What is the Iraq Water Project?
Original Intention and Objectives
Our fundamental intention of involvement in the Iraq Water Project is to save lives. The project serves several objectives:
A short history of the Project
Long-term VFP activists Fredy Champagne and Edilith Eckart volunteered for the May 1998 Iraq Sanctions Challenge. Led by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Reverend Lucius Walker, 100 people delivered tons of medical aid to hospitals and visited schools, water treatment plants and regions hard-hit by the bombing.
Before 1991, Iraqi households had safe drinking water due to a network of public water treatment facilities and maintained hygienic conditions in the cities with a functioning sewage and wastewater disposal system. But the bombing of the Iraqi infrastructures (water treatment and energy plants, bridges, roads etc.), combined with UN sanctions, left the country without effective drinking water treatment and wastewater management.
Recognizing the urgent need for clean drinking water Champagne and Eckart, after returning from Iraq, formed an ad-hoc committee to rebuild water facilities in Iraq. The committee modeled its structure upon a known successful experiment where veterans from both sides of the war joined together to build a health clinic in Vung Tau, Vietnam.
Sub committees were formed to raise funds, to recruit veterans, to contact appropriate Iraq and US government officials, to provide information to aid in site choice, et cetera. It was eventually agreed upon that the sites to be repaired would be non-military, near the border of Iran, and under the no fly zone.
A 1995 FAO report stated "The water and sanitation system remain critical throughout the country with the Basrah area (pop. 1 million), being the most serious. The basic reason throughout the system is the lack of spare parts for a variety of equipment. These parts cannot be purchased without foreign exchange and UN sanctions committee approval may also be required for most of the items."
In February 2000 our advance team discovered that the Abul Khasib Valley, southeast of Basrah, had no effective sewage treatment, nor water treatment plants. The valley has some light industry, but predominantly is a farming and fishing region and home to a population of 150,000. Iraq is the world's leading producer of dates and, before recent wars and sanctions, was also the world's leading date exporter. Our team learned, that three of the seven existing water treatment facilities were being repaired by German based NGO's, and requested permission to repair the four remaining plants, that serve a population of 56,000 people. The water situation in the Abul Khasib valley is especially serious because:
Eckart and Champagne continued as co-chairs of the project through the exploratory phase. They brought it as a proposal to the Veterans for Peace national board who adopted it as an official project and they continued as co-chairs during the IWP's repair of the first four water treatment facilities located southeast of Basrah in the Abul Khasib Valley.
The four plants include:
Since than, the VFP Iraq Water Project financed the repair of two more Water Treatment Plants serving more than 20,000 people (Hai Al-Risalah and Mansouria Al Shatt), sent another team to Iraq (Leon White Brigade) and continues to speak out against the crime being committed in our names against the Iraqi people.
Current Plans and Objectives
Prior to the recent invasion and occupation of Iraq, IWP rebuilt six water treatment plants in the south and central areas of the country, thereby furnishing reliable clean water to some 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Our major partner in this effort was, and is, LIFE for Relief and Development, an American non-governmental organization that has worked long years in Iraq, and had the courage to keep on working even through the recent bombing and chaos. With the assistance of LIFE, IWP sent three teams into the country to work alongside Iraqis in the reconstruction of these plants.
One result of attacks upon civilian infrastructure in the 1991 Gulf War and the thirteen years of United Nations sanctions that followed was collapse of Iraq’s entire water supply system. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died from diseases lurking in water no longer fit to drink, a frank admission of the United Nations itself. The original purpose of the Iraq Water Project was to clean up household water for as many people as we possibly could, and to draw public attention to the consequences of the sanctions regime upon these defenseless victims of a harsh and inhumane United States policy.
These sanctions which we so heartily opposed have now been removed in consequence of an arrogant and poorly justified exercise of military power by our own government. And the benefits lavishly promised the people of Iraq have yet to materialize. Quite the contrary; things are by most accounts measurably worse. Our own water plants bear witness: of the six---which were working adequately before the war---only one escaped damage, whereas the others suffered substantially from either combat, looting, or inability to provide proper maintenance in a wartime environment.
For all our disgust with the United States occupation, IWP does not wish to abandon either our water plants or the people they serve. Our new goal therefore is repair of damages to these six plants caused by our own country’s assault, and a continuing effort to give voice to the voiceless common people of Iraq.
We are also concerned that our government will attempt to privatize Iraq’s essential services like water and electricity. In other countries such as Bolivia where Bechtel Corporation took over the water services in Cochabamba, this has proved disastrous to ordinary people who were unable to afford Bechtel’s highly escalated rates and were forced to drink polluted water. We view our own work, and not Bechtel’s, as the appropriate model for the restoration of water services in Iraq.
We hope that you will join us in the continuation of our highly successful Iraq Water Project.