Posted by Sadie from D006060.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu (220.127.116.11) on Tuesday, August 19, 2003 at 10:16AM :
The US boss for Iraq, Paul Bremer, drinks water during a press conference in Baghdad. Water has always been a treasured resource in Iraq, but now it has also become a source of disease and even death. Three wars and 13 years of sanctions, as well as the US-led occupation and the looting that followed it, have dealt a heavy blow to the country's already creaking water system (Photo: AFP/Karim Sahib, 2003)
Water - a source of life and death
Report, IRIN, via electroniciraq.net
13 August 2003
BAGHDAD - Two men hold a large hosepipe which snakes out from a parked water tanker. They move along a row of large metal drums and fill them one by one. Children mill about, shouting with excitement, sometimes colliding with one or other of a bevy of men and women who are collecting the vital supply of household water. The scene is of the daily water delivery in Al-Sadr, the teeming, majority Shi'ah town on the northeastern edge of the capital, Baghdad.
Water supplies have never been good in Al-Sadr. Much of the land there was settled on illegally, and municipal services have been poor or absent over the past 30 years. But now, following the Coalition invasion, the taps have literally run dry. If people need water their options have narrowed to the river, or to the daily tanker service delivered by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Water has always been a treasured resource in Iraq, but now it has also become a source of disease and even death. Three wars and 13 years of sanctions, as well as the Coalition invasion and the looting that followed it, have dealt a heavy blow to the country's already creaking water system.
"None of the main sewage-treatment plants within Baghdad are working, but most of the main pumping stations are working," Peter Sherlock, the UN coordinator for water and sanitation, told IRIN. "This means that the sewage is being pumped through the system, but that it's basically bypassing the treatment plants and going straight into the river."
For Iraq's most vulnerable populations, especially its children, the consequences can be devastating. "Because of the lack of access to clean water, we've already seen a doubling of diarrhoeal diseases compared to this time last year: these could be typhoid, dysentery, cholera or just diarrhoea," said UNICEF's Geoffrey Keele. "The worrying thing about this is that 70 percent of all children's ailments are linked to contaminated water."
In Al-Sadr, a woman showed IRIN a drum of water inside her small house. "We have not had water from the taps for four months now," she said. "This water causes stains and it is not clean. It gives my children diarrhoea. The tanker comes every day, but it isn't enough. There are many people living here."
UNICEF is delivering water to 53 areas of Baghdad, but more seems to be needed.
"She is not well," a man carrying his two-year-old daughter told IRIN. "My baby is sick. Everybody is sick."
"We need a real solution to our problems," said a woman, repeating the statement several times.
Iraq has one of the most sophisticated water systems in the Middle East. The Amanat Water Treatment Plant outside Baghdad, built in 1985, is the largest facility of its kind in the region. But although it is managing to pump water to 60 percent of the city's population, there are problems.
Talib Ahmad Abdallah, an electrical engineer, told IRIN that the plant had been looted and was short of spare parts. Stocks of chlorine were running low, and because no one was being paid, only five of the plant's engineers were turning up for work out of a normal contingent of 20.
Back in Baghdad, Iraqis are facing another potentially dangerous problem. Many of the capital's streets are flooded with untreated sewage water. In the city's famous Jamilah Market, boys wearing sandals pull carts through several inches of polluted water, which laps beneath food stalls at the side of the street.
"The city is flat, which means that sewage has to be pumped everywhere, and in places where there's been a lot of bombing there are sewage mains that have been damaged or cracked," said Sherlock. "Some sewers have collapsed because tanks have driven over them, and whenever you get a problem like that you get a pressure build-up and the sewage comes up by the easiest route, and in most cases that is through a drain in the road."
Repair teams are being sent out, but face an uphill task: UNICEF has reported finding more than 2,000 leaks in Baghdad's pipes. Rehabilitation work is under way at water treatment plants, and tankers go daily to an increasing number of locations in the city. But Sherlock believes it could be five years before the country's water system is running efficiently again.
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