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Iraq’s Latest Threat: the Water

August 2, 2008

By SELCAN HACAOGLU

Just months after Americans repaired a sewage treatment plant in southern Baghdad, insurgents attacked the facility and killed the manager. Looters took care of the rest.

Nearly three years later, the plant remains an abandoned shell. Raw sewage is flowing freely through giant pipes into the Tigris River, ending up in some of the capital’s drinking water. And those pipes are hardly the only source of contamination.

Many residents only have to sniff the tap water to know something is not right.

“I fear giving it to my children directly unless I boil it,” said Enam Mohammed Ali, a 36-year-old mother of four in the New Baghdad district in the eastern part of the city.

The water crisis began as a symptom of the problems that plagued reconstruction efforts in the early years of the war. Extremists attacked infrastructure projects, including electricity stations and sewage plants, to undermine support for the U.S. and its Iraqi allies. Law and order broke down, with looters stealing pipes, power lines and other equipment.

Now, the recent decline in violence is raising hopes that the government can focus on repairing critical public services crippled by war and neglect. Perhaps the most complex is trying to control what goes into waterways and what comes out of Baghdad taps.

Two-thirds of the raw sewage produced in the capital flows untreated into rivers and waterways, Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in his quarterly report released Wednesday.

U.S. and Iraqi officials insist that the tap water in most of Baghdad is of at least fairly good quality because it comes from less polluted areas north of the city. More Iraqis nationwide have access to potable water now than before the war – 20 million people, compared with 12.9 million previously, according to Bowen’s report.

Still, some Baghdad neighborhoods, notably New Baghdad and Baladiyat, are not so lucky.

There, the Tigris is so filthy that the local treatment facility can only do so much. S ewage leaks into the potable water pipes. On Friday, the U.S. military announced the opening of a water distribution site to prevent the mixing of sewage and drinking water in New Baghdad and Baladiyat.

A cholera outbreak in northern Iraq last year killed 14 people. A similar outbreak of the waterborne disease in Baghdad – home to about 6 million people – could be far worse.

“Iraq is on the cusp of a serious water crisis that requires immediate attention and resources,” said Thomas Naff, a Middle East water expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

The World Bank has estimated that it would take $14.4 billion to rebuild the Iraqi public works and water system.

A U.S. Embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to the media, said the actual need is higher. The United States has allocated $2.7 billion for water projects in Iraq, but the official said the money is running out.

Iraq has been slow in spending its billions in oil revenues on public works projects, despite insistence from U.S. military commanders who recommend quality-of-life improvements to undercut militants and win over Sunni districts wary of the Shiite-led government.

Dr. Nagesh Kumar, a water expert in India, said Iraq’s current drought “will make the water contamination situation worse” by drying up wells and lowering river levels. In the capital, the Tigris is at its lowest level since 2001.

risk in the water

A person can get cholera – an acute, diarrheal illness – from contaminated water. Without treatment, death can occur within hours. It spreads rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. casualties in Iraq

Week of July 26 -August 1

Troops killed 2

Troops wounded 29

Since March 2003:

Troops killed 4,129

Troops wounded 30,464

In other Iraq news

bill would put congress in loop

WASHINGTON | On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators, including Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, introduced legislation that would require congressional approval of any agreement that commits U.S. forces to protect Iraq’s long-term security.

U.S. troops in Iraq now operate under a United Nations mandate that expires in December; the Bush administration and the Iraqi government are in discussions about a new arrangement.

“To date, the Administration has declined even to show the Congress the wording of the proposed agreements,” Webb said in a statement.

– Dale Eisman

two suspected in suicide bombing

Iraqi troops captured two suspected insurgents linked to a suicide bombing that killed three U.S. Marines and several Sunni sheiks, the military said Friday. An al-Qaida front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the June 26 attack, in which at least 20 Iraqis were also killed when the bomber detonated explosives in Karmah in the Anbar province.

– The Associated Press

Tigris sewage

Two-thirds of Baghdad’s raw sewage flows untreated into waterways including the Tigris, shown above with residents fishing nearby. the possible toll

An outbreak of the waterborne disease in Baghdad – home to about 6 million people – could be far worse than the outbreak in northern Iraq last year that killed 14 people. In other Iraq news

item one

WASHINGTON – On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators, including Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, introduced legislation that would require Congressional approval of any agreement that commits U.S. forces to protect Iraq’s long-term security.

U.S. troops in Iraq now operate under a United Nations mandate that expires in December; the Bush administration and the Iraqi government are in discussions about a new security arrangement.

“To date, the Administration has declined even to show the Congress the wording of the proposed agreements,” Webb said in a statement.

– Dale Eisman

item two

Iraqi troops captured two suspected insurgents linked to a suicide bombing that killed three U.S. Marines and several Sunni sheiks, the military said Friday.

An al-Qaida front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the June 26 attack, in which three Marines and at least 20 Iraqis were killed when the suicide bomber detonated explosives in the Anbar province town of Karmah .

– The Associated Press

Originally published by BY SELCAN HACAOGLU | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

(c) 2008 Virginian – Pilot. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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