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Date: Wed, 15 Jul 98 16:25:55 CDT
From: Workers World <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: U.S. sanctions turn Iraq water into poison
Article: 39074
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.17380.19980717001533@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

U.S. sanctions turn Iraq's water supply into poison

Workers World, 16 July 1998

A U.S. warplane launched a missile June 30 at Iraq. Its pilot claimed an Iraqi anti-aircraft battery had locked its radar on some British jet fighters patrolling Iraqi air space, and he had to respond.

The missile struck a water reservoir near Basra in southern Iraq, supporting the Iraqi's statement that there was no radar in the area. It also highlighted the serious threat to Iraq's water supply from an eight-year-long blockade.

David Sole, president of UAW Local 2334-Sanitary Chemists & Technicians Association at the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department, wrote the following description of what sanctions have done to Iraq's drinking water. Sole was part of a delegation the International Action Center organized to bring medicine to Iraq in early May.]

I still had on my mind the hundreds of babies and children shrunken and dying at the Saddam Pediatric Hospital in Baghdad. Most were stricken with gastroenteritis and amoebic dysentery, both water-born diseases.

Ferhan Mohson, the plant shift supervisor, and Dr. A. Al-Dabbagh, assistant president of Baghdad University, an expert in water engineering, were guiding us through the April 7 Water Treatment Plant just north of Baghdad. The plant provides almost half the fresh water to over five million people.

The facility was not that different from any fresh water plant in Detroit. The huge pumps were roaring as they lifted water from the Tigris River. Settling tanks slowed the water and let solids sink to the bottom. Huge filtration tanks further reduced the contamination.

But unlike the procedures normally followed, this plant was not adding chlorine in the early stages of purification. Perhaps this explained why the hospitals were full.

Our hosts explained that importation of chlorine is restricted severely by the sanctions. Since it is a poisonous gas, they say it can be used for military purposes.

The little chlorine now allowed into the country comes by way of UNICEF. It is not enough.

The Tigris' turbid water contains minute solid particles that remain suspended even after settling and filtration. Before the Gulf War the plant added the aluminum salt alum to the water to reduce these solids. U.S./UN sanctions bar alum.

Now the plant adds an unprocessed ore that contains 50 percent impurities. Every day they have to use a mechanical shovel to clean out the tanks. Control of the turbidity is difficult.

As water leaves the plant it gets what chlorine is available from the six of 12 chlorinators still working. The chlorine should be more than enough to purify the water. In fact the chlorine left in the water after contaminants have been destroyed is ten times that used for water leaving Detroit's Water Works Park.

But Baghdad's water supply has other problems. Massive bombing during the Gulf War severely damaged the entire network of underground water pipes. Sanctions prevent pipes from entering Iraq, classifying them as considered potential military material.

Dr. Adnan Jabrou, deputy mayor of Baghdad, told us that so many pipes are cracked and broken that they lose 40 percent of all water leaving the water plants to leakage. The resulting low pressure in the pipes allows contaminated ground water to leak back into the water-delivery system.

One official later told us that tap-water testing in Baghdad homes showed that over 10 percent received contaminated water.

Baghdad water engineers over-chlorinate the water as it leaves the plant, hoping to decontaminate it as it runs through the broken pipes. They would like to double the amount of chlorine they currently put into the water, but they don't have enough.

There is no rational military reason to limit chlorine imports. UNSCOM inspectors now visit the plant every two months to monitor the chlorine, which comes in easily tracked one-ton containers that can be sealed. UNSCOM could monitor pressure daily if it was necessary.

Dr. Jabrou was proud of what Iraq had accomplished for the people up to the Gulf War. Before the aggression when we tested the water at homes throughout the city less than 1.8 percent failed the World Health Organization standards, he explained. Our loss from leakage was only 15 percent, much better than many cities in the West or in Japan.


But now, because of the sanctions, diarrhea and dysentery are destroying an entire generation of children as they strike ten times as many people as before. Combined with malnutrition due to food shortages--also caused by sanctions--and the terrible shortage of medicine to treat these easily cured maladies, tens of thousands of children are condemned to death.

Wastewater treatment in Baghdad is also minimal due to shortages of pumps, replacement parts, pipe and chlorine. In fact, no chlorine is available for wastewater treatment. An estimated 66 billion gallons of untreated sewage is being dumped into the Tigris without any treatment whatsoever.

Industrial waste is also being dump ed. And there are reports that hospitals, unable to sterilize medical waste due to parts shortages for autoclaves and incinerators, are dumping their waste into the system, too. The long-term health and ecological problems are most alarming.

Everyone understands that clean drinking water is a cornerstone of modern life. To deny Iraq the necessary supplies to rebuild, maintain and expand its water treatment facilities, especially chlorine, is a crime against humanity.

Only a desire to destroy an entire people can be motivating the United States policy makers. A world-wide outcry must be raised against this gross violation of human rights.