Canadian fighter jets, militarism and the human rights to water and sanitation in Iraq and Libya

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: 2,000-pound GBU-10 bombs are mounted on a CF-18 fighter jet at a base in Italy before deployment to Libya in 2011.

The Canadian government is planning to spend $19 billion on new fighter jets. That contract could be awarded within the next 18 months.

One way to understand what they might be used for is to look at how Canada’s existing fleet of CF-18 fighter jets have been used in the recent past.


The CBC has reported: “In 1991, the Canadian Forces deployed 24 CF-18s to aid the U.S. during the first Gulf War. These aircraft were based out of Qatar and flew over 5,700 hours, participating in 56 bombing missions.”

In an article published earlier this year, The Hill reported on the present challenge of Iraq in meeting its demand for electricity.

The Hill explains: “Iraq’s electricity woes can be traced to 1991, when the U.S.-led bombing campaign nearly destroyed Saddam Hussein’s electricity infrastructure. The campaign included 215 sorties aimed at Iraq’s grid.”

That article adds: “Human Rights Watch condemned the bombing, saying that the destruction of Iraq’s grid ‘resulted in severe deprivation of clean water and sewage removal for the civilian population and paralyzed the country’s entire health care system’.”

And it noted: “The lack of clean water led to a cholera outbreak. Water contamination and other health-related problems resulted in a surge in civilian deaths with credible estimates putting the number of Iraqis killed by disease at 70,000.”

Almost 30 years later, the problem persists.

Earlier this year, Chatham House highlighted: “Baghdad has a sewage treatment plant that originally ran on its own electricity source, but this capacity was destroyed in 1991 and was never replaced. The city continues to suffer from dangerous levels of water pollution because the electricity supply from the grid is insufficient to power the plant.”


In August 2011, the National Post reported: “Six CF-18s — backed up by one spare — have logged 733 bombing sorties above the North African nation, while the Canadian refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft have added hundreds more flights.”

The Canadian Press adds: “They eventually flew 10 per cent of all NATO strike missions.”

Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed has written NATO “debilitated Libya’s water supply by targeting critical state-owned water installations.” That included bombing a state water utility in Sirte in April 2011 and the water-pipe factory in Brega in July 2011.

The water-pipe factories in Sirte and Brega were essential to the Great Man-Made River (GMR), a pipeline system that supplies water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System in the southern part of the country to northern cities including Tripoli and Benghazi.

Ahmed adds: “By September 2011, UNICEF reported that the disruption to the GMR had left 4 million Libyans without potable water.”

And in his May 2015 article he highlighted: “The GMR remains disrupted to this day, and Libya’s national water crisis continues to escalate.”

Again, the problem persists.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that Libya continues to be ravaged by conflict and limited access to water is of additional concern given the COVID-19 pandemic.

Targeting water a breach of human rights

Following an attack on the water system in Aleppo, Syria in 2014, the United Nations issued this statement that highlighted: “The Secretary-General notes that preventing people’s access to safe water is a denial of a fundamental human right.”

More recently, UN Special Rapporteur Léo Heller noted: “Ten years ago, on 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 64/292, which explicitly recognized water and sanitation as a human right and acknowledged that water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.”

Despite these acknowledgements, it does not appear that Canada or NATO have an explicit, publicly stated position that prohibits the bombing of the infrastructure essential to the human rights to water and sanitation.

Militarism did not bring peace to Iraq and Libya but rather fuelled a continuing crisis. Meanwhile, the world spends nearly $3 trillion a year on military expenditures, while $150 billion a year would deliver universal safe water and sanitation.

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