War in Iraq and the right to water
Water is essential for human life. No one can survive without sufficient water for drinking, cooking, washing and general hygiene. The human right to water is recognised in international law and must be defended during times of war. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has adopted the general comment on the right to water which states that the human right to drinking water is fundamental for life and health, and sufficient and safe drinking water is a precondition for the realisation of all other human rights. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 (Protocol 1, Article 54) state: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock and drinking water installations and supplies." The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prohibits: "Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives." Public health crisis On May 12, almost two months after the US invasion of Iraq and a month after the US occupation of Baghdad, there were still large portions of the population lacking safe water and the resulting public health crisis includes high rates of illness and death related to water-borne diseases. The following news items come from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC). * Repair work started on Abu Nuwas pumping station, heavily looted in recent weeks. This station is extremely important for supplying water to poor areas of Al Sadr, Khamalyia, Al Ameen and Al Uboor districts. Unfortunately by the next morning looters had not only stolen equipment but had also destroyed what remained. * Water distribution by tankers covered 18 locations, delivering 190,000 litres over the past few days. Emergency repairs continue in Al Amari water treatment facility. * Fear of cholera epidemics in southern Iraq is increasing, and the WHO has already sent samples to Kuwait for clinical testing. Cholera is endemic in the south and this is the "season" for it. However, given the deteriorating overall health situation, it will be much more difficult to cope with it this year. The security situation (destruction and looting of water facilities) is ultimately to blame for the spread of cholera and other water-borne diseases. * The pumping station at Al Hayyanniyah, which supplies Al-Zubair, has been completely looted, leaving half the town's population of 50,000 with problems of access to water. The repair of the Shuaiba pipeline allows some water to reach Al-Zubair. Lessons from 1991 Gulf War During the first Gulf War, attacks against Iraqi infrastructure by US-led military forces claimed a minimum of 110,000 civilian causalities. The vast majority of deaths were caused not by the direct impact of bombs but by the destruction of the electric power grid and the ensuing collapse of the public health, water and sanitation systems leading to outbreaks of dysentery, cholera, and other water-borne diseases. An epidemiological survey conducted in Iraq in August 1991 reported the deaths of 47,000 children under the age of five. Accountability for war crimes War crimes are international crimes for which there is individual responsibility. Although the US has expressly rejected the International Criminal Court, the US Congress in 1996 enacted the War Crimes Act under which civilian courts have authority to try either civilians or members of the armed services for war crimes and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Economic and Social Rights are co-operating with a wide range of organisations to compile evidence and prepare legal strategies to prosecute all parties that commit war crimes in Iraq.
* * *Public Citizen