U.S., Iraq seek to ease water crisis

The tanks held enough clean drinking water for some 200,000 Iraqis at a new distribution station in eastern Baghdad, but local officials struggled Saturday to agree on where it should go.

The dilemma exemplified the obstacles facing the Iraqis and their American backers as they try to rebuild the country. The Iraqi government is flush with oil money, but officials often lack the know-how and experience to dole it out efficiently.

U.S. soldiers and Iraqi officials began working on the water distribution site in the former Shiite militia stronghold of New Baghdad in April – part of a broader strategy to provide immediate relief in hopes of boosting confidence in the Iraqi government and preventing militants from regaining support.

Iraq's government provided $191,000 for the project, which is on a joint U.S.-Iraqi military base in the area.

People in need of water can either fill containers from three public taps on the base or from tanker trucks that will deliver to collection points elsewhere.

Filthy drinking water, often contaminated by sewage that overflows into the Tigris River, has raised fears of cholera and other diseases. Baghdad's aging pipes also suffer damage because impoverished and displaced Iraqis frequently tap into it illegally.

Recognizing the urgency, the Iraqi government has invested or plans to invest over $200 million, in addition to $50 million in U.S. military emergency funds. More than 100 projects are in the works to improve the capital's water supply, according to the U.S. military.

Two-thirds of the raw sewage produced in the capital flows untreated into waterways, Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in his quarterly report last month.

But the report also found that more Iraqis nationwide have access to potable water now than before the U.S.-led war began in March 2003 – 20million people compared with 12.9 million previously.