How many times a day do you drink water? Do you stop to think what might be in it, besides “just water”? In the U.S., many peole take safe water for granted, but in Iraq, water can be dangerous. According to the Red Cross, about 40% of Iraqis today lack access to clean water, putting millions at risk of contracting water-borne diseases just from drinking tap water. 36% of drinking water in Iraq’s capital city, Baghdad, is unsafe in a good month, and 90% is unsafe in a bad month. Water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, and hepatitis are the biggest killers of children under 5.
Imagine nearly losing your six year old son, or your friend, to a disease contracted from drinking bad water. After this happened to one Iraqi man, he began devoting a huge portion of his monthly income to buying clean water from private tankers. Many Iraqis spend a third or more of their income on clean water. For the poor families who cannot afford to buy any clean water, the only option is to drink water that smells of human waste and carries multiple diseases. One man says his infant daughter’s continuous illnesses and his constant nausea confirm that the water is bad: “We are the poor. No one cares if we get sick and die. But someone should do something about the water. It is dirty. It brings disease.”
Why is water in Iraq so bad? Iraq's waste-treatment systems – similar to what we have in the U.S. – are obsolete, and sewage is poured into the country’s main sources of water, such as the Tigris river. Iraq’s upstream neighbors Syria, Turkey, and Iran have all built dams reducing the flow of clean water into Iraq. According to U.S. Vets for Peace, “Since 1991, the water supply and sanitation sector has experienced steady but devastating decline. Aging infrastructure, poorly maintained equipment, leaking water and sewer networks and low technical capacity are some of the key problems of the sector. Only 9% of the urban population outside Baghdad is served by sewerage systems, while the northern and rural areas do not have piped sewage systems.”
The country’s water infrastructure (treatment plants, pipes, etc.) has steadily worsened over the last two decades for a number of reasons: neglect under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. bombing that forced Iraq to leave Kuwait in 1991 and hit Iraq’s infrastructure, international sanctions during the 1990s, and the U.S. invasion in 2003 that led to sectarian fighting. Since 2003, insurgents have targeted the country's water system and killed 500 of Baghdad's engineers. More than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and more than 250 kidnapped, and at least 20,000 have left the country.
While U.S. reconstruction teams, the Iraqi government, and relief organizations have been working to repair and upgrade water and sewage treatment plants, there is a long way to go. Much more is needed to help provide Iraqis with clean water. Water for Peace is one attempt to do that. Initiated by Vets for Peace, it is a service-learning project that raises funds to provide Iraqi schools with drinkable water. Available to US schools, clubs, and religious institutions, this project links a US organization with a recipient school. Photos of the installation process and the resulting happy, healthier children help to build bridges across our cultures that have been torn apart by war.
These projects are sponsored by the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project (IARP) of MN whose mission is to promote reconciliation between the people of the United States and Iraq in response to the devastation affecting Iraqi families, society and culture.
Additional sources for Iraqi water situation
International Red Cross (March 2008):
Veterans for Peace (2007):
IRIN humanitarian news and analysis (April 2009):
Government Accountability Office (September 2005):
Water Webster Iraq (news source about water):
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction:
CBS News (August 2007):
USA Today (August 2008):http://www.usatoday.com/news/