Armed conflicts are being conducted in populated areas with weapon systems designed for open battlefields, presenting serious challenges to the effective protection of civilians. Many states, international organisations, and civil society have repeatedly highlighted the harm caused to civilians and civilian infrastructure by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a major humanitarian priority over the past decade. Each year, tens of thousands of people are killed and injured by the use of explosive weapons in neighbourhoods where people live and work. Data consistently shows that when these weapons are used in populated areas, approximately 91 per cent of those reported killed and injured are civilians.
The damage explosive weapons cause to vital infrastructure also means their impacts reverberate to affect a wider population and over time. Damage to hospitals limits the provision of medical care, making even easily treatable injuries life-threatening. Damage to sanitation systems leaves civilian populations susceptible to the spread of disease. Destruction, and the presence of explosive remnants in populated areas, causes and entrenches displacement—but where transport infrastructure is destroyed, civilians can also be prevented from fleeing to safety. Affected areas can become inaccessible to humanitarian aid as well clean food and water, with damage to energy infrastructure compounding these challenges. Severe psychological harm is experienced by many.