Most Americans take running water for granted. Not so for some residents near Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk. Before January 2005, they had never had running water.
The Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence didn't start out on a humanitarian mission when it contracted with Environmental Chemical Corporation International to renovate and construct Kirkuk Military Base, also referred to as "K1."
Officials with Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq set out to supply 40 company, brigade and battalion headquarters facilities and 30 barracks for the new Iraqi army. The base included auditoriums, classrooms, firing ranges, military police detention center and recruiting center.
To garrison the 3,000 soldiers, dining facilities, power generation, wastewater treatment, and physical fitness fields were added to the project. To ensure a safe, ample water supply, a $1.2 million reverse-osmosis water-purification unit was written into the contract.
Dibis, a village on the Zab River, 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Kirkuk, once had three water-treatment facilities, only one of which was functioning in 2004. The others, badly vandalized after the liberation, were in need of considerable repair beyond the hope of funding.
One of these, built in 1978, had once boasted a capacity of 7 million gallons per day. Referred to by local residents as "Military Water," this facility once supplied water to the K1 military base. Thorough assessment revealed that Military Water was not damaged beyond the point of no return and could indeed be repaired within the original budget allotted to K1 for its water supply.
It was not a difficult decision to exchange a $1.2 million water plant for a $700,000 option that could do so much more. Even though the cost saving was nearly half a million dollars, it was only the first drop in the bucket. The newly resurrected Military Water plant not only supplies water to the 3,000 Iraqi soldiers at K1, but also to the nearby Kirkuk Regional Air Base, where 10,000 U.S. Air Force and Army personnel currently are garrisoned.
Both Kirkuk and the town of Dibis benefit from the enhanced capacity, but the biggest winners are the roughly 25,000 residents living in 13 nearby villages and settlements who had never known the luxury of running water. Some of these communities have only 25 homes; two consist solely of tent-dwellers; and two areas are home to 5,000 internally displaced people each.
The individuals responsible may never have the opportunity to see their work nor to be acknowledged by those who have benefited; security concerns in the Kirkuk area mean visitors and villagers alike are at risk.
But 25,000 more Iraqi people now have access to fresh water.