Iraq: Losing pressure - Potential Damage Assessment to Water and Sanitation Infrastructure

Originally published
Amman, 18 March - Care Interviewed Barbara Al Badri, Water and Sanitation coordinator for CARE Iraq about the consequences of a war on the water and sewage treatment plants in Iraq.
In Central and South Iraq there are about 250 major water treatment plants. Currently these systems are working at 60% of their total capacity. Mrs Al Badri, the water and sanitation coordinator for Care Iraq says, "The equipment is basically old, and maintenance since the Gulf war has been very poor."

The water distribution network is equally as poor.

With power cuts of up to 12 hours not uncommon in many town and villages outside Baghdad, many Iraqis are left with no electricity for up to six hours after the backup generator cuts out. "When the plant starts working again it takes another 3 or 4 hours just to refill the network. Therefore Iraqis might be without water for ten hours or more" Al Badri explains.

With the exception of Baghdad, all 13 sewage treatment plants in central and southern Iraq have collapsed since the Gulf war, due not only to conflict damage but also due to the inability to maintain or rehabilitate the complex infrastructure. "It is a very difficult technology, very difficult to rehabilitate." Al Badri said. This collapse results in 500,000 tonnes of raw sewage being discharged into water sources each day.

Due to the lack of operating sewage treatment plants many Iraqis depend on septic tanks, especially those who live in smaller communities. With a limited number of tankers to empty these septic tanks, most sewage overflows into the surrounding grounds.

The water supply situation in Iraq has been affected for the last three years by severe drought. - Recorded as the worst drought the country has experienced in over 100 years. Water levels in Iraqi rivers have been at 40% of the normal annual average. Low water levels have meant that rivers are less able to cope with the discharge of grey water and thus contain high levels of pollution. As a result, water treatment facilities are struggling to render the water potable - leaving Iraqis to use a reduced quality and quantity of water.

When asked how a complete power cut will affect the water treatment plants, Al Badri takes a deep and worried sigh. "The pumps stops, obviously, everything stops. This results in: contaminated ground water being sucked into the potable water distribution pipes."

The effects on sewage treatment would be even more devastating. There will be no power to pump the sewage through the system, resulting in the receiving chambers becoming blocked.

"It is absolutely vital that people get clean water now that it is going to be summer in Iraq," Al Badri concludes.

For further information see CARE in Iraq info sheet on specific projects:

  • Water Sanitation Project (2002 - 2004)
  • Maymoona Potable Water Project (Completed Jan. 2003)
Media Contact:

For more information please contact CARE Australia's Media Manager on +61 2 6279 0250 or +61 419 567 777 or via email.