Better Basra: Getting clean water to southern Iraq

20 June 2007

Basra: Iraq's second cityFour years after the invasion, rebuilding Iraq is still a huge challenge. Making sure that people have clean water is essential but the infrastructure for this is badly lacking: Iraq’s pipes, pumps and purifiers are often old, damaged and unreliable. In Basra, the country’s second city, the situation is especially serious.

As part of ongoing efforts to improve electricity and water supplies in the region, DFID is working with local authorities on a series of projects designed to tackle major weaknesses in infrastructure. Over a million people stand to benefit from the projects, which involve the construction of a water purifier, a training centre for engineers and a pump station.

Getting purer water to Basra

No guarantee of clean water - the old reverse osmosis unit in BasraIf you live in Basra, the taps in your home are not the best way to get hold of clean water. A deteriorating pipe system means that what arrives at your sink is likely to be too filthy to drink. This forces many people to buy their water from street vendors, who have obtained their supplies from the local petrochemical plant, where clean drinking water is produced by the process of “reverse osmosis”.

However, by 2005 the equipment in the plant was ageing, operating at less than half its capacity. In conjunction with external linkUNICEF, DFID has carried out some essential repairs. One of the three reverse osmosis units has been replaced and the rest of the equipment has been refurbished. When the repair work has been completed, the plant should be running at full capacity, providing street vendors – and, by extension, half a million people in Basra – with water that’s safe to drink.

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Skills to secure water supplies

Over recent years the water infrastructure in southern Iraq has been the victim of lack of maintenance and under-funding. If the improvements currently being carried out are to be sustained, staff must have the skills to look after the hardware that water supplies depend on.

This is why DFID has also funded a training centre that teaches essential maintenance skills to engineers. The only one of its kind in southern Iraq, it provides practical lessons in fixing leaks, repairing equipment, treating water and working safely. Opened in March 2006, the design of the centre was based on a similar one in Northern Ireland, which members of the Basra Water Directorate visited in late 2005 to receive practical training. The centre in Basra has already supported the development of over 2,000 staff in four provinces.

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A reliable pump station for Basra

A view of Al Hartha pump station from the riverAl Hartha Pump Station is one of the five major water treatment plants in Basra. In recent years, however, rapidly ageing electrical and mechanical equipment have meant that the water supply from the station has been unreliable. A vital link in the chain that brings water to Basra, Al Hartha station could not be allowed to degenerate further.

In November 2006 DFID funded a project to bring the Pump Station up to date. The project replaced 15 pumps, refurbished seven others, provided new electrical items and built a new guard house. Work was completed in February 2007, improving the water supply for some 500,000 people (over a quarter of the population of Basra and its suburbs).

In addition to these three projects, DFID is helping each province to define its overall reconstruction priorities. Assisted by the UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), local councils are putting together Provincial Development Strategies, which should set out clear plans for longer term improvements to infrastructure.

DFID is also working with the central government to strengthen the management of the economy, begin structural reforms and make it easier for Iraqi businesses to invest at home. By helping to remedy specific regional problems, and by engaging with decision-makers at the national level, DFID is working to ensure that the foundations are set firmly in place not just for a better Basra, but for a stronger country as a whole.

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Key facts

  • Between 2003 and 2007 DFID has invested around 78 million in essential infrastructure repairs in southern Iraq.
  • The above projects were overseen by Iraqi contractors and have created approximately 25,000 work days for Iraqis.
  • Since 2003 DFID has increased water supply by up to 30% in some provinces, and improved the electricity supply to 1.5 million people in Basra. We have replaced 200 kilometres of water mains in southern Iraq.
  • The UK has committed a total of 744 million towards Iraq, and has fully disbursed the 544 million pledged at the Madrid Donors' Conference in October 2003. Further pledges of 200 million have been announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary.

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