|Iraq in need of funding for sewage, water infrastructure|
|Iraq only has 10 percent of the money needed over the next six years to fix its sewerage and drinking water systems, a dilemma worsened by a US proposal to shift two billion dollars earmarked for the sector to security, the public works minister said on Thursday.
Nasreen Barwari was speaking as Iraqi government officials prepared to fly cap-in-hand to Tokyo next week for an international donors' conference.
"It is very critical that grants get expanded for the sector," the young female minister told a news conference in Baghdad.
The US government promised to pump 18.4 billion dollars (15 billion euros) into reconstruction projects in Iraq after last year's invasion.
But a month ago it revealed a plan to shift some of this cash into beefing up the country's security forces in response to a violent insurgency there.
Barwari said this move would affect her ministry of municipalities and public works the most, with two billion dollars of four billion initially promised set to be siphoned off.
As a result, Iraq's government would present an updated list of priority areas for funding at the two-day donor gathering in Japan from October 13, placing "water, sanitation and electricity at the top," the minister said.
Donor countries, aid agencies and World Bank officials are due to meet in the Japanese capital to discuss Iraqi reconstruction, which has floundered amid the deteriorating security situation and left many Iraqis still without basic services such as water and electricity.
The interim government was unhappy that pledges made last year at a similar gathering in Madrid have largely failed to materialize. More than 90 percent of the country's cities have no decent sewerage system, while only two thirds of Iraqis have access to safe drinking water, Barwari told reporters.
"Our vision is to provide 100 percent coverage for water and hopefully 50 percent at least coverage for sanitation and sewage within the coming five to six years," the minister said.
To achieve this goal, "we are talking about 18 to 20 billion dollars that we need, which means an annual budget of four to five billion dollars," she said.
At present her ministry only received 200 million dollars from the interim government's budget and a further 300 million dollars from donor countries and other external funds annually.
That is "10 percent of what we need as an investment," Barwari said.
In Tokyo, Iraqi officials would also discuss with ways to reduce the country's multi-billion-dollar foreign debt burden and reiterate that they were taking the decisions after the US-led occupation handed over power in June.
"We will be re-enforcing that the Iraqi government is now in control, is running the country," she said.
Despite the shortage of funding, Barwari was upbeat about the number of jobs her ministry had generated and would continue to create in the coming three months as projects to fix sewerage systems and improve water distribution facilities come on line.
One initiative had already created 80,000 jobs, she said.
"Our ministry's other activities of reconstruction and repair is expected to offer around 500,000 jobs by the end of the year," she continued, adding that this target was 60-percent reached.
One way to plug the funding gap was to encourage Iraq's private sector to invest in the country's infrastructure, she added.
Beirut,10 11 2004
The Daily Star