Water supply held back by lack of investment and insurgency

The Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) has said there is a lack of investment in Iraq's ailing water supply system, estimating that US $15 billion will be required to put things right.

"Although we are one of the richest countries concerning water resources in the Middle East, we have no money to bring this water to the people," Ali Sinnan, a senior official at the MoWR, said.

Officials blame the slow rate of improvement in the nation's water infrastructure on the continuing insurgency. Both donors and private companies have expressed an interest in helping improve the situation but poor security is holding back assistance and investment in many sectors.

Last year, Washington earmarked nearly $4 billion to assist with the rebuilding of the nation's water infrastructure but only a fraction of the money has been disbursed because of the poor security situation.

On 19 June, after saboteurs targeted a key water main in the capital, Baghdad, more than two million residents were left without drinking water as temperatures soared to nearly 50 degrees.

Last week, a mortar attack in the capital led to one of the main water purification plants being temporarily closed, leaving three million people without access to clean water. The shortages provoked demonstrations in many areas of the capital as well as sparking health concerns.

Doctors in the capital reported 160 cases of diarrhoea in children caused by the consumption of unsafe drinking water in the last two weeks.

"According to laboratory analysis, the drinking water in Iraq is completely unsafe. The biggest problem is that most Iraqis do not have enough money to buy purified bottled water and this is causing an increase in water-born diseases, especially in children and the elderly," Dr Ahmed Ibraheem, at Yarmouk general hospital, said.

Later this month, Iraq will hold a conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman, in order to encourage investment in the country, especially in key basic services such as water and electricity. But locals are cynical about the prospects for any genuine improvement in services in the near future.

"We have been hearing for more than two years that public services are going to be improved but they have worsened day after day. They should stop blaming insurgents and work harder. If Saddam was in power for sure the system would have been repaired," complained Youssef Abdul-Rahman, a Baghdad resident who has been without water in his home for over a fortnight.