Baghdad drowning in sewage
Yahoo News/AFP
February 3, 2008

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Baghdad is drowning in sewage, thirsty for water and largely powerless, an Iraqi official said on Sunday in a grim assessment of services in the capital five years after the US-led invasion.

One of three sewage treatment plants is out of commission, one is working at stuttering capacity while a pipe blockage in the third means sewage is forming a foul lake so large it can be seen "as a big black spot on Google Earth," said Tahseen Sheikhly, civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security plan.

Sheikhly told a news conference in the capital that water pipes, where they exist, are so old that it is not possible to pump water at a sufficient rate to meet demands -- leaving many neighbourhoods parched.

A sharp deficit of 3,000 megawatts of electricity adds to the woes of residents, who are forced to rely on neighbourhood generators to light up their lives and heat their homes.

"Sewerage, water and electricity are our three main problems," said Sheikhly, adding that many of these problems date back to the Saddam Hussein regime when not enough attention was paid to basic infrastructure.

Insurgency, sectarian violence and vandalism since the US-led invasion in March 2003 had further ravaged services in the capital, he added.

More positively, he said, the extensive Baghdad security plan, known as Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Imposing Law) and launched on February 14 last year, was allowing services to be gradually restored.

"After the destruction there is now the reconstruction," Sheikhly said. "We have solved many of the security problems, now we can focus on rebuilding."

Education and health across Iraq had both seen improvements, according to US military commander Brigadier General Jeffrey Dorko of the US Gulf Regional Division which is engaged in reconstruction projects.

Dorko told the news conference that 76 new health clinics -- 21 of them in Baghdad -- had been built while 1,885 new schools had been constructed countrywide and another 1,604 repaired.

He said that the demand for electricity was likely to outstrip supply for several years because many Iraqi power stations had been damaged or destroyed and commissioning new ones would take anything up to four years.

Demand was increasing, Dorko added, because Iraqis were increasingly buying electrical appliances as the security situation improved.

Asked if it may take 10 years before Baghdad receives full power 24 hours a day, he replied: "There are so many variables... but I think it will be less than 10 years."

Sheikhly believed that once the annual budget is approved by parliament -- possibly on Monday -- new funds would allow a faster roll-out of services in the beleaguered capital.

"Reconstruction will be our main focus in 2008," he said.

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