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Water in armed conflicts: Iraq (1991-1994)



Immediately after the end of the military operations, and on the basis of an initial assessment carried out during the hostilities, the ICRC launched several programmes to help Iraq's various water boards restore a minimum supply of safe water. The beginning of March 1991 saw the start of a project to produce purified water in plastic bags for distribution to hospitals, medical centres and other establishments. At the same time, the chemicals (chlorine and alum) needed to treat and disinfect the water distributed through the mains were delivered to the water board in Baghdad. In some suburbs where the water shortage was severe, emergency storage and distribution systems were set up and water delivered by tanker trucks. These activities were then extended to various provinces, where health problems had arisen owing to the poor water supply.

Since most of the water treatment stations were affected by a severe shortage of spare parts, the ICRC also took steps to import the equipment necessary to restore and maintain their distribution capacity.

ICRC activities in northern Iraq focused on the protection of springs and wells. Emergency storage and distribution systems were also set up to supply water to most of the medical centres and camps for displaced people.

By the end of 1991 most of the emergency programmes had been phased out. The ICRC then concentrated on the delivery of spare parts to about 20 major water treatment stations, in order to rehabilitate them on a semi-sustainable basis pendin g the lifting of the embargo. This large-scale programme was completed at the end of 1992.

Following a further survey carried out in March 1993 and to face the huge need for spare parts and special equipment to maintain water distribution and sewage disposal at the existing level, the ICRC again offered its services to the General Establishment for Water and Sewerage and the Baghdad Water Supply Administration. A programme was set up to provide spare parts needing frequent replacement to main water treatment stations and to furnish essential equipment to maintain and repair the country's many compact stations (14 cu m/h, 50 cu m/h and 200 cu m/h).


 Distribution to medical facilities of purified water in plastic bags  

ICRC water and sanitation teams operated two water purification units, one in Baghdad and one in Basra. Each unit produced 30,000 to 35,000 litres per day of purified water and packaged it in one-litre plastic bags. A third water purification unit operating in Nasiriyah produced 10,000 litres per day.

As from 13 March 1991, close to seven million litres of purified water in plastic bags were distributed to 28 hospitals and medical centres and 41 schools in Baghdad, 15 hospitals and medical centres in the province of Basra, 16 hospitals and medical centres in the province of Nasiriyah and more than 10 medical centres in the provinces of Najaf, Karbala and Hillah. This programme came to an end around mid-September 1991, when most of the medical centres were again receiving water from the main network.

 Delivery of safe water by tanker trucks to emergency distribution points. Protection of springs and wells.  

An ICRC survey conducted in the provinces showed that the incidence of water-borne diseases and related deaths was two to three times higher than before the war. Emergency distributions by tanker trucks operating in rotation were organized to bring safe drinking water from operative treatment stations to the suburbs and other areas where it was needed. In some places mobile units had to be installed. The water was delivered to storage tanks and then supplied through distribution ramps (29 rapidly built tanks, each with a capacity of 70,000 to 90,000 litres, were set up throughout the country). In the northern areas, 25 springs were tapped and protected, distribution ramps were installed and 20 shallow wells were cleaned and upgraded. A total of 23 collapsible water storage tanks, some equipped with pumps, were also installed in hospitals and dispensaries. Altogether, 21 tanker trucks delivered safe water to these systems or distributed water directly to neighbourhoods in need in Baghdad, Nasiriyah, Qurnah, Mudaina and Fao.

Over 250 million litres of drinking water were distributed between April and December 1991, i.e. more than 90 loads of 10 cu m/day for 9 months. This programme ended in early April 1992.

 Chemicals for water purification  

By the end of 1991 the ICRC had supplied 181 MT of chlorine to the major water treatment stations in Baghdad, Nasiriyah, Najaf, Basra, etc. A total of 5.2 MT of chlorine were supplied in small cylinders, along with 70.1 MT of various grades of hypochlorites and 115 MT of aluminium sulphate, used to clarify turbid water.

 Spare parts  

Spare parts for pumps, circuit breakers, electrical equipment for control panels and for the protection of pumps, dosing systems for alum injection and 47 new chlorinators (2 kg/h up to 12 kg/h) worth Sfr 1.5 million were dispatched to 20 major water treatment stations after a detailed survey by ICRC engineers. In early March 1991 the ICRC provided five mobile 110-kVA generators for the sewage lifting stations in Baghdad along with spare parts for the pumps.


A total of 50 water and sanitation engineers and technicians from 11 different National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies took part in various programmes.

 Recent activities (1993-1994)  

A programme has been launched to supply essential spare parts to some of the main water treatment stations and to provide specific equipment to maintain and repair some of the country's many compact stations (340 cu m/day, 1,200 cu m/day and 4,800 cu m/day). The main water treatment stations (Kharkh and Saba Nissan) in Baghdad have received equipment worth Sfr 1,340,000 and an additional Sfr 3,330,000 were used mainly to purchase spare parts for compact stations throughout the country. The spare parts needed to refurbish 80 of these stations have been delivered and a team of technicians is on hand to carry out rehabilitation work wherever the necessary expertise is lacking. A total of 80 MT of spare parts have been shipped to Iraq for this programme.


 Ref. DP (1995) 24  

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