|Lacking water and power, Iraqis run out of patience in the searing summer heat
Millions of Iraqis are frustrated. They are deprived of fuel, electricity and water, the
basics of life. These deprivations have sparked protests throughout the country, angry
voices made louder by the searing summer heat. The chaos has sharpened demands for
improvements in the crippled infrastructure. Coalition administrators say they recognise
their failure to tell people what is being done to repair the economy. The World Bank and
UN are completing a needs assessment which they will present to a conference on Iraq in
October. It is hoped that the survey will establish a clearer timetable for the work to be
done and build confidence in the future. Some aid workers in Britain believe
reconstruction is proceeding at a faster pace than in Kosovo and Afghanistan. But their
optimism is little comfort to exasperated Iraqis. Here Jamie Wilson in Baghdad and Owen
Bowcott examine the problems and what is being done to solve them
Saturday August 16, 2003
Iraq may be a country floating on oil, but you would not know it just now, when severe
shortages of petrol caused rioting last weekend in Basra. Things are so bad that the
country is importing essential refined oil products, including petrol, diesel and cooking
According to officials of the coalition provisional authority (CPA), production is rising,
the oilfields now producing slightly more than 1m barrels a day. That is still a long way
short of the 2.8m Iraq was producing before the war and the 3.5m it regularly achieved
before the previous Gulf war. Its oil reserves are the second largest in the world, after
The current shortages are due not to the low output but to corruption. Even before the war
oil smuggling was endemic in Iraq, much of it authorised by the regime as a way of evading
the US sanctions.
"The ministry of oil was designed for corruption, and you cannot change that culture and
ethos overnight," Andy Bearpark, director of operations and infrastructure at the CPA,
Many of the smuggling routes are still in operation. On Thursday night 150 road tankers
left Baghdad for Basra to alleviate the fuel crisis in the city. Only three arrived. The
others were diverted and the petrol stolen for the black market or smuggled out of the
country on dhows, barges or tankers.
There is an export target of 650,000 barrels of crude a day this month, increasing to
750,000 next month. The present figure, however, is around 500,000 barrels.
It is a problem that literally keeps Iraqis awake all night. With August temperatures
soaring above 50C (122F), no electricity means no fans and no air conditioning, which
translates into no sleep. In April, after the war, the power stations were generating
1,275 megawatts, 29% of the pre-conflict level. Since then the output has doubled to
between 3,100MW and 3,500MW.
But even before the conflict Iraq's outdated and poorly maintained power stations and
electricity grid were not capable of meeting the demand. Its full capacity was estimated
at 4,500MW. Energy was diverted to Baghdad under Saddam Hussein's regime to give the
capital almost constant power, and other parts of the country had to cope with three hours
on, three hours off. The CPA is currently running a similar system, but giving hospitals
and other essential services priority.
The shortage has been exacerbated by the systematic theft of copper from power lines -
indeed, so much copper has been smuggled out of Iraq that it has affected world prices. In
Basra bribery of sub-station managers, either to divert the power to one area over another
or to switch it off altogether, has also been a factor.
Of the $680m (£425m) the CPA has allocated for construction, $229m will be used for
electric power rehabilitation. But according to Mr Bearpark, Iraq will need to build
another five power stations to meet the peak summer demand of 7,000MW and keep the power
on 24 hours a day. That could cost $10bn and take as long as three years.
Talk to any Baghdadis and once they have finished complaining about the electricity the
conversation always turns to security. It may have been brought about by repression and
state-sponsored violence, but under Saddam the crime rate in Iraq was very low. When he
went, so did the iron fist of the police state, and suddenly people have found themselves
in the middle of an unprecedented crime wave. Murder, robbery, kidnapping, rape and
carjackings are the talk of the city. Last month the Baghdad's mortuary handled 47 times
as many gunshot deaths as in the same period last year.
Officials blame a variety of factors for the crime spree: people getting a taste for
looting, the settling of old scores from the Saddam era,. and the disappearance of the
police force. Officials are also quick to point out that Saddam released thousands of
criminals from the jails in October.
The former New York police chief Bernard Kerik has been given the job of overseeing the
rebuilding of the Iraqi police. He says there are 5,000 officers back on the streets of
the capital, and more are graduating from the newly formed police academy every day.
Arrests are up, and he says people are more confident about taking to the streets. But
many officers are badly equipped and there are not enough uniforms, guns or vehicles.
Paul Bremer, the American administrator, has set a target of 18 months to bring the force
up to a strength of 65,000. But one official said it was "hellishly expensive" as it
required 6,500 non-Iraqi trainers. The CPA has yet to decide how to find the money.
A 15,000-strong Iraqi civil defence force is expected to enter service by the end of
August. It will support the coalition forces by protecting key installations from further
looting and sabotage.
They are filthy, decrepit and the last place you would want to go if were ill.
Nevertheless the CPA says Iraq's hospitals are now back to or above pre-war levels.
Many of those in Baghdad were looted during the final days of the war, and essential
equipment taken. But as in so many areas of Iraqi life, the electricity shortage remains
one of the biggest problems: the hospitals are frequently forced to close for lack of
The CPA says there is a programme in place to upgrade them. Some will be knocked down,
others refurbished, but officials estimate that it will take five years for healthcare in
Iraq to reach the level of other countries in the Middle East.
Most of the work is being done through the Iraqi health ministry and the salaries of
nurses and doctors are now being paid. The Red Cross has drawn back from providing
emergency relief after one of its workers was killed on the road to Hilla in July.
Despite much of the country being desert, the one thing there is no shortage of in Iraq is
water. Two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, flow almost the length of the
country. But the water supply relies on electricity, so when there is no electricity there
is no water.
As the power has improved priority has been given to the water pumping stations, and
according to the CPA in a lot of areas the supply is back to pre-war levels.
As for the quality, one official said he would not drink it but was quite happy to clean
his teeth in it. Health problems associated with poor water quality did not materialise in
the way officials had feared, and there were no big outbreaks of cholera.
In Baghdad about 80% of the capacity has already been restored. UN tankers are delivering
water to less well supplied districts.
The CPA hopes to have the water system fully operational by the beginning of Ramadan in
October, but the sewage system is a different matter: the main sewage treatment plants
were stripped bare in the post-war looting.
At the moment most of the sewage is flowing back into the rivers in an almost raw state,
and officials estimate that it will take up to a year to rectify the situation.
Most goods in Iraq travel by roads which are relatively undamaged by the war. The UN is
sending fuel and water tankers across the country with few problems.
Food distribution is said to be up to 99% of the capacity achieved under the UN's former
oil for food aid programme. It, too, goes by road.
The container cranes and the customs and immigration departments at Umm Qasr are now
working, allowing passenger ships to enter the port.
The CPA said it would open Baghdad and Basra airports only when they were satisfied that
all their security, customs and immigration concerns had been met.
Basra is expected to open in September, sooner than Baghdad, because there have been
several attempted missile attacks on military aircraft taking off from the capital.
Three main bridges, at Tikrit, Mat and Khazir, were destroyed during the war.
Reconstruction contracts are due to be finalised at the end of the month, and the
rebuilding of all three should be complete by March next year, at an estimated cost of