More than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the country of the Euphrates and the Tigris is struggling with recurrent water shortages in Baghdad and other large cities, poor sanitation and a shattered irrigation network.
Water Resources Minister Latif Rashid said fighters intent on undermining the new government are much to blame for the current water crisis and said pledged reconstruction money has been slow to materialise.
“Iraq is a country rich in water resources. We have large reservoirs, two large rivers, a large number of river branches, adequate ground water, the marshland area,” Rashid said on the sidelines of a reconstruction conference in Amman, Jordan.
“What Iraq needs is large investments.”
Rashid said the bill for repairing and building dams, irrigation canals, sewage systems and purification stations for drinking water amounts to somewhere between $10 and $15 billion.
The United States earmarked $3.7 billion to help rebuild Iraq’s water system but a large part of that cash has been cut back, swallowed by security cuts, he said.
Some Iraqis have a daily battle
“They have started some projects in our ministry. I think we are getting probably a total cost for the projects of $400 million and they have started spending that amount of money,” Rashid said.
A donors’ meeting is scheduled for next month in Amman.
Last week, two million Baghdadis went without fresh water after officials said fighters sabotaged one of the main water plants that feeds the Iraqi capital, where summer temperatures can top 50C.
“We suffer daily from terrorists sabotaging our infrastructure. There was serious damage in Baghdad … but most of it has been repaired,” Rashid said.
Water and electricity shortages are draining residents’ confidence in the new Shia-led government, elected five months ago in polls many hoped would bring order and good governance.
Iraq needs an estimated 15,000 megawatts of power a day but it only generates 5000 megawatts, according to Rashid.
Liqaa Maki, an Iraq analyst, told Aljazeera.net that the Iraqi government and foreign donors must share the blame for water shortages.
“In over half the cities and towns in Iraq there hasn’t been a single explosion in more than two years, but in these places there are still major problems,” he said.
“How can the government blame the resistance for these problems when it is obviously a result of bad management?”
“The fact is that we are just not seeing any real investment in the water infrastructure.”
He added: “In the town of al-Rumaitha (north of Baghdad) there has not been a single bombing or killing in over two years and there has never been a problem with the water supply in decades.
“But this week the government cut off water to the entire region which subsequently provoked demonstrations. How can the government blame the resistance for these problems when it is obviously a result of bad management and a lack of investment?”