In Iraq, fresh water comes out of a truck

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 at 4:31PM :

In the south, fresh water comes out of a truck
Report, IRIN

9 June 2003

BASRA - It is a telling symptom of the topsy-turvy world that is postwar Iraq that the 20 litres of water Muhammad Ma'tuq is loading into the back of his truck cost 10 times as much as the 20 litres of petrol he bought on his way towards getting it.

Ma'tuq does not have to pay for the water - the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) takes care of that - but its actual cost serves to illustrate its enormous importance, as well as in terms of the outbreak of cholera which has now taken hold in at least two of the southern governorates.

This is the stark fact which, among others, has prompted UNICEF to embark on a massive operation to truck tens of thousands of litres of water into southern Iraq every. [sic]

"The water situation here in Basra Governorate is very serious," Allan Dow, a UNICEF information officer, told IRIN. "That's why we're bringing in the equivalent of a small lake every day." And the operation is not yet at full capacity. "Within the next couple of weeks we should reach our target of 100 trucks a day."

The 80 or so trucks currently arriving bring 3 million litres of potable water, and UNICEF has now ferried in more than 100 million litres since it launched the operation a little over a month ago. At a cost of around 30 US cents per litre the water is not cheap, but without it a crisis would not be far away.

Both water shortages and attendant cholera outbreaks are annual events in this part of Iraq, but this year, as a result of the orgy of looting which followed the Coalition's rapid victory and the tardy restoration of law and order, the situation is abnormally severe.

"For the past two months we have had no water in the house," said a middle-aged woman, who gave her name only as Nahlah. Like dozens of other people Nahlah walks every day to a road junction near her house and fills two jerry cans with water.

She says she does not know what or who is to blame for the fact that she no longer gets water at home, but a young man standing next to her in the queue is in no doubt. "It is because of the looting that we have no water in our houses," he told IRIN. And Dow agrees. "Water pumps and other essential pieces of equipment needed for the distribution of water were stolen, and the water system has pretty much broken down as a consequence."

But there are plenty of people who like to blame the Coalition instead; people like the old woman wearing black from head to toe and a permanent scowl on her face. She, like many people in Iraq today, sees no distinction between the "invaders" as she calls them, and those who have come to try and put the country back together.

"Why are you bringing us water," she shouts at a pair of UNICEF employees overseeing the distribution. "You are the ones who have destroyed us, and now you bring us water. We do not need water. We need to be left alone."

But, regardless of this negative association, the people of Iraq plainly do need water, a fact evidenced by the long and rowdy queues that form alongside each of the 40-plus UNICEF trucks that arrive each morning on the streets of Basra - a gift which most of the city's people gratefully receive.

"We are very happy that this water is brought to us to help us in difficult times," said Ma'tuq. "But we do not want to take water from a truck every day. We want water to come into our houses again."

-- Sadie
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