Seeping sewage hits Fallujah residents’ health

The city of Fallujah, about 60km west of Baghdad, still has no functioning sewage system: Waste pours onto the streets and seeps into drinking water supplies.



The city’s infrastructure was in ruins after two fierce battles between US forces and Sunni militants in 2004. In a bid to garner local support for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, US officials pledged to build a sewage treatment plant at a cost of US$35 million.



Work began in July 2004 and was supposed to be completed in 18 months, but continuing violence, design changes and the replacement of incompetent contractors delayed the project and costs ballooned to over $100 million.



Six years on and with US forces preparing to withdraw from Iraq next month, not a single house is connected to the system. The US army has decided to hand over the partially finished project to a local contractor with the promise of providing the necessary funding to complete it.



"The project is in its final stages and is expected to be handed over by the end of this year," Sheikh Hameed al-Alwan, head of Fallujah local council, told IRIN. "But unfortunately the plant will work only partially as its backbone, which is the main pipeline that sends all the waste to the main processing unit, will not be constructed because of the lack of funds."



Without this vital pipeline, the plant will serve only a fraction of the city’s 580,000 residents, al-Alwan said, adding that the worst affected would be those in suburban areas. “Our only hope is that the Americans can secure the money to complete it, especially after the Iraqi government has said it does not have enough to allocate to it.”



Foul smells



Foul-smelling sewage has run through the rutted and pockmarked streets of Fallujah for more than three years. Residents currently depend on underground septic tanks which are in many cases leaking waste onto the streets from where it eventually ends up in the River Euphrates, a main drinking water source for Fallujah and other downstream cities.



Abdul-Sattar Kadhum al-Nawaf, director of Fallujah general hospital, said the sewage problem had taken its toll on residents’ health. They were increasingly affected by diarrhoea, tuberculosis, typhoid and other communicable diseases.



Al-Nawaf said that although he did not have specific numbers, 10-15 percent of patients at his hospital had water or sewage-related diseases.



Experts say the Fallujah plant is just one of many abandoned, incomplete or hastily finished projects around the country.



Anbar-based analyst Khudhair Jassim Ali, who lectures at the university, said that a lack of funds, corruption and a lack of cooperation between the government and companies working on projects have delayed badly needed infrastructure projects.



"The government should follow up with these projects to take over from those parties that will leave Iraq, whether US forces or NGOs. It should fill the gap.”



sm/ed/cb