Water conflicts – Russia and Israel lead global wave of attacks on civilian water intakes

Rosja i Izrael przodują w globalnej fali ataków na cywilne ujęcia wody

In 2022. Water-related violence has reached an all-time high, boosted in large part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Israeli attacks on Palestinian water resources in the West Bank. The Pacific Institute has released research on disputes considered to be water conflicts. They show that in 2022. At least 228 such incidents have been documented. The last 10 years have seen a significant intensification of such events.

Water-related violence over the years

According to a Pacific Institute study, the number of disputes constituting water conflict in 2022. amounted to 228, an increase of 87 percent. compared to the previous year. Between 2000 and 2011, the number fluctuated around 20-30 per year, while between 2012 and 2017 it increased significantly, exceeding 50 on average in each year. Since then, the increase in the frequency of incidents constituting water conflicts has been overwhelming – in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the number of such incidents amounted to approx. 130-140, and in 2022 – already at least 228. Armed conflicts and climate change have contributed to the intensification, which is affecting water shortages. Mid-2023 data. indicate that we may be close to reaching another infamous record in terms of events that can be considered water conflicts.

Water conflicts and climate change

The Pacific Institute distinguishes in its statistics between three types of violence and water problems: those resulting from conflict, those causing disputes over access to water, and situations where water has been used as a weapon. In recent years, there has been an increased risk of events considered to be water conflicts due to rapidly advancing climate change, as we have written about before. This could exacerbate old disputes over land and resources. There is also growing social unrest linked to lack of access to water, despite its recognition as a basic human right. There are still more than 2 billion people (about 25 percent of the world’s population), especially in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, for whom this right is not feasible.

Water conflict as a weapon

In 2022 and 2023. the number of incidents involving the destruction of civilian water infrastructure during armed conflicts has definitely increased. Cutting off a population from access to drinking water is a violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, which can be considered a war crime. The first known water conflict took place in 2500. B.C. in the Sumerian town of Gueden, where a dispute over water and irrigated land lasted 100 years.

Another occurred on the Tigris River, in Babylon, between 1720 and 1684 BC. The use of water access as a weapon has also been recorded in modern times, such as the attack on water dams during the Spanish Civil War. Similar incidents occurred during World War II, such as the destruction of the US water supply during the bombing of the Japanese-occupied island of Saipan in 1944.

Russian aggression in Ukraine and water access problems

Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. was not only the cause of massive destruction, but also problems with access to water. By the middle of this year, 56 incidents had been recorded. Many of the facilities used for drinking water supply, irrigation, as well as industry and power plants were or are located in the east and south of the country, where the heaviest fighting took place.

There have also been several incidents involving the deliberate cutting off of the population from water, such as Russia’s attacks on the power and water systems of 106 towns in the Kherson region in April 2022. and Odessa in January 2023. Massive damage was also caused by the blowing up of the Kachovka dam on the Dnieper River, which left at least 50 people dead, flooded villages and farmlands, cut off drinking water supplies and poisoned them with toxins, oil and heavy metals.

Conflicts in the Middle East

Most of the disputes that constitute water conflicts take place in the Middle East. In 2022. There were 74 incidents, accounting for1/3 of the total number of such incidents worldwide. In Iran and Afghanistan, residents are suffering from a growing shortage of drinking water, causing protests as well as tensions between the two countries, with the Helmand River in the background.

Most incidents, however, occur because of Israel’s violence against Palestinians, which uses violence in the occupied territories to take control of already limited supplies. Starting as early as early 2022. attacked Palestinian water sources and water supply systems in an effort to control supplies in the region. This year has also seen a number of incidents in the besieged Gaza Strip, not all of which have yet been included in the Pacific Institute’s report.

Israel tops in attacks on water systems

From the beginning of 2022. By mid-2023. 66 incidents constituting water conflicts were recorded, the perpetrators of which were Israeli occupiers. This is about 2 times the annual global number of such incidents between 2000 and 2011. June 2022. recorded a series of attacks on wells and irrigation systems, and in October a water pump supplying water to 20,000 people was destroyed. Palestinians.

July 2023. Israeli soldiers destroyed wells and irrigation systems in Hebron in the West Bank. Following the Hamas attack in October, in which Israel suffered heavy losses, Israeli troops razed numerous wells, pumping stations and water reservoirs, as well as desalination stations and sewage treatment plants. As a result, more than 1.1 million Palestinians have been deprived of access to clean, safe water – their basic human rights.

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