Iraq: Poor municipal services worsen Iraqi living conditions

BAGHDAD, 6 June 2007 (IRIN) - Corruption, neglect and insurgent attacks have left Iraq's public services in tatters, residents and officials say. Limited electricity and drinking water are the main problems, causing disease and frustration.

"We have one or two hours a day of electricity at best. Sometimes we have no electricity for two or three days. And it has become normal for us to wake up in the morning and find no water in the taps," Alwan, a father of three and government employee living in Baghdad, said.

Alwan said that because of rising fuel and maintenance costs, he can only run his small generator for a few hours a day, forcing him to buy electricity from the black market instead.

"Now, I'm buying 10 amperes [of power] from the neighbourhood generator for a monthly price of US $12 an ampere. This gives me seven hours of electricity a day and enables me to use fans, a small refrigerator and a small air conditioner for one room."

Baghdad residents say they have never experienced such poor levels of municipal services.

"We had 18 to 20 hours a day of electricity and drinking water before the war started and even during the opening rounds of it," said Khamis Nassir Alwan, a 44-year-old resident of Baghdad's upscale Harithiyah district.

In a press conference held in May in Baghdad, Electricity Minister Karim Waheed blamed unrelenting insurgent attacks on electricity pylons, power stations, government workers and fuel deliveries for the near collapse of the power system.

Baghdad cut off from national grid

"Insurgents have struck the electricity networks feeding the capital from the north and the south, cutting the city off from the national grid. This, of course, affects the pumping of water from the water plants," Waheed said.

This has led many residents of the capital to buy electricity privately. But those who cannot afford to buy power from neighbourhood generators struggle to meet their needs. And as urban dwellers who are long accustomed to having power and running water, it is all the more difficult for them to adjust.

"We can't drink cold water this summer unless we buy ice and put it in boxes. And I bought two flashlights so my sons can study for their exams," said Naima Hanon Khalid, a 37-year-old widow.

"I can't use my clothes washing machine so I'm forced to wash them with my hands. And now we are sleeping on the roof to escape high temperatures indoors despite the risk of mortar attacks and gunfights in the city," Naima added.

Such deteriorating living conditions have drawn Iraqis, particularly Baghdad residents, to the streets in demonstrations, demanding the government improve services.

The most recent protest took place on 2 June when about 2,000 residents of Baghdad's north-eastern Shu'la area demanded that the government fulfil its promises.

"We ask the government to show mercy on our children and elderly people who are suffering in this harsh situation," said Hazim Nasser Jawad, a 33-year-old taxi driver who took part in the demonstration.

"We are fed up of their words - we need deeds. [Former Iraqi president] Saddam managed to bring us back electricity six months after the 1991 [first Gulf] war and here they are after four years they can't offer stable electricity for two straight hours," Jawad added.