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Still no Public Services in Basra

Saleem al-Wazzan
Basra’s provincial council is still struggling to provide the most basic public services, including water and electricity, to local residents creating continued hardship in the country’s second most important city.
22.07.2009  |  Basra
BASRA, IRAQ - MAY 8:  Iraqis collect drinking water from a tanker truck May 8, 2003 in Basra, Iraq. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today of a possible cholera epidemic in this southern Iraqi city after 17 suspected cases were reported at two hospitals. Coalition air strikes disrupted electrical power to the water treatment plant during the war, causing widespread water outages for weeks in the city of 2 million. Residents were forced to collect untreated drinking water from the Shatt al-Arab river or steal water from working pipelines.  (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)
BASRA, IRAQ - MAY 8: Iraqis collect drinking water from a tanker truck May 8, 2003 in Basra, Iraq. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today of a possible cholera epidemic in this southern Iraqi city after 17 suspected cases were reported at two hospitals. Coalition air strikes disrupted electrical power to the water treatment plant during the war, causing widespread water outages for weeks in the city of 2 million. Residents were forced to collect untreated drinking water from the Shatt al-Arab river or steal water from working pipelines. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

Recently, Shiltagh Abboud Sharad, the province’s governor, resorted to religious pleas to encourage the frustrated population. On a tour of a teaching hospital the governor told doctors complaining about the lack of drinking water to be “patient” and to remember the fortitude of the revered Imam Hussein.

Today, many districts in Basra, including al-Zubayr, Abu Khaseeb and Faw, still do not have sufficient drinking water supplies. In Faw, 90 km away from Basra city, water scarcity and high soil salinity have led to outbreaks of disease and death among farm animals, pushing many herders into severe financial difficulties.

According to Sadeq Hantoush, head of al-Zubayr’s district council, “the absence of clear plans in the province and the lack of financial allocations for the implementation of water projects and other development projects" are to blame for the shortfall.

Electricity is another serious challenge. Despite high summer temperatures and unprecedented sand storms, electricity supply is restricted, at best, to two hour bursts, followed by four hour cuts.

Ziyad Ali Fadel, chairman of the province’s electricity committee, told Niqash that the province is only supplied with 540 megawatts of electricity, of which 300 megawatts are consumed by government facilities, leaving just 240 megawatts for Basra’s four million people. “This share is not enough for a large industrial city like Basra,” he acknowledged.

Local media sources say that the province’s huge budget deficit is to blame for the lack of much-needed development projects.

Mustafa Atiyah al-Jibouri, chairman of the construction and development committee of Basra’s provincial council, told Niqash that “the current budget deficit… is estimated at 97 billion dinars” and that without the payment of a supplementary budget allocation of 273 billion dinars from the central government there could be no progress on mending public services. According to al-Jibouri only 47 billion dinars have thus far been paid by the central government.

Observers say that the funding crisis worsened after a one percent tax on Iraqi imports via Basra that was previously paid to the provincial council was suspended by the central government.

There are reports that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki intends to allocate half a dinar from every barrel of oil exported from Basra to the province’s budget. However, this proposal has aroused controversy with other province’s saying they also need additional funds and that Basra should not be treated separately.

One result of the developing crisis has been a "managers’ massacre", the expression Basra residents use to describe the mass expulsion of managers from public posts including the electricity department. Many have been accused of corruption including the manager of the provincial oil company.

But critics say this is just a political tool being used by al-Malki’s Dawa party to justify failures and cleanse the system of Fadhila Party members. In recent provincial elections the Dawa party took control of the province from the Fadhila party. However, al-Jibouri, the construction and development committee chairman denied any link between dismissals, corruption charges and political considerations.

Still, the people of Basra are seeing little improvement in public service and analysts say that the provincial administration must provide immediate progress if the Prime Minister’s party is to maintain public support and do well in parliament elections scheduled for early 2010.

In the meantime, locals will have to listen to Sharad’s advice and look to God for assistance.