Take a two day trip with Dahr Jamail, a freelance journalist from Alaska, as he collects data on the present state of the water infrastructure in Iraq. Some excerpts:
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. They have had no contact from Bechtel, or a subcontractor of said. “We have had no change since the American’s came here. We know Bechtel is wasting money, but we can’t prove it.”
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…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.
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.
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 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, which is their responsibility.”
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. He tells me at least 30% of Najaf doesn’t have clean water simply because of lack of electricity.
“No occupation ever makes things good for the people. All the people in the world must know the American’s are here just to help Mr. Bush win this next election.” — Mr. Hassan Mehdi Mohammed, an Iraqi villager.
Day I – Baghdad to Babylon
Day II – Water, Sickness & A Brewing Storm