Baghdad Residents Suffer from Polluted Water

As if the chaos and violence weren’t enough to bear, millions of Baghdad residents also lack a reliable source of clean water. Some have no choice but to get supplies straight from the Tigris River, which is teeming with raw sewage, pesticides, oil, heavy metals, and, thanks to the military conflict of the past 16 months, benzene, an ingredient in gasoline and jet fuel that can lead to a range of harrowing health effects. Says Abdul Salam Abdulali, who works dredging the Tigris, “I wish I could eat the fish, but when I cut them open I can smell the oil.” Bechtel Corp. has a $680 million U.S. government contract to get Baghdad water-treatment plants up to speed, but little progress seems to have been made, and meanwhile few sewage-treatment facilities in the city are functional. Cases of waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid doubled in the year between August 2002, before the U.S.-led invasion, and August 2003, according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.