What's In Blue

Posted Tue 21 Mar 2023

Arria-formula Meeting: Protection of Water-related Essential Services and Infrastructure During Armed Conflicts

Tomorrow (22 March), Mozambique and Switzerland will convene a ministerial-level Arria-formula meeting on “Protection of civilians: Achieving a better protection of water-related essential services and infrastructure for the civilian population during armed conflicts”. The Minister of Public Works, Housing and Water Resources of Mozambique, Carlos Alberto Fortes Mesquita, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Ignazio Cassis, are expected to chair the meeting, which is open to all UN member states and permanent observers. The anticipated briefers are Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Robert Mardini, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi, and a civil society representative. The meeting, which will be held in the Trusteeship Council chamber, will be broadcast live on UNTV at 3 pm EST.

The meeting will take place on World Water Day and will coincide with the UN Water Conference (22-24 March), which is co-hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan and is geared towards implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene). Significant ministerial-level participation is anticipated at both the conference and the Arria-formula meeting.

The concept note prepared by the co-hosts ahead of tomorrow’s meeting says that water, sanitation, energy, and health care are often interdependent. It notes that the meeting is expected to focus on the protection of water-related infrastructure and services for civilians in armed conflicts and to underscore the humanitarian effects of disrupted water services, especially on children and other vulnerable groups. The meeting may also explore how addressing the adverse effects of climate change can help to inform measures to protect water services and related infrastructure.

Questions posed in the concept note to help guide the discussion include:

  • How can the Security Council be more effective in protecting water-related essential services and infrastructure?
  • What are policy and practical measures to strengthen the capacity of states to fulfill their obligations to protect water-related services and infrastructure essential to the protection of the civilian population?
  • What are examples of concrete good practices to ensure respect for and implementation of IHL by all parties to armed conflicts, including measures to be taken by member states, the UN, the Red Cross Movement and other actors?

The Council has addressed the protection of water-related civilian infrastructure in several outcomes and meetings, both at the thematic and country-specific level. Adopted on 24 May 2018, resolution 2417 on the link between armed conflict and food insecurity called on parties to conflict to refrain from “attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects that are indispensable to the survival of the civilian population”; drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works are among the objects listed. Resolution 2573 of 27 April 2021 expressed the Council’s deep concern with armed conflicts that have devastating impacts on civilian objects, reducing access to essential services such as health care, water, sanitation, and energy. The resolution—which was the outcome of the videoconference open debate hosted by then Council member Viet Nam on “Critical Infrastructure: The Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population”—observed that attacks on such infrastructure pose devastating consequences for civilians and hinder an effective humanitarian response.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Mardini may note the need for conflict parties to respect international humanitarian law and the importance of protecting civilian infrastructure, as affirmed in resolution 2573. He may note that water is essential for a variety of critical services, such as sanitation, health care, and agriculture. Russell is likely to express concern about the effects on children of attacks on water facilities. Grandi might underscore the need to make water available to vulnerable displaced populations.

Council members are expected to emphasise that water is essential for human survival and to condemn attacks on water-related infrastructure and services. Some may call for enhanced monitoring of attacks on such infrastructure and services and advocate that their protection be included in the mandates of UN peace operations. Some members may also observe that the adverse effects of climate change—including droughts, desertification, and rising sea levels—can limit access to fresh water for hygiene, drinking, sanitation, and agricultural purposes. In this regard, they may emphasise the need for conflict-affected states to build resilience to water shortages.

The need to protect civilian infrastructure, including water infrastructure, is relevant to several country and regional files discussed by the Council. While by no means exhaustive, the following examples illustrate the importance of protecting water in situations discussed by the Council.

In recent months, several UN officials and member states have observed the devastating humanitarian toll of the war in Ukraine, where attacks on civilian infrastructure have limited access to water, heat, and electricity. In an 8 February Council meeting, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu said that “[t]he disruption of water, gas, heating and electricity created by Russia’s attacks on energy infrastructure is causing the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine to reach even more dire dimensions”. The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently announced that it would initiate a case against Russia for attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

The negative effects of water scarcity on livelihoods in Iraq have been discussed in several Council meetings. In the 2 February Council meeting on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Ambassador Ishikane Kimihiro (Japan) noted the need to invest in basic infrastructure related to energy, water, electricity, education, and health care to help build a resilient society in Iraq. At the same meeting, Ambassador Sarhad Fatah (Iraq) noted that his country was taking steps to use modern irrigation systems to save water.

In Syria, damage to water infrastructure and limited rainfall have exacerbated the difficult humanitarian situation in the country. Lack of access to clean water has in turn worsened the cholera epidemic in Syria. At the 25 January Council meeting on Syria, OCHA Deputy Director Ghada Eltahir Mudawi called for adequate investment in water and sanitation to address the root causes of the cholera outbreak. The damage to key civilian infrastructure caused by the earthquake that struck south-east Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February has worsened the humanitarian challenges facing Syria.

In parts of the Sahel region, the activities of terrorist groups, as well as climate change, have led to the displacement of populations, limiting their access to water supplies. In this difficult environmental and security context, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) has enhanced its capacity to “advise partners on conflict-sensitive climate-mitigation and -adaptation strategies”, as Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO), noted at the Council’s 12 October 2022 meeting on climate and security in Africa.

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