Keeping water flowing in Iraq

In early February, the parts for two water treatment plants arrived in Jordan's Aqaba port, for shipment to the central Iraqi towns of Mahaweel and Hamza.
However, CARE Iraq director Margaret Hassan has submitted a request to the EC's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), the donor for the project, to delay installation of the new equipment 'in anticipation of further developments in the region'.

In 1990 the government of Iraq managed a sophisticated water treatment system designed for an urban population. Running water from the tap at the sink was the norm. The government spent $100 million US per year on spare parts alone for water treatment systems.

With the imposition of sanctions in 1991, this vital infrastructure began to crumble. Iraq could not import needed replacement parts and could not pay the experienced staff to run the deteriorating structures.

Under the UN's Oil for Food programme, Iraq can order limited numbers of parts and materials. However, long delays persist between submission and approval of contracts, since each item must pass the UN's oversight committee. The agreement also does not provide salaries for staff, or pay for operating costs. Now, the newest installation is being delayed further.

CARE International is the only major international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has been operating in southern and central Iraq for over a decade, with full support from the local authorities. It also has long-term operations in neighbouring Jordan.

CARE's programme in the centre and south of Iraq has focused on water and sanitation, health and children. CARE has worked to improve the water supply and quality from the existing water installations, as well as the health facilities in small and medium sized towns. Margaret Hassan, the director of CARE Iraq, explains:

'In Hamza and Mahaweel (total population 80,000) the hospitals were in a terrible state of repairs: parts were actually crumbling. Consultant doctors were working three in a room in the least damaged parts of the buildings, trying to deal with patients.'

'The water supply was inadequate and the hospitals had no sewage disposal. Raw sewage was flowing back into the river. The primary health care centre was collapsing. We finally pulled it down.'

CARE employed local builders to repair and rebuild health clinics, complete with new piping to deliver potable water, and rebuilt septic tanks. Besides providing needed local employment for builders and suppliers, CARE offered training to local staff for maintaining the systems.

For a population already living in crisis, surviving on rations for years, safe drinking water means fewer water-borne infections such as cholera, typhus and diarrhoea. At present, Iraqi infants suffer an average of 14 bouts of diarrhoea a year.

Safe water also means safe food. All food rations provided are dry; without water for cooking, the food available cannot be eaten.

But the infrastructure remains fragile. The plants run on electricity, which is available less than 12 hours a day. While CARE has worked on a total of 43 water treatment plants, to provide safe water for over 4.6 million people in towns and cities, fewer than half rural Iraqis have safe water to drink.

Notes to editors

CARE International is the only international non-governmental organisation (NGO) to have maintained a continuous presence and programme in the centre and south of Iraq since 1991. CARE's programmes have provided humanitarian relief assistance to over seven million people, approximately one-third of the population of Iraq.

For more information about our programmes, or to inquire about contacting Margaret Hassan, please contact: Elizabeth Brown, Press office, CARE International UK. Tel: (0)20 7934 9347 or (0)7766 051925. E-mail: