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29-10-2011 | Middle East

Iraq: Dirty Water


After decades of war and neglect, Iraq's health care, water and sanitation services are in a dire state, failing to meet the basic needs of a large part of the population. Despite an improvement in security in some areas, basic services in many places are inadequate.

The ICRC says that the situation has not significantly improved since March 2008 when it published a wide ranging report, "Iraq: no let-up in the humanitarian crisis" that called Iraq's humanitarian situation among the most critical in the world. Since then, the water supply has continued to deteriorate, with millions of people relying on insufficient and poor quality supplies due to poorly maintained water and sewage systems and a shortage of sanitation engineers. Millions of people are at serious risk of water-borne diseases, with children particularly vulnerable. Cholera cases peaked in a number of provinces during the hottest months of August and September.

"Iraqis urgently need access to clean water. They try to get it from rivers and wells but these sources are contaminated throughout the country so many people become ill, " says Patrick Yussef, Head of the ICRC sub delegation in Baghdad.

Most of Iraq's water comes from its two main rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which are heavily polluted by household waste and litter, further contaminating the water supply. In the poorer areas of Baghdad, the streets are flooded with sewage, which seeps into the walls and under the floors of people's houses causing them to collapse.

At 500 dinars (half a US dollar) for 10 litres, many Iraqis cannot afford to buy bottled water and have to drink untreated water from the polluted rivers, at considerable risk to their health.

Under-resourced hospitals with depleted medical supplies are struggling to cope with the numbers of sick. At Al Sadr General Hospital in Amara, doctors sometimes have to supplement the medical supplies from the Ministry of Health with those they buy themselves at the market. To help hospitals maintain basic health care services, the ICRC provides medicines and surgical dressings. It also supplies plastic bags of drinking water to families in cholera-prone areas. At Abu Ghraib General Hospital the ICRC has installed new water storage tanks, repaired toilets and improved the sewage system. But the hospitals will continue to have a high case load of people suffering from water-borne diseases as long as people drink from the contaminated rivers.

ICRC water and sanitation experts are working with the Iraqi authorities to repair and maintain pumping stations across Iraq, including Al Wethba and Al Sanak near Baghdad, and along the East Tigris, securing the water supply for millions of people. The Al Wethba pumping station has been newly renovated by the ICRC, almost doubling the amount of water supplied by the station. It now provides 12700 cubic metres of water a day to some 850,000 people in Baghdad including the city's main hospital.

Key Facts & Figures:

  • In 2007 more than more than 3 million people (more than 50% of those women and 30% children) were direct beneficiaries of ICRC water, habitat and sanitation activities which included the repair, rehabilitation and sometimes the upgrading of water storage systems and distribution networks
  • 144 projects completed countrywide to either refurbish or respond to emergencies, to restore health infrastructure, water treatment plants/compact units and sewage lifting stations throughout Iraq, including areas most affected by the conflict such as 41 in Baghdad, 18 in Diyala, 14 in Anbar and 17 in Ninawa
  • More than 32,000 people, including IDPs, had their water supply ensured through emergency ICRC water and sanitation projects
  • 25 primary health care centres in Anbar, Babel, Baghdad, Diwaniya, Karbala, Salah Al Deen and Wasit provinces serving an average of more than 3,820 patients per day had their sanitation facilities and vital electro-mechanical components repaired or upgraded
  • 13 hospitals, with a combined capacity to treat around 2,862 inpatients, had their water and/or sanitation systems restored
  • More than 1.5 million litre plastic bags of drinking water produced and delivered to Iraqis in need.
  • In 2008, it is estimated that over 4 million Iraqis have benefited from the ICRC's emergency repairs, and renovation to the water and sanitation system as well as the rebuilding of clinics and hospitals.



Duration : 8m 47s
Size : 986.3 MB
On Screen Credit: ICRC or logo

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