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Basra’s Water Crisis And The Failure Of The Government In Baghdad

Al-Jazeera, Qatar, August 29

The Iraqi province of Basra is now headed into its second week of a grave health crisis, after more than 17,000 citizens have been admitted to hospitals for water poisoning. Despite being one of the oil-richest provinces in Iraq, exporting a record high of 3.5 million barrels per day, Basra remains one of the financially poorest regions in the country. Foreign oil companies that have set up their plants in the region made billions of dollars from the exploitation of Iraqi natural resources, yet have done nothing to invest capital back into local communities. While their workers, all holding foreign passports, rely on an independent supply of water and electricity, Iraq’s residents living in their vicinity just a few miles away, suffer from decrepit roads, non-existent septic systems, haphazard power supply, and dysfunctional water lines. Plagued by inescapable corruption and fraud, the central government in Baghdad has done little to address this situation. In the wake of such neglect, a serious health crisis of this magnitude was only a matter of time. Given the scant resources available to treat these conditions, local authorities in Basra fear an even larger outbreak of this crisis. Physicians at Basra’s central hospital, many of whom haven’t received their pay in months, have voiced concerns that while all admitted patients have received treatment, the faltering health system will not be able to cope with the situation for much longer. The ultimate fear is of the outbreak of cholera, which would lead to thousands of deaths and an even greater number of hospitalizations. Thus, local officials have called upon authorities in Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources to investigate the source of contamination in the region and appropriate immediate resources necessary to fixing the polluted infrastructure in the province. Sadly, Iraqi government officials quickly deflected responsibility away from their own offices and onto the shoulder of foreign oil companies. This evasion from responsibility will cost many innocent Iraqis their lives. It’s time to act, before it’s too late. –Mustafa Faturi

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