A Snapshot of Daily Life in Iraq

Baghdad drowning in sewage: Iraqi official
Feb 3, 2008

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Baghdad is drowning in sewage, thirsty for water and largely powerless, an Iraqi official said on Sunday in a grim assessment of services in the capital five years after the US-led invasion.

One of three sewage treatment plants is out of commission, one is working at stuttering capacity while a pipe blockage in the third means sewage is forming a foul lake so large it can be seen “as a big black spot on Google Earth,” said Tahseen Sheikhly, civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security plan.

Sheikhly told a news conference in the capital that water pipes, where they exist, are so old that it is not possible to pump water at a sufficient rate to meet demands — leaving many neighbourhoods parched.

A sharp deficit of 3,000 megawatts of electricity adds to the woes of residents, who are forced to rely on neighbourhood generators to light up their lives and heat their homes.

“Sewerage, water and electricity are our three main problems,” said Sheikhly, adding that many of these problems date back to the Saddam Hussein regime when not enough attention was paid to basic infrastructure.

Insurgency, sectarian violence and vandalism since the US-led invasion in March 2003 had further ravaged services in the capital, he added.

More positively, he said, the extensive Baghdad security plan, known as Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Imposing Law) and launched on February 14 last year, was allowing services to be gradually restored.

“After the destruction there is now the reconstruction,” Sheikhly said. “We have solved many of the security problems, now we can focus on rebuilding.”

Education and health across Iraq had both seen improvements, according to US military commander Brigadier General Jeffrey Dorko of the US Gulf Regional Division which is engaged in reconstruction projects.

Dorko told the news conference that 76 new health clinics — 21 of them in Baghdad — had been built while 1,885 new schools had been constructed countrywide and another 1,604 repaired.

He said that the demand for electricity was likely to outstrip supply for several years because many Iraqi power stations had been damaged or destroyed and commissioning new ones would take anything up to four years.

Demand was increasing, Dorko added, because Iraqis were increasingly buying electrical appliances as the security situation improved.

Asked if it may take 10 years before Baghdad receives full power 24 hours a day, he replied: “There are so many variables… but I think it will be less than 10 years.”

Sheikhly believed that once the annual budget is approved by parliament — possibly on Monday — new funds would allow a faster roll-out of services in the beleaguered capital.

“Reconstruction will be our main focus in 2008,” he said.


Cholera Crisis Hits Baghdad

Iraqi capital fears an epidemic if stricken sewerage system collapses as the rainy season arrives

Baghdad is facing a ‘catastrophe’ with cases of cholera rising sharply in the past three weeks to more than 100, strengthening fears that poor sanitation and the imminent rainy season could create an epidemic.

The disease – spread by bacteria in contaminated water, which can result in rapid dehydration and death – threatens to blunt growing optimism in the Iraqi capital after a recent downturn in violence. Two boys in an orphanage have died and six other children were diagnosed with the disease, according to the Iraqi government. ‘We have a catastrophe in Baghdad,’ an official said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said 101 cases had been recorded in the city, making up 79 per cent of all new cases in Iraq. It added that no single source for the upsurge had been identified, but the main Shia enclave of Sadr City was among the areas hardest hit.

As Iraq’s rainy season nears, its aging water pipes and sewerage systems, many damaged or destroyed by more than four years of war, pose a new threat to a population weary of crisis. Claire Hajaj, a spokeswoman for Unicef, said: ‘Iraq’s water and sanitation networks are in a critical condition. Pollution of waterways by raw sewage is perhaps the greatest environmental and public health hazard facing Iraqis – particularly children. Waterborne diarrhea diseases kill and sicken more Iraqi children than anything except pneumonia. We estimate that only one in three Iraqi children can rely on a safe water source – with Baghdad and southern cities most affected.’

Although US forces in Baghdad have found that security is improving, on daily patrols they face complaints from residents about streets plagued by piles of household waste and fetid cesspools, often near schools and where children are playing. Captain Richard Dos Santos, attached to the 3rd squadron of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, said that in the al-Hadar area of south Baghdad sewage pumps were only 30 to 40 per cent operational. ‘There is sewage near schools and there is an increased threat of cholera and flu in winter when resistance is low,’ he said.

The UN has reported 22 deaths from cholera this year, and 4,569 laboratory-confirmed cases, almost exclusively in northern Iraq where it was first detected in Kirkuk in August. It has now spread to half of the country’s 18 provinces, but anxiety is focused on Baghdad.

