Kuwait, March 31 (Reuters): British troops began pumping water to thirsty southern Iraq today in a rare piece of good news for civilians bereft of help from the world’s key aid agencies.
Civilian aid workers gathering in Kuwait say they are still blocked from entering neighbouring Iraq to address shortages of water and medicines because neither side in the war has given them guarantees of safe passage.
Officials of UN agencies and non-government charities welcomed the opening of the cross-border pipeline from Kuwait by the British Royal Engineers. But they said it could not be a substitute for a fully-fledged aid effort to quickly restore the country’s dilapidated water and sanitation system.
“The water is flowing fast and thick,” British military spokeswoman Col Debbie Noble said. She was speaking over phone from the border where Kuwait’s chief humanitarian official, retired general Ali al-Mumin, presided over a ceremony at which water was piped into Iraqi trucks from the eight inch diameter heavy plastic pipe.
“At the moment, this is the only guaranteed potable water supply in southern Iraq,” said Major Hugh Ward.
He said the pipe would supply two million litres a day and added that the operation estimated that consumption would run at about seven litres per person a day — indicating the flow will be sufficient for more than a quarter of a million people.
Ward said the water would only be trucked to areas under secure control where 100,000 people live, including Umm Qasr and nearby town of Umm Khayy.
The British military, which has the main responsibility for operations around Basra, says most sewage plants in Iraq are defective or not operating at all, meaning that the main rivers act as open sewers.