Better off under Saddam.
Despite the fact that Iraq and U.S. officials have made water projects among their top priorities, the percentage of Iraqis without access to decent water supplies has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent since the start of the U.S.-led war, according to an analysis by Oxfam International last summer. The portion of Iraqis lacking decent sanitation was even worse — 80 percent.
Electricity, which is needed to power pumps, continues to be unreliable in many parts of Iraq, causing some taps to go dry because pumping stations and water treatment plants can’t operate.
In many parts of Iraq, residents without water must rely on costly bottled water or go searching for a tap to fill plastic cans. Even in Baghdad, especially in its poorest areas, it is not unusual to see women dragging the heavy cans or children splashing water-filled buckets through dusty streets.
When a U.S. Army platoon arrived last week in al-Sadiyah with two flatbeds heaped with boxes and boxes of bottled water, villagers rushed to grab their share, all the while complaining that it was not enough.
While water itself is not in short supply — the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which run the length of the country, have abundant flows — much of it is not drinkable because of pollution and high salinity.
“A bad taste, a very bad taste,” said Hasan Dawood, a sheik from al-Zatia, describing the water that comes from the tainted town wells. “I can’t give a better description… It’s like drinking tea without sugar. It’s very bad.”
In al-Sadiyah, a community of about 100 families, the water coming out of taps looks clean enough, but it coats the palate with a thin, slick brine that sometimes smells sour.
Villagers can’t say what’s in it, but they know what it can leave in the stomach — that unsettling feeling some U.S. soldiers refer to as “Saddam’s revenge.”
A recent outbreak of cholera across Iraq has killed at least 14 people and infected 3,300 others with an intestinal ailment spread by dirty water.