carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. More than 1.6 million people live without access to these basic services.
Iraq’s decades of fragility have severely damaged its water and sanitation infrastructure and 1.85 million people have not given regular access to clean drinking water and sanitation.
Around 12.2 million people in Syria need access to water and sanitation as their infrastructure has been badly damaged in the last ten years of the conflict.
“Access to water is a means of survival that should never be used as a war tactic,” said Manuel Fontaine, director of emergency programs at UNICEF. “Attacks on the water and sanitation infrastructure are attacks on children,” he recalled before highlighting that if the flow of water stops, diseases like cholera and diarrhea can spread like “forest fires, often fatally”.
“Hospitals cannot function and malnutrition and acute malnutrition rates are on the rise,” Fontaine continued, lamenting that children and families are often forced to go out in search of water, putting them, especially girls, at greater risk become risk of harm and violence. “
In order to urgently protect children in conflict situations and to ensure access to adequate and safe drinking water, UNICEF has called on all parties to the conflict to “immediately” stop attacks on water and sanitation personnel and services and to fulfill their obligations to protect children in conflict, including Protection of the water and sanitation infrastructure.
UNICEF has called on states, including members of the United Nations Security Council, to take “stronger” measures to hold those responsible for these attacks accountable. For their part, donors have been asked to invest in water and sanitation in conflict situations as this is the first line of defense against communicable diseases.
Finally, the United Nations Agency has urged citizens to join its call to end attacks on children in conflict and to speak out to protect water and sanitation infrastructure and water workers.