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   Iraq’s Infrastructure Situation Is Critical


Iraq’s Infrastructure Situation Is Critical

Millions of people in Iraq are at risk as water and sewage systems crumble.

Special to The Chronicle

The Iraqi Central Water Authority must be reestablished immediately in order to avoid a major public health crisis, the international humanitarian organization CARE stated today. Baghdad alone has a population of 5 million people who are vulnerable to a potential outbreak of water-borne disease.

“Water and sewage systems are crumbling,” said Nick Southern, CARE’s emergency water and sanitation specialist in Baghdad. “Many people do not have access to safe drinking water, and human waste is backing up and out of the drains in many parts of Baghdad. The very hot season is coming, when temperatures will climb to 110 degrees and higher. This is a recipe for infectious diseases like cholera and typhoid.”

“The vacuum caused by the dislocation and dysfunction of the centralized water authority must be addressed now,” said Margaret Hassan, CARE director in Iraq. “The primary threat to the delivery of safe drinking water to the Iraqi people is the total absence of direct government support and supply functions.”

Iraq’s water and sanitation sector is highly centralized. Water authorities in the governorates are responsible for everyday operation and maintenance only. All other functions—design, technical support, staffing, salaries, and the supply of spare parts and equipment—were done from Baghdad. In anticipation of the war, Iraqi water authorities distributed three months of supplies to all governorates in order to maintain water treatment plants. The supplies included fuel for generators, chlorine for purifying water, spare parts and supplies to repair and maintain infrastructure. It is estimated that a maximum of one month’s worth of supplies remain. It has been two months since people have collected salaries.

“We are concerned about how the country’s water installations will continue if the management systems are not there to support it,” said Hassan. “The long-term development of Iraq’s water supply and sewage treatment plants will require radical overhaul and different models of decentralized responsibility. But at this crucial point, Iraq does not have the time nor the experience to establish these different models. The Iraqi people cannot afford to cope any longer with dirty drinking water and sewage in the streets.”

The situation is critical. Some water treatment and sewage plants were not providing an acceptable level of treatment even prior to the war. A CARE and UNICEF water and sanitation monitoring program in 14 governorates in the central and southern parts of Iraq found that out of 177 water treatment plants, 19 percent were classified as good; 55 percent were acceptable; and 26 percent were poor.

CARE, working in partnership with the International Committee for the Red Cross and UNICEF, is midway through an assessment of every water and sanitation installation in the country. CARE staff is making assessments in eight governorates: Anvar, Diyala, Najaf, Kerbala, Babel, Qadissiya, Wassit, and Missan.

CARE staff are carrying out an emergency response based on these assessments. For example, the organization ran a three-week water-tankering operation, serving 25,000 people in rural areas around Heet and is currently tankering in water for 5,000 people in Annah. CARE has also set up 15 water tankering points in Baghdad. Additionally, staff have repaired water treatment plants in Khalif and Kerbala, serving 200,000 and 400,000 people respectively, and has installed pumps and generators in Heet and Baghdadi.

CARE has been working in Iraq since 1991, focusing on water and sanitation, children’s health and education.

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This story was published on June 4, 2003.
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