US wades into Iraqi water

Iraq's Minister of Municipalities and Public Works asked leaders from the North American water community to provide technical and operational expertise to assist her country in rebuilding its water infrastructure at a meeting hosted by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) on 8 December.

Iraqi workers lay water distribution pipeline in Basra.  Photo: CH2MHill/Parsons JV

Iraqi workers lay water distribution pipeline in Basra. Photo: CH2MHill/Parsons JV

Nesreen Mustafa Siddeek Berwari told a gathering of 20 water utility experts and manufacturers, in Washington, that years of conflict and "isolation from information" have left the country's infrastructure in severe disrepair. Approximately 40% of Iraqis do not have access to safe drinking water and only 10% have adequate wastewater services.

"Iraqi engineers are very hungry for information," Berwari said.

AWWA president, Kathryn McCain, said the association would facilitate tours of North American water utilities for Iraqi engineers and coordinate the exchange of technical information and training between the association and Iraqi officials.

Restructuring
Decentralisation of utilities management in Iraq is one of the greatest challenges, Bewari told the group. The minister also revealed that she wants to learn more about public-private partnership financing. She encouraged manufacturers and consultants not to fear doing work in Iraq, claiming that much of the country is safe.

"It's not stopping us from doing what we need to do," she said.

The total US-funded reconstruction budget for Iraq is $18.4 billion, of which $1.6 billion is for potable water and $214 million for sanitation.

Baghdad benefits
Engineering and construction firm Parsons, subcontracted to Bechtel and in collaboration with USAID, will use a two-phase approach to identify water treatment, pumping, storage, transmission and distribution system improvements in the Baghdad region. The initial phase of this $600 million project will benefit an estimated 11.8 million people.

A water-system rehabilitation and modelling project is helping to reduce leakage and improve the quantity of potable water delivered to Baghdad. Parsons is using Bentley's WaterGems modelling software to analyze the distribution and transmission systems and establish gross supply and demand estimates. Completion is scheduled for December 2005.

The World Bank Trust Fund announced three grant agreements for water and sanitation projects in Iraq in December. Firstly, US$65 million for the proposed Emergency Baghdad Water and Sanitation Project to restore basic water supply and sanitation services in Baghdad.

A further US$90 million was allotted to the Emergency Water Supply and Sanitation and Urban Development Project to help restore basic water supply and sanitation services in nine governorates outside of Baghdad, in addition to road reconstruction.

Thirdly, US$20 million was agreed with the interim government of Iraq to bring water to rural communities by improving water supply, sanitation, irrigation and drainage systems through the Emergency Community Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project (ECIRP).

"This signing is a first step towards a continuous cooperation with the World Bank," says Iraq's minister of water resources, Dr Latif Rashid. "Iraq is in dire need of development and rehabilitation and the sooner these projects are off the ground, the better it is for the Iraqi people."

Going well
Another rural initiative is USAID's plan to install about 150 wells in remote locations throughout Iraq. Since construction began in October, the project has drilled 25 wells in the north-east. Equipment, including 52 generators, 600 fibreglass tanks and 37 reverse-osmosis treatment units, has been ordered. Completion is scheduled for November 2005

City not safe
A report from IRIN claims that Baghdad's poorest district, Sadr City, is to get a US$100 million boost to infrastructure. US millitary projects for the war-ravaged area of over two million people, include US$70 million for sewer infrastructure and US$90 million for water.

An Iraqi contractor has expressed concern about the security issues in Sadr, formerly known as Saddam City, he said that even Iraqi contractors don't feel safe, "If they (insurgents) find out that I work with Americans they will kill me. I'm working for our country not for Americans. Probably 70% of the people here support me, but 30% bring troubles to our city."

Municipal engineer for infrastructure services, Mohammed Hamid expressed concern about corruption and overpriced services. He told IRIN, "Spending so much money so quickly means that some of it can get wasted or go into contractors' pockets".

"US forces say this is from taxpayers in the USA," Hamid continued, "they should come and ask us for advice so that we can tell them they are paying too much."

Meanwhile, IRIN reports that families returning to Fallujah are finding that there is no water or electricity and that the sewerage system has also suffered heavy damage in the US-led attack on the city. Medical representatives have warned that this is likely to cause the spread of diseases.

"In this poor hygiene situation, as soon as the families come back, children will be exposed to diseases. This situation should be controlled as soon as possible by the government," Dr Ahmed Kubaissy, a city doctor, told IRIN.

Sweet success
The US$23 million rehabilitation of southern Iraq's Sweet Water Canal was successfully completed at the beginning of December. The project was conducted on behalf of Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources, with Bechtel serving as prime contractor. As a primary source of fresh water for the 1.75 million population of Basrah since 1996, the cleansing and repair of this 240km waterway was vital.

Works included the refurbishment of 14 water treatment plants, repairing the Rzero pumping station and cleaning the main reservoir. Lack of maintenance had caused sediment to accumulate in sections of the canal and its embankments were cracked.

Project planned
In northern Iraq, a $100 million water project that could bring 6000m3/h of clean drinking water to the people of Erbil is expected to start late next year. Ultimate capacity is expected to be 10,000m3/h.

The Projects and Contracting Office will undertake the project, which includes a potable water treatment plant, an intermediate booster station, a storage tank and pipeline, in multiple phases. The new plant would take the pressure off the existing plants and allow the city to shut off the wells. It is hoped that this would enable rejuvenation of the natural aquifer for agricultural use.

Note: IRIN is a UN humanitarian information unit but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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