Briefing paper on water and sanitation

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Tuesday 15 February 2005

IRAQ: Briefing paper on water and sanitation


Fresh potable water arriving in Basra

ANKARA, 24 May 2004 (IRIN) - SUMMARY

Many Iraqi cities do not have adequate water or sewage treatment plants. And even where there are treatment systems, many have fallen into disrepair from years of neglect. At the same time, water and sewerage systems, with their intricate network of pumps, are constantly strained by regular power cuts.

Repairs and new treatment plants will be paid for out of a US $18.4 billion aid bill passed by the US Congress in November 2003, the Development Fund for Iraq, which has an estimated $1 billion left over from the formerly UN-administered Oil-for-Food programme, and money from international donors administered through the World Bank.

From 1990 to 1996, the annual budget for the maintenance of water and sewage treatment plants in Iraq fell from $100 million to just $8 million, making it difficult to repair and maintain the water supply systems, according to the UN.

By 1995, access to potable water in urban areas had fallen from 95 percent in 1990 to 92 percent, and in rural areas from 75 percent to 44 percent. By 1997, water treatment plants were working at only 40 percent of their nominal capacities. The existing sewage treatment plants were not fully operational and untreated raw sewage was being disposed of into rivers - the direct source of drinking water for many - with consequent increases in the incidence of water-borne diseases.

The UN children's agency (UNICEF) continues to truck approximately 7,200 cubic metres (cu.m.)of clean water into Iraq each day, serving a total of about 350,000 people, and imports supplies of chlorine gas and tablets. Community water stations have been set up at hospitals and health stations across the country, and teams have made emergency repairs to water pumping stations, but UNICEF says there is a limit to what can be done as looting continues on a daily basis.


Before the war, Iraq pumped 3 million cu.m. of water per day from 140 water treatment facilities. Today, facilities operate at about 65 percent of that capacity, mainly because of electricity shortages and the looting of water plant generators used to pump water and sewage.

UNICEF is currently trucking approximately 6,000 cu.m. a day to the Iraqi capital and 200 cu.m. a day to Fallujah, 50 km west of Baghdad, to help supply the population's need for potable water.

Baghdad's three sewage treatment plants are inoperable, allowing domestic and human waste from an estimated 3.8 million people to flow into the Tigris River. The plants represent three-quarters of the country's sewage treatment capacity. They are due to be repaired by October by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). But security problems have stopped work at one plant for three months.

Baghdad's Sharkh Dijlah water plant is being repaired to pump 45 percent more water in the future. The plant is expected to add 225,000 cu.m. a day to the water supply by July 2004.


In some cities in the south, waste water flows in open trenches. Most piped water flows through the system untreated. Bacteria-related illnesses from untreated water are especially common in summer. USAID distributes an estimated 700,000 litres of clean water each day to people in the cities of Basra and Muthanna.

In addition, UNICEF currently supports deliveries of 4,000 cu.m. a day of tanked water to Basra.

USAID recently finished work on the 240-km Sweet Water Canal in southern Iraq at a cost of almost $38 million. Bechtel, a private contractor, fixed two pumping stations and 14 water treatment stations, and dredged and cleaned the canal and adjacent reservoir.

USAID workers are also repairing 15 water treatment facilities and portions of the Sweet Water Canal to Basra, which provides drinking water to the estimated 1.7 million residents. Repairs to sewage treatment plants in six major cities in the south will be completed by December. In total, water and sanitation projects in the south are expected to benefit more than 14.5 million residents.


Because the northern governorates operated autonomously for the last several years, water and sewerage problems are not as dire as they are in other parts of the country. Workers are focusing on building potable water sources for villages with fewer than 1,000 people. USAID has repaired two water plants and one sewage plant, and is distributing an estimated 700,000 litres of water each day to people in Kirkuk and Mosul.


[Back] [Home Page]

Click here to send any feedback, comments or questions you have about IRIN's Website or if you prefer you can send an Email to Webmaster

The material contained on this Web site comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post any item on this site, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All graphics and Images on this site may not be re-produced without the express permission of the original owner. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005