“Talib Abu Younes put his lips to a glass of tap water recently and watched worms swimming in the bottom,” reports Leila Fadel in Baghdad for Knight-Ridder/Yahoo News.
Electricity flickers on and off for two hours in Muthana Naim’s south Baghdad home then shuts off for four in boiling July heat that shoots above 120 degrees.
Fadhel Hussein boils buckets of sewage-contaminated water from the Tigris River to wash the family’s clothes.
Despite $2 billion spent to “revive” the capital — more than $38 million went to sewage projects, $375,000 to a water main and $101.2 million to electricity generation and transmission — “[t]he capital is crumbling around angry Baghdadis”:
“We thank God that the air we breathe is not in the hands of the government. Otherwise they would have cut it off for a few hours each day,” said Nadeem Haki, 39, an electric-goods shop owner in the upscale Karrada district in the east of the capital.
The KR report echoes others, including Patrick Cockburn of The Independent — Iraq ia “a bloody mess” — and our friend at Riverbend/Baghdad Burning blog — “prior to the war, we didn’t have sewage overflowing in the streets like we do now, and water cut off for days and days at a time.” More below:
“Narrow concrete sewage pipes decay underground and water pipes leak out more than half the drinking water before it ever reaches a home … [another] $792 million is being invested in water, sewage and electricity projects across the capital,” Ms. Fadel reports.
In late June, Cockburn wrote for The Independent:
To most ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad it is evident that life over the past year has been getting worse. The insurgents seem to have an endless supply of suicide bombers whose attacks ensure a permanent sense of threat. In addition the necessities of life are becoming more difficult to obtain. At one moment last winter there were queues of cars outside petrol stations several miles long.
The sense of fear in Baghdad is difficult to convey. Petrol is such a necessity because people need to pick up their children from school because they are terrified of them being kidnapped. Parents mob the doors of schools and swiftly become hysterical if they cannot find their children. Doctors are fleeing the country because so many have been held for ransom, some tortured and killed because their families could not raise the money.
Homes in Baghdad are currently getting between six and eight hours’ electricity a day. Nothing has improved at the power stations since the hand-over of security a year ago. In a city where the temperature yesterday was 40C, people swelter without air conditioning because the omnipresent small generators do not produce enough current to keep them going. In recent weeks there has also been a chronic shortage of water.
Some Iraqis have benefited. Civil servants and teachers are better paid, though prices are higher. But Iraqis in general hoped that their standard of living would improve dramatically after the fall of Saddam Hussein and it has not.
Ms. Fadel reports:
Power generation in the city has increased by about 232 megawatts but the demand has doubled, so the greater supply hasn’t resulted in many more hours of service. Three more electricity projects are expected to be complete by the end of the year, including the Dora Power Plant, a $101.5 million project that will supply 428 more megawatts to Iraqi homes, according to U.S. military documents.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars also have been spent to repair and install feeder lines to make sure all parts of the city receive electricity.
A public campaign began in June to build confidence in the Ministry of Electricity. On billboards, TV commercials and radio announcements reminiscent of American-produced public service announcements, messages read:
“Electricity is a blessing, help us protect it,”
“The demand for electricity is growing faster than we can supply it,”
“We ask for your support and understanding.”
But understanding wanes when the smell of sewage fills every other block, drinking water is often contaminated and Iraqis resort to sleeping on their roofs to take a break from the sauna-like heat inside their homes, waking up covered in dust.
Electricity production is up to 16 hours a day in Iraqi homes according to U.S. military documents, but most Iraqis say they get eight hours of power a day on average, sometimes as many as 12. In poor areas such as New Baghdad, in the east of the capital, people go days without power, they said.
With about $2 billion already invested, Baghdad should be sparkling, said its mayor, Alaa Mahmoud al Timimi. He hasn’t been consulted on American projects, besides signatures for completed developments, and has threatened to resign if he doesn’t get a larger budget to solve his city’s problems. The $85 million he was allocated can’t keep up with the city of 6.5 million, he said.
He’s already playing catch-up. Over 12 years the city was allocated about $3 per person per year, he said.
“Baghdad is an ignored city,” said Timimi, who’s a civil engineer. “The people, they blame me. I need money to rebuild the capacity of water (supply) and … (for) sewage, garbage collection, power.”
Electricity lines are tangled above the streets like strands of spaghetti, supply machinery dates to 1958 and fuse boxes have been ripped from the walls in electricity stations.
“It’s too slow. If I had $2 billion I would have done three to five times more,” Timimi said. “The Americans told me this is our money and we will spend it towards our plans. They do it their way.” …