Iraq Remains Weeks Away From Getting Utilities Up and Running

April 17, 2003

It could take weeks to restore Iraq's power grid and water system, though some cities are already showing good progress, coalition officials say.

"The basic necessities of food and water and power, it's coming in," said Army Lt. Col. Kevin Kille, operations officer at the coalition's Humanitarian Operations Center in Kuwait, "and I think the people are satisfied that relief is already in place and that more is coming."

Rebooting such basic utilities is viewed as key to restoring order to the war-torn nation. But a system already run down by years of sanctions and neglect under President Saddam Hussein was driven only further into the ground by nearly a month of war.

"Power remains the root issue for many humanitarian challenges within Iraq," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command.

Electricity is needed to restart water pumps, get hospitals up to full strength and give light and power to crews trying to repair other infrastructure, he said Wednesday.

Troops secured a main power plant in Baghdad on Monday, and coalition engineers have since met twice there with Iraqi officials to discuss repairs, Brooks said. About 200 employees have returned to help with the work.

Some utilities were believed sabotaged by fleeing Iraqis, while others were probably put out of action by errant coalition bombs.

Access to water and electricity varies widely across the country, Kille said. It is generally better in cities that were the first to fall, such as Umm Qasr and Karbala, and worse in those taken later.

Engineers are in all of Iraq's major cities and are still assessing the damage, Kille said Tuesday. But even certain areas of Baghdad are too dangerous for engineers to venture into.

He said it will take weeks for all power and water systems to be up and running again, though some places make take only a week or so.

"Our objective is to make it even better than it was, not only during the war, but also prior to war breaking out," he said.

The HOC uses a color-coded system to rate the humanitarian situation in Iraq's major cities. Red signifies the most dire, yellow a need for improvement, and green relatively normal.

Umm Qasr rates green in both electricity and water. Karbala rates green in power, yellow in water. Baghdad, Basra and Najaf score yellow in both categories. Kirkuk is still in the red zone, though Brooks said power and water systems were working in most other areas of the north.

About 40 percent of the capital gets power at least part of the day, Kille said. Brooks said Wednesday that Basra's water system was functioning at about 60 percent of the needed capacity, the same as before the war.

Initially, power was restored in Iraq's cities through portable generators, and water was brought in by aid workers. But the focus has now turned to repairing the infrastructure so towns are self-sufficient.

Source:

<I>San Diego Union-Tribune

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