The impact of explosive weapons on urban services: Direct and reverberating effects across space and time

Mark Zeitoun, Michael Talhami

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


This article reviews the factors that determine the impact of explosive weapons on urban services in space and time, with a focus on drinking water services. The evidence comes from published and unpublished research and records, as well as experience restoring or maintaining such services. Urban services are seen as interconnected, and each composed of interdependent components of people, consumables, and hardware. Elements that make up the components are labelled ‘upstream’, ‘midstream’, and ‘downstream’, to reflect their location and hierarchy in the production and delivery of any urban service. The impact of explosive weapons is broken into the direct effects on any of the components of a service, and the reverberating effects on up and or downstream components of the same service, or on other services. The effects are most commonly observed in service infrastructure, and determined chiefly by the extent of the damage to the functionality of any component. The spatial extent of the impact is found to be determined primarily by the hierarchy of the component suffering the direct impact, with attacks on upstream components being the furthest reaching. The duration of the impact is determined primarily by the pre-explosion ‘baseline resilience’ of the service, itself a function of system redundancies and emergency preparedness and response. The analysis suggests that the impact is more reasonably foreseeable than may commonly be thought, in the sense that the direct effects of explosives is well-known and that the most important infrastructure is generally identifiable. It follows that proportionality assessments that involve urban services would benefit from: i) the direct and consistent engagement of specialised engineers within the targeting cell; and ii) greater familiarity of the weapons controller with services, infrastructure and systems in urban areas
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-70
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Review of the Red Cross
Issue number901
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2017


  • Urban services
  • reverberating effects
  • explosive weapons
  • reasonably foreseeable
  • water and conflict
  • water and war
  • critical infrastructure
  • service system

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