ISTANBUL, Mar 16 – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged the international community Monday to protect crucial water and sanitation systems during wartime ahead of an international forum here on water and the management of scarce sources.
"Water, sewage and electrical power systems, along with medical facilities, are usually the first things to be disrupted when a war breaks out," Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC’s water and habitat unit, said in a written statement.
The breakdown of the systems are often followed by "massive shortages and by rapidly spreading disease that can result in loss of life," Mardini underlined, citing Iraq, the Gaza Strip, Sri Lanka and Somalia as examples where armed conflict has disrupted water supplies.
Roughly a quarter of the estimated 1.2 billion people unable to obtain clean drinking water, and 15 percent of the 2.6 billion without access to proper sanitation, are in war-torn countries, he said.
"The ICRC aims to use the World Water Forum to put this issue higher up the international agenda and to remind governments of their responsibilities in this respect," Mardini said.
The Fifth World Water Forum opens in Istanbul Monday, bringing together an expected 20,000 people from 107 countries, among them government officials, business people and civic groups, who will discuss themes associated with water until March 22.