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IRAQ: Disease alert after sewage system collapses

BAGHDAD, 15 January 2007 (IRIN) - Residents of Iraq's capital, Baghdad, are at risk of contracting a range of waterborne diseases as the city’s sewage system has collapsed after four days of heavy rain, the country’s health ministry said on Monday.

For nearly a week now, 45-year-old teacher Jassim Abdullah has been forced to buy bottled water for his family’s daily use at an expense that his meagre income barely covers.

"We can't use tap water for drinking or cooking. It’s all sewage. That is why I have put aside 100,000 Iraqi dinars [about US $75] to buy water for cooking and washing," said Abdullah, a father of five girls, from Baghdad's poor neighbourhood of Hurriyah.

Dr Abdul-Rahman Adil Ali of the Baghdad Health Directorate warned of the dire consequences of a non-operational sewage system.

"As the sewage system has collapsed, all residents are threatened with gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, cholera, diarrhoea and hepatitis. In some of Baghdad's poor neighbourhoods, people drink water which is mixed with sewage," Ali said.

He added that the health ministry was prepared for an initial outbreak of diseases, but expressed concern that unless the municipality could deal with the sewage problem quickly and effectively, health problems would inevitably escalate.

"As a first step, municipality teams should clear the streets and neighbourhoods of the lakes of sewage," Ali said.

The corruption and relentless violence that have engulfed Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003 have compounded the problems of rebuilding and renovating the war-torn country’s shattered infrastructure.

"Iraqis [in Baghdad] lack all basic needs: homes, hospitals, electricity, drinking water and a functioning sewage system. All the infrastructure is old and has not been renovated despite the sharp increase in population," said Hatam Jaafar al-Nuaimi, a media officer for the environmentalist NGO Green Iraq.

"Protecting the environment and the health of the residents is not less important than security. There should be new drainage systems, especially in the rundown neighbourhoods of Baghdad where children run barefoot through sewage on unpaved roads," al-Nuaimi added.

Both Ali from the Health Directorate and al-Nuaimi blamed the sewage problem on the Ministry of Municipality and Public Works for not doing its job properly.

While the municipality agreed that it was responsible for such matters, it said it was unable to be more effective because of the violent attacks its workers face.

“We can’t do our job because of the insurgents’ attacks against our employees. The insurgents are targeting the municipal workers and their cars in the streets,” Mowafaq Kittan, a media officer at Baghdad Municipality, said.

“About 600 of our workers were killed by insurgents over the past nine months. We need to be protected to do our job properly,” Kittan added.

sm/ar/ed

Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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