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French Version

Iraq sees water crisis fixed in four years

Minister says Iraqi people are determined to solve the problem

Iraq's water supply, damaged by years of war and mismanagement, could return to an adequate level within three to four years, Iraq's Water Resources Minister Latif Rashid, told AFP. "Within three to four years we should be able to have adequate water supply," he said in Stockholm, where he attended the Stockholm Water Week.

Rashid said most inhabitants of Iraq's large cities had access to running water, although not in sufficient quantities.

"It is not enough because of future expansion and population growth and the system badly needs maintenance, but most big towns have adequate water supply," he said.

However, around half of the country's rural population did not, he said.

"It is an absolute crime that with all our wealth Iraq still lacks clean water," he said.

Rashid, an engineer and former Kurdish politician, took the water portfolio in September 2003 as a member of the transitional Iraqi government following decades of British exile.

Some $1.7 billion were earmarked for improvements in the country's water system, but the soaring cost of fighting insurgents has forced officials to reprogram budgets.

"Of course security is the most important question," Rashid said.

Iraqi insurgents have regularly targeted water installations.

In June and July they bombed a Baghdad water pipeline, cutting off supplies to half the city, a purification station and a pumping station.

Rashid's time frame for "adequate" water supply is considerably shorter than a recent one given by U.S. General Thomas Bostick, who said in June that it would take $2 billion a year for 12 years "to fix the water situation in Iraq, to get clean water to 100 percent of Iraqis."

Rashid acknowledged that water supply is competing with other national priorities for budget allocations and resources but said "the Iraqi people are determined" to solve the problem.

Most of Iraq's water system is 50 years old. Maintenance was therefore "an extremely important part" of his ministry's efforts, he said.

According to U.S. Army engineers, 60 percent of drinkable water in Iraq is lost between treatment and delivery, mostly through hundreds of thousands of leaks in pipelines due to old age.

Under former leader Saddam Hussein, the system was neglected as resources were diverted to the war effort and to fighting insurgencies.

One legacy of that era, the draining of 20,000 square kilometers of marshland in southwestern Iraq, was being reversed, Rashid said.

After Shiite insurgents fled to the marshes from Saddam Hussein's artillery, the president in 1993 ordered the area to be drained, turning the wetlands into a desert.

"It was a crime against nature and humanity," Rashid said.

As dykes built by the regime were being broken, water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers had returned to the marshland, and with it, part of the population.

Between a quarter and a third of the so-called "marshland Arabs" have returned to their homelands over the past two years, Rashid said.

"I am hopeful the rest will have returned in another two years time," he said.

About half of the area had already been turned into "healthy" marshland again, he said.

Amman,08 29 2005
The Daily Star
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