IRRC No. 308

The protection of water in times of armed conflict

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Water, life-giving and bounteous, the symbol of fertility and purity, is also a source of fear, risk and danger, of covetousness and conflict. Serving many purposes, all equally necessary, it constitutes a vital resource of which man has always tried to regulate the use and management. But unlike peacetime legislation, reflected in the customs and practices of the most ancient societies as well as in the domestic and international legal instruments of modern times, the law of armed conflicts has devoted only few of its provisions expressly — and belatedly — to water. This is not so much a criticism as an observation and may be explained by the fact that water is indispensable in all circumstances. Apart from the consequences of natural disasters, when water may be either threatening or threatened, some human activities can harm the environment and impair the population's means of survival, of which water is the most essential. The effects of pollution or armed conflict are a case in point. The experience of modern warfare has shown, alas, that the civilian population and civilian objects are exposed to military operations and that in some cases thirst can prove to be more deadly than weapons. The only remedy lies in respect for the universally recognized rules, and in the following article attention will be drawn to the provisions of humanitarian law which apply to the protection of water in wartime (I).

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