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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Swedish NGO works to raise water supplies in north

SULAYMANIYAH, 9 March 2004 (IRIN) - In Sarchinar, on the hilly eastern outskirts of Sulaymaniyah in northeastern Iraq, the streets are dusty but there is no obvious shortage of water. With evening falling, women scrub their doorsteps and men wash the dirt off their cars. A dirty brown rivulet trickles down the middle of the street and puddles form.

At the height of summer, though, inhabitants say, the situation is very different.

"1998 to 2001 were very dry years," resident Abdullah Mohamad told IRIN, "and we were lucky to get three hours of water every two days between July and September."

Housewife Fatma Rasul said some of her wealthier neighbours have bought generators to pump water up to cisterns on their roof. Others prepare for the summer drought by collecting water in ditches next to their houses.

"Whatever technique you use, you have to be economical," she said. "We barely have enough water to wash ourselves, let alone the carpets."

The inhabitants of Sarchinar blame the local authorities, which they say have made endless unfulfilled promises to improve their water supply. "They promised to put down bigger water pipes, and even began digging, but they soon dumped that project," Necmedin Abdullah, told IRIN.

For Nawzat Bilal, who heads the Sulaymaniyah branch of Swedish NGO Qandil, such criticisms are understandable, but a little misplaced. He believes the problems facing the inhabitants of Sarchinar and other city suburbs have less to do with any shortage of water than with serious shortcomings in the distribution system.

"To get water up to the higher districts, you need pumping stations," he told IRIN. "We had hoped they might be built with Oil-for-Food money, but they weren't. So we have taken things into our own hands."

But it is not a pumping station that Qandil is now building. It is a dam. Work has been under way at Chaq Chaq, a kilometre northwest of Sulaymaniyah, since July 2002 and is due to finish by May.

Heavy rollers flatten soil into the central section of this earth-filled dam, which when completed will measure 16.5 metres from base to parapet. Workers and machines come from the city council and materials are local, but the US $600,000 construction costs are paid by Qandil's main sponsor, the Swedish International Development Agency.

For the moment, the pond behind the dam is barely 200 metres long. In two months, if all goes well, it should stretch back a further two kilometres into the surrounding mountains and hold four million cubic metres of water.

"Of course, one aim of our project is to ensure we have reserves of water throughout the summer," Bilal said. But he thinks the dam should do more than that.

"The lake will sit right on top of a geological fault, which is directly connected to one of the two springs that provides Sulaymaniyah's water," he explained. "At the moment, the spring gets as green as a duck pond in summer. But with an increase of water pressure up here, quality and quantity down there will improve."

Like Bilal, Qandil's health coordinator Giorgio Francia believes much more attention should be paid to the issue of water husbandry in Iraq. "The most vital problem this country faces now is not Saddam Hussein's surviving henchmen, or Islamic terror," he told IRIN. "It is the accelerating loss of fertile land to desertification and salination."

Largely the result of poorly thought-out irrigation projects aimed at sustaining ever-increasing agricultural production from the 1960s onwards, these phenomena were not resolved by the piecemeal emergency water projects undertaken over the last decade.

"One of the fundamental problems is that NGOs and Iraqi authorities are still dependent on hydro-geological maps done by the British in the 1950s", explained Dr Francia. "These are grossly inaccurate."

Before the fall of Saddam, Qandil tried and failed to get sponsorship for an up-to-date survey of Kurdish-controlled areas that it planned to do in cooperation with the geology departments at Arbil and Sulaymaniyah universities. Dr Francia thinks that the time is ripe to extend such a
project to the whole of Iraq.

Themes: (IRIN) Health & Nutrition



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