Unicef said it was providing oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets for families – it distributed three million to the worst hit areas two weeks ago – as well as jerry cans at water distribution points. It is transporting 180,000 liters (47,552 gallons) of safe water per day to Baghdad’s worst hit districts.

Unicef issued an urgent appeal to the Iraqi government to clean water storage tanks in all institutions as one preventive measure. Hajaj said: ‘Only 20 per cent of families outside Baghdad have access to sewage services, and Iraq’s sewage treatment plants operate at just 17 per cent of capacity.’

Cholera is preventable by treating drinking water with chlorine and improving hygiene, but it is estimated that around 70 per cent of Iraqis do not have access to clean water. Many have been too poor or too afraid to go out to buy bottled water, relying instead on tap water, often from polluted sources. Companies responsible for collecting waste and sewage have been reluctant to enter Baghdad’s most violent areas.

The government has been trying to educate Iraqis through advertisements on TV and in newspapers and with leaflets handed out at checkpoints. But it admits that six hospitals have unsafe water supplies.

By Guardian Unlimited © Copyright Guardian Newspapers 2008


Iraq: Children Starved of Childhood
by Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail
Global Research, February 15, 2008

BAQUBA, Feb 11 (IPS) – The violence around the continuing U.S. military operations in this city has robbed children of their childhood.

Only two provincial schools and one private kindergarten school are functioning in this city of 280,000, located 50 km north of Baghdad. Most children know neither school nor play.

Or even the food they want. “We parents can hardly meet the basic requirements of food,” Mahdi Hassan, a father of four, told IPS.

“Nobody even mentions chocolate or pastries or anything else because Iraqis know they are not important,” Baquba resident Wissam Jafar told IPS. “Children eat what the other members of the family eat. Toys and games are offered only at festivals and on special occasions.”

Baquba city, capital of Diyala province, has been at the centre of major U.S. military operations to fight al-Qaeda like forces. People have suffered from the violence from both sides.

By now Iraq has seen a generation of children pass with just survival a major issue. During the period of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, more than half a million children died, according to the United Nations.

In 1996, former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright was asked by Lesley Stahl on the CBS ླྀ Minutes’ show if she thought the price of half a million dead children was worth it. She replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”

One in eight children in Iraq died during that period of malnutrition, disease, and lack of medicine.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq during March 2003 brought hope that things might change, but that change has only been for the worse.

“During the nineties, they were malnourished but they could find a place to play in the streets,” Khalid Ali, a local economist, told IPS. “Nowadays, they cannot even get out of their home because of the violence. And a large number of children have been killed through the violence.”

There is one park in Baquba with some basic swings for children; another was recently renovated by an Iraqi NGO. Both get overcrowded on festivals and holidays. Parents feel obliged to take their children out on these days, despite the risk.

On other days, no more than two or three families visit the parks.

Sajid Asim who earns 175 dollars a month from his job in the water department says the money is barely enough for food for the family. “Surely, there won’t be any extra money to bring the children special food or clothes, or games, or even taking them to picnics.” For those without work — and there are many — the situation is worse.

Schoolteachers and managers spoke to IPS of the problems facing children who do manage to go to school.

“Teaching has been hit by the political situation in Iraq,” said Salma Majid, manager of a local primary school. “Children can often not get to the school, and we may have more than three days off in a week. The whole academic year may be delayed because the violence has been so extreme this year.”

Schools can provide children a chance to play but sometimes it is not safe,” she said. “A number of school buildings have been hit by mortar.”

According to an Oxfam report on Iraq released Jul. 30, “92 percent of children had learning impediments that are largely attributable to the current climate of fear. Schools are regularly closed as teachers and pupils are too fearful to attend. Over 800,000 children may now be out of school, according to a recent estimate by Save the Children UK — up from 600,000 in 2004.”

The Oxfam report also said that child malnutrition rates in Iraq have risen from 19 percent before the invasion in 2003, to 28 percent. “More than 11 percent of newborn babies were born underweight in 2006, compared with 4 percent in 2003.”

Scarcity has brought all sorts of difficulties for children. “I put a sandwich in the bag for my son to take to school,” said a mother who declined to give her name. “When he got back home, he said he could not have it because his classmates do not bring their own sandwiches; their parents do not give them sandwiches.”

A local primary school teacher, Ali Abbas, said it is common now for students to arrive at school without breakfast.

“One day, one of the children suddenly passed out,” Abbas said. “We immediately took her to the administration room. When she regained consciousness, I asked her why she fainted. She told me that she did not have breakfast because there was no breakfast at home.”

Ahmed, IPS correspondent in Iraq’s Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region.


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