Quieter than Bombs: Iraq’s Foul Water also Kills

July 14th, 2005 - by admin

PlanetAtk.com – 2005-07-14 23:15:50


BAGHDAD (July 12, 2005) — In Baghdad’s Sadr City slum a pipe has burst, turning an empty building lot into a garbage- strewn mudhole. Children are gambolling in the filth, cooling from the 45 degree Celsius (115 Fahrenheit) summer heat.

A man scoops up the dirty water with a tin bucket into a tub in the back of his pickup truck to take home to his family.

Insurgent sabotage, years of neglect and a reconstruction effort halted because of violence have turned Iraq’s water supply into a stinking trickle, killing Iraqis as surely as bullets and bombs. Most of those who die are small children.

“My son is suffering from dehydration,” says Lamia Khudier, clutching tiny baby Akeel at Sadr City’s Health Clinic Number 6. “It’s the water. The water is dirty. It smells. Please, fix the water. It is disgusting.”

Baghdad’s pipes are broken. Fresh water and raw sewage mix underground. Water pressure is low or non-existent, forcing Baghdadis to use their own pumps to suck out foul water. The clinic’s director, Ziad Nima Salman, says most children in the slum suffer from dehydration, diarrhoea and vomiting. Babies are fed milk made by mixing powder with putrid water.

Worrisome Trend
Few records are kept of how many children are dying. International aid organisations have largely fled. But from where Salman is sitting, the problem has got worse over the last two years.

His clinic has treated twice as many patients with hepatitis A and typhoid in just the first six months of this year than in all of 2004, he said. “For us, the most important thing is the children. They are suffering because of this contamination,” he said. US troops say insurgents are targeting infrastructure to undermine the new government’s claim to success.

In the past three weeks there have been three attacks on water pumping stations and pipelines, each depriving much of the city of water. Major General William Webster, commander of US forces in the Iraqi capital, said last week that car bomb attacks in the capital are down: “Now they are attacking infrastructure.”

Iraq’s water supply was probably the single most important victim of the overall neglect of infrastructure during more than a decade of UN-imposed economic sanctions.

Many had hoped that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, US forces would oversee rapid reconstruction and improvement. But violence has dispelled any hope of a quick fix. “The entire fresh water system needs to be replaced,” said Webster. “About 50 percent of fresh water was already being lost before reaching the taps because the pipes were in such bad shape.”

US forces say they have spent $2 billion on repairing infrastructure in the capital over the past 18 months. But locals say the situation has got little better, or worse.

It costs a lot to fix pipes in a war zone, said Webster. “The things that go below the ground … are incredibly expensive. Especially when you have to pay for security for that local jobsite,” he said. “To repair the stuff that the bastards are blowing up … costs a hell of a lot.”

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