At the initiative of Switzerland and Mozambique – both elected members of the Council – the UN Security Council held an informal meeting on 22 March on the occasion of the World Water Day to discuss the protection of access to water and sanitation infrastructure in armed conflicts. This protection is a central pillar for the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.
"Water is essential to all life on earth and access to water is a fundamental right. It must be guaranteed at all times, including in times of war", stressed Christian Frutiger, Deputy Director-General and Head of the SDC's Thematic Cooperation Division, representing Federal Councillor Cassis, at the Security Council. Despite existing obligations under international humanitarian law, which is also reflected in several Security Council resolutions, water facilities continue to be destroyed or damaged in armed conflicts.
Today, some two billion people are at risk of water scarcity as a result of conflict. This not only results in a lack of water for people and agriculture, but also the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera due to poor hygiene. This is why Switzerland emphasised in the Council, that international humanitarian law must be respected and enforced everywhere and without fail. International humanitarian law fundamentally protects water infrastructure as a civilian object. It also prohibits attacking, destroying and rendering useless goods that are essential for the survival of the civilian population, such as drinking water supply facilities, water supplies and irrigation systems.
A functioning water infrastructure is also central to the consolidation of sustainable peace after hostilities. The absence of such structures prevents the resumption of economic and social activities in areas already severely affected by the war. This can result in a perpetuation of instability and a heightened risk that old tensions will flare up again. The meeting also highlighted the negative impact of climate change as an factor that further compounds the protection of water services and infrastructure in armed conflicts. This is why Switzerland also focused on the importance of prevention, reconstruction and the support of the international community for conflict-affected states and regions in its statement to the Security Council.
"The current challenges in terms of access, management and governance of water are manyfold and require multilateral solutions", Frutiger emphasised in New York. This is why Switzerland is committed to the permanent inclusion of this topic in the priorities of the UN.