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Fw: Water pollution and its impact

For discussion list.

Since we are on the water subject, may I open my memory of those early days in 1991.

In June 1991, a friend of mine, the head of the ICRC delegation in Baghdad, with many years of work in war situations, said in an interview to the New York Times:

"I am absolutely sure that no Pentagon planner calculated the impact bombing the electrical plants would have on pure drinking water supplies for weeks to come, and the snowball effect of this on public health."

A few lines from my husband's 1995 book Jerusalem to Baghdad:

"Most of us saw TV coverage of the war - its aim, targets and assessments - was well controlled...Following the destruction of power plants, for example, the photographs did not show the thousands of homes without water or electricity. They did not show the inoperative sewage-treatment plants, or the blocked sewage systems in every home and apartment block, or the pools of stinking sewage in most areas, or the resultant sick and dying children and their families..."

Notes I made from the Harvard Study Team Report from May 1991:

"Basic infrastructure in electrical power generation, water purification, sewage treatment, and agricultural production and storage has been severely damaged. Many of these facilities appear to have been damaged beyond repair...

Iraq's entire system of water purification and distribution relies on electricity....While some water purification facilities are now operating, much of Iraq still lacks clean water...

In Baghdad, there are two sewage treatment facilities that serve Baghdad and the surrounding areas. Within the first week of the war, both plants ceased operation due to the lack of electricity and resorted to dumping raw sewage directly into the Tigris of the two facilities was bombed and completely destroyed...

Within the first days of the war, 14 of the 21 power generating plants were incapacitated or destroyed .By the end of the war, only three of the country's electrical power stations, generating less than 5% of Iraq's prewar output, were in operation..."

In mid 1991 there was only about 20% of the prewar electrical output. And there is certainly a link between not enough electricity and the state of the public health. And how many times did our reports state that under the circumstances the preventive medicine programme for Iraq must include adequate and sustained rehabilitation of the power-generation and water-treatment aspects of pumping and sewage treatment and of disposal systems.

As early as March 1991 Martti Ahtissari, as the inspecting Under Secretary General of the United Nations (and later President of Finland) reported extensively on those matters. He mentioned in his report: "....Now most means of modern life support has been destroyed or rendered to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology".

And I mention in my 1998 book Between Despair and Hope:

"The impact of the Gulf War on child health in Iraq was and is beyond belief. It is simply another war crime. If this is the new 'world order', I am unable to understand it, except in so far as civilian adults and children are once more the victims of international politics. I asked myself many times where do the rights of children fit in here? Why should any, but especially children under the age of five, suffer so much and die in such numbers? Sadly, I had to witness ever repeated scenes of children dying as I walked through hospital wards. It is all a vicious circle. Beneath and behind the targets of the precision bombing, the country's lifelines were cut. Power stations were destroyed, or so extensively damaged that there were insufficient spare parts in the country to repair them. With the bombing of the power plants there was not enough electricity and without electricity there was no water purification system, and with contaminated water the way was open for gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, cholera - all waterborne diseases. The flat landscape of many large suburban areas of Baghdad and Basra were flooded with lakes of sewage-filled water, as were the ground floors of thousands of homes. The two great rivers, the Euphrates and particularly the Tigris were seriously contaminated with sewage. On 29 January 1992, a government official told a group of us that six million cubic litres of sewage were getting into the two rivers daily."

Margarita Skinner (Switzerland)

UNICEF Health Coordinator Baghdad 1991/1992


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