International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) : Water, a basic need but often a cause of conflicts

Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Comité international de la Croix-Rouge (CICR)

By Valentina Bernasconi, head of the ICRC regional delegation in Dakar

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded a partnership agreement with the World Water Forum that will take place in Dakar in March 2022.  The World Water Forum is the principal international event on questions related to water organised every three years since 1997 by a host country and the World Water Council. Valentina Bernasconi, Head of the regional delegation of the ICRC in Dakar, tells us the reasons for this agreement.

For us, the Forum is a great opportunity to underline the importance of water in all circumstances. In most operational theatres where we operate, we witness the impact of the lack of access to drinking water on the civilian population. Access to water is increasingly a triggering factor for armed conflicts, whereas it can also be a vector for peace.  The role played by Senegal in the ‘’Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal’’ (OMVS) is a good example in terms of the political will to place the question of water at the heart of its priorities: a reference for hydro-diplomacy.  This partnership between the Forum and the ICRC demonstrates our commitment to find innovative solutions to continue to guarantee access to drinking water for victims of conflict and to reinforce their resilience.

The ICRC plans to work with the Secretariat of the Forum in the preparation of content for themes to be developed by mobilising its regional team based in the sub-region and in Geneva.  One of the themes concerns the problem of access to water in urban and suburban settings that host refugees and/or displaced persons affected by protracted armed conflict lasting several years. The ICRC equally intends to promote the humanitarian-development nexus approach to better respond to emergencies in terms of access to water (humanitarian) while developing long term responses (development) for host communities via water abstraction master plans over a period of 10 to 20 years to come.   

We expect at least three concrete things. Firstly, that States acknowledge the need to work together to ensure access to water in all circumstances. Everyone has a right to water.  Further, that countries agree to put in place practical action points to resolve the most serious problems of access to water.Finally, one expectation is that the 9th Forum reinforces the resilience of communities in terms of basic services particularly in zones affected by armed conflict as well as the consequences of climate change.   

The ICRC will collaborate with its colleagues in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  The ICRC will serve as communication relay to mobilise its partners thanks to its regional communication Centre based in Dakar covering West and Central Africa. Furthermore, this mobilisation will also entail its participation in the regional pre-forums and/or in the organisation of other events linked to the issue of water and climate change.  In June 2021, the ICRC will organise an event entitled The Double Vulnerability of the Sahel: How Climate Change & Conflicts Affect People?. The ICRC is determined to contribute to the success of Dakar 2022.