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Water, Sickness And A Brewing Storm
by Dahr Jamail
appearing on Rense.com
January 27, 2004

The rest of our trip was comprised of a frenetic tour of stopping by villages both near and inside the city limits of Hilla, Najaf, and Diwaniya. Hilla, right near Babylon, has a water treatment plant and distribution center that is managed by Salmam Hassan Kadel, who is also the Chief Engineer. The wastewater project here, like in Najaf and Diwaniya, is specifically named on Bechtel's contract as one that they are responsible for rehabilitating.

Mr. Kadel informed me that he has received help from UNICEF, Red Cross and several others. He told me that even during the war they had running water in every house, and just had the normal problems of needing to replace old pipes and pumps. Now, they are supplying 50% of the water they need for the people of Hilla. The villages have no water, and they don't have the pipes they need to get the work done.

And they have had no contact from Bechtel, or a subcontractor of said. He tells of massive numbers of people with cholera, diarrhea, nausea, and kidney stones.

Mr. Kadel says, "Bechtel is spending all of their money without any studies. We give our NGO's all of our information before they do the work, and they know what to do. Bechtel is painting buildings, but this doesn't give clean water to the people who have died from drinking contaminated water. We ask of them that instead of painting buildings, they give us one water pump and we'll use it to give water service to more people. We have had no change since the Americanís came here. We know Bechtel is wasting money, but we can't prove it."

Just outside of Hilla I speak with several men of a small village. It's the usual story-no running water, maybe 2-4 hours of electricity per day to run their feeble pumps to pull in contaminated water for them to use.

An old man, Hussin Hamsa Nagem, tells me, "This is just like Saddam's time. In fact, it is worse. We have less water now than before. We are all sick with stomach problems and kidney stones. Our crops are dying."

At another small village between Hilla and Najaf, 1500 people are drinking water from a dirty stream which slowly trickles near the homes. Everyone has dysentery, many with kidney stones, a huge number with cholera. One of the men, holding a sick child, tells me, "It was much better before the invasion. We had 24 hours running water then. Now we are drinking this garbage because it is all we have."

A little further down the road at a village of 6000 homes called Abu Hidari, it is more of the same. Here, Saddam was rebuilding the pipes, but this ceased during the invasion and has yet to be resumed. The women are carrying water from a nearby dirty creek into their homes, because again, they have no other option.

After a night in Najaf, the next morning finds me at yet another village on the outskirts of Najaf, which falls under the responsibility of Najaf's water center. Here the people had been pro-active in collecting funds from each house to install new pipes. But due to lack of electricity and lack of water from the Najaf water treatment center, they are suffering.

A large hole is dug into the ground where they tapped into already existing pipes to siphon water. It fills the dirty hole in the night, when water is collected. This morning, children stand around it as women collect what little bit of dirty water which stands in the bottom of the hole.

Dysentary, cholera, nausea, diarrhea, kidney stones -- everyone is suffering from some water-born illness here, like the rest. 8 children from the village have been killed when attempting to cross the busy highway to a nearby factory in order to retrieve clean water.

Women are walking 1 km down to a stream, which dries up in the summer, to collect water for their homes. In the same stream other people are washing their dishes and doing laundry. I am told that many children from the village have drowned in this stream while collecting water.

After translating for upwards of several hundred men from at least 10 different villages in this region south of Baghdad, at one point Hamoudi, with a tired and sad look on his face, said, "I cannot do this work. They are desperate. They are asking me to help, and I can do nothing for these people. I'm very tired."

Mr. Mehdi is an engineer and Assistant Manager at the Najaf water distribution center. With help from Red Cross and the Spanish Army, they are doing some of the rebuilding on their own. He tells me Bechtel has begun working on the Arzaga Water Project to help bring water into the city center of Najaf. He says that Bechtel started one month ago; painting buildings, cleaning and repairing storage tanks and repairing and replacing sand filters.

This is the only project he knows of that Bechtel has been working on in Najaf.

There has been no work on desalinization, which is critical in this area, or other purification processes.

He states, "Bechtel is repairing some water facilities, but not improving the electricity any, which is their responsibility. Their work has not produced any more clean water than what we already had. Bechtel has not spoken with us, or promised us to do anything else."

I ask him if he thinks Bechtel can meet their contractual obligation of restoring potable water supply in all of the urban centers of Iraq by April 17th, and he laughs.

I ask him, "How successful has Bechtel been in restoring electrical service to your water facility which depends on electricity to operate?" He tells me at least 30% of Najaf doesn't have clean water simply because of lack of electricity.

In Diwaniya, and each of the 5 other villages I visited the story is the same. Change the names of the people and the names of the city/village, and we find cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, nausea, less than 8 hours of electricity per day, contaminated water (or no water), and everyone is suffering.

All of these people are Shi'ite Muslims, those the US hopes to gain the support of. Those who have been promised the most, and had the most hope for a better life now that they are no longer living in the shadow of Saddam Hussein. These are the people who suffered the most from his regime.

I am here to state, unequivocally, that 100% of the people I spoke with in this area south of Baghdad have stated that their living conditions are worse now than when Saddam was in power.

Mr. Hassan Mehdi Mohammed lives in a small village with his wife and 8 children, about an hours drive south of Baghdad. His village has 80% unemployment. He tells me, "The American's have come and taken everything but have given us nothing. It is worse than before. We were hoping it would be better than before, but now it is worse. The IGC has forgotten to take care of the Iraqi people."

I ask him what he thinks needs to occur to improve their situation.

"First, we need security. But the Americanís aren't even safe themselves. They are killed everyday. We like to hear that companies are coming here and we can work for them, but the IGC is always disagreeing amongst themselves. They have done nothing to help. We need free elections, this would be good for the people and give them hope. But we know Mr. Bremer will cheat us with those."

I ask him what he thinks will happen here in the near future.

"If we don't get our elections, there will be a bloody war. I fear a civilian war."

More of his children come sit with us as we drink chai and talk. He continues,

"I think the American's came here because they want something, not just because they love the Iraqi people. If they really came to help, then they should leave quickly. Now we are waiting for the next 6 months. The longer we wait, the more we see their promises are not being kept."

He takes a sip of chai, thinks for a moment, and says,

"No occupation ever makes things good for the people. All the people in the world must know the Americans are here just to help Mr. Bush win this next election. The same people who benefited under Saddam are benefiting more now. And the same people who suffered under Saddam, are suffering even more now."

His brother-in-law, Saduk al Abid, who has joined the discussion says, "Iraqi people now have no trust in the Americans or the IGC. They have given us one empty promise after another. We can feel the emptiness of all of their promises now."

Both of these men fought in the Intifada against Saddam Hussein in 1991. Now they both lack jobs and are suffering worse than before.

Mr. Abid says, "During Saddam's time we could at least find a job and bring home some money. Now, we cannot."

We drive the rest of the way back to Baghdad and listen to the news of a bus being exploded by an IED on the Dora Highway, and three US soldiers missing near Mosul. More Iraqi Police are killed in this incident as well.

Last night we hear a couple of loud explosions, then listen to the warning sirens wailing from the CPA headquarters in Baghdad as it was once again attacked with rockets. Several Bradley fighting vehicles rumble down the street under my window, and helicopters fly across Baghdad in different directions.

Posted: January 31, 2004


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