In February 2000, armed conflict left over 11 million people in 16 developing countries in need of food and aid and vulnerable to malnutrition.
Armed conflicts across the world devastate and interfere with access to the most basic needs of people - food and water. Water systems, food production and distribution systems are often damaged and destroyed during war, and the post-war crisis of access to food and water is created. Often, water and food are direct targets of conflict and can be used as weapons of control over starving civilian populations. Long-term conflict is worsened as economic activity and markets for food are destroyed. Fighting can erupt amongst populations over food and water when they are in short supply.†
- At the end of the 20th century, food emergencies affected 52 million people in 35 countries. Most of these were the direct result of conflicts.∑ A decade of deterioration of Iraq's infrastructure, including water treatment facilities, has decreased the amount of drinking water and increased disease.
Strategic choices to pollute water and limit access to food have long served as a military tactic. Research suggests that this kind of warfare goes back thousands of years. Most recently, Africa, the Middle East and other volatile areas have seen the use of water as a weapon in military conflicts. Contaminated water causes a range of often life-threatening diseases, such as diarrhea in children.†
- In 1999, in Kosovo, water supplies and wells were contaminated as a tactic of war.†
- In 1999, a bomb blast destroyed the main pipeline in Lusaka, Zambia, cutting off water to the city and its 3 million inhabitants.†
- In 1989, hunger was used as a weapon or existed as a consequence of earlier wars in 20 countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Burma, Cambodia, Chad, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia-East Timor, Iraq, Iran, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uganda, and Viet Nam.
Case Study: Sudan
Sudanís 23-year civil war has killed at least 2 million people and displaced 4 million others from their homes. Conflict strategies by fighting groups have left control of food and resources in the hands of dominant forces, who often do not allow food aid to come through. Since the 1980s, government and opposition forces in Southern Sudan have used starvation as a war strategy. Both sides direct food sources in particular ways, often leading to discrimination against particular ethnic and religious communities. Creating food shortages in the civilian populations is a key strategy, so that food aid can be withheld and used as a tool of power. For example, the lives of tens of thousands of refugees from the Western region of Darfur are currently at risk from hunger. According to the UN, these refugees are being deliberately starved. 8-9 children a day are reported to be dying from malnutrition and starvation.
UNICEF has implemented water, environment and sanitation programs, which resulted in access to safe water for 600,000 Sudanese.
Want to Find Out More?
1. Hunger Notes: Armed Conflict and War
2. UNICEF: Impact of Armed Conflict on Children
3. Human Rights Watch: Human Rights and Armed Conflict