BAGHDAD, 16 March 2008 (IRIN) - When Wafaa Dawood
Salman was found dead in August 2007 she seemed no different from the others who
had died in Iraq - her body was put in a plastic bag and sent to the morgue for
relatives to collect.
A young boy stands on the edge of a sewage pipe's outflow in the
Days later it was announced that the 40-year-old woman was the first confirmed
cholera case in Baghdad after a national outbreak killed at least 14 people.
Lack of security, corruption, neglect and insurgent attacks have left Iraq's
public services in tatters. Limited electricity, a shortage of safe drinking
water and rundown sanitation and sewage systems are causing diseases and
"We didn't realise our drinking water was mixed with sewage until my mother's
death," said Wafaa's oldest son, Issam Ahmed Qassim, 24.
"We had stomach aches from time to time over the past four years but we never
realised it was related to the water we were drinking," said Qassim, a resident
of Baghdad's rundown Kamaliyah area.
Sixty-five percent of Iraqis have no access to piped drinking water and nearly
75 percent have no access to a good sewage system.
Shortage of drinking water
According to Hazim Ibrahim, deputy head of Baghdad's water directorate, the
daily need for drinking water for the capital's residents is at least 3.25
million cubic metres, while the actual amount piped daily is about 2 million
"We didn't realise our drinking water was mixed
with sewage until my mother's death."
"We have an acute crisis of drinking water as most
of the water pipelines are outdated, having seen more than 30 years of service
and some families, especially in suburban areas, depend on cisterns that only
bring them contaminated underground water," Ibrahim said.
"The most obvious problem we face is the government's negligence in implementing
strategic water projects since 1985. In addition, there is corruption which is
the biggest catastrophe in all governmental ministries," Ibrahim said.
A July 2007 report by the relief agency Oxfam and the
Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Coordination Committee network in
Iraq said that about 70 percent of Iraqis were without adequate water supplies,
up from 50 percent in 2003.
That includes over two million people who have been displaced inside Iraq by the
fighting, which has forced many to live in unsanitary conditions where sewage
can infest food and water and easily spread cholera and other water-borne
According to Khawla Salih Amir of Baghdad's Health Directorate, at least 200-250
cases of waterborne diseases are being treated each week in the capital's
"They are all poor people who cannot afford to buy bottled water and cannot boil
their drinking water because of the soaring prices of calor gas; they are forced
to drink directly from the tap," Khawla told IRIN.
"There is also the problem of sewage seeping onto the streets or even inside
houses. That poses a very dangerous and serious contamination problem," she
Baghdad sewage plants
A street in Baghdad, flooded with sewage water
Of Baghdad's three sewage plants, one is out of action, another is working at
below capacity, while a pipe blockage in the third means sewage is forming a
huge lake, according to Tahsin al-Shaikhly, the civilian spokesman of the
Baghdad Security Plan.
Al-Sheikhly said water pipes in Baghdad, where they exist, are so old that it is
impossible to pump water at a sufficient rate to meet demand - leaving many
Twice a month Jamil Muhsin Hawas, a resident of Baghdad's southwestern al-Ma'mil
area, has an additional duty to perform. The 52-year-old taxi driver has to find
someone with a tank to collect his family's excreta from a hole in the ground.
"The sewage network in this area was established in late 1970s and at that time
the area was so small, but as more people moved in, the network was never
expanded to cope with the increasing number of people," Hawas said.
"And so we built an underground hole with cement and an iron cover to gather our
sewage and excreta to be collected twice a month for about 75,000 Iraqi dinars
[about US$40]," he said.
The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2008
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