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Water as a Weapon and Casualty of Conflict: Freshwater and International Humanitarian Law

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International humanitarian law has failed to adequately address and protect critical basic civilian infrastructure, especially water resources and managed water systems, because the laws themselves are insufficient or inadequately enforced. This paper addresses the role of violence against water and water systems in the context of international humanitarian laws. Data are presented that suggest an increasing trend of water-related conflicts and recent incidents of violence against natural or built water systems are described. Strategies for improving international systems for protecting critical water infrastructure are presented.

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  1. In the context of this paper, the terms fresh water and water systems include potable water, water for irrigation and other human uses, and adequate sanitation systems to safely remove and treat human wastes.

  2. The Water Conflict Chronology is available at As of January 2019 the database include over 650 entries.


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Many thanks to numerous colleagues for insights, data, information, and reviews, including Morgan Shimabuku, Professor Stephen McCaffrey, and two reviewers.

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Correspondence to Peter H. Gleick.

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Gleick, P.H. Water as a Weapon and Casualty of Conflict: Freshwater and International Humanitarian Law. Water Resour Manage 33, 1737–1751 (2019).

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