Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Problems With The American Wastewater Reconstruction Project In Iraq’s Fallujah

In early 2011, Anbar's Governor Qasim Abdi Mohammad Hammadi al-Fahadawi was speaking with U.S. officials from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The Governor observed that the British were in Iraq for twelve years following World War I, and left behind the railway system and the University of Baghdad, both of which remain important institutions in the country. Fahadawi asked the Americans what would they leave behind after their occupation of Iraq. The officers said that there were many projects that were built, but many of them did not have their name on it, so the public was unaware of their contributions to the nation. The largest remaining U.S. reconstruction project in Anbar is known, and that is the Fallujah Wastewater Treatment plant. It was supposed to be a model for the entire province, but it may never operate, marking the disappointing reconstruction legacy the Americans are leaving behind in Iraq.

Work on the Fallujah facility started in May 2004. This was just after the United States military had launched the first of two offensives there, both of which left the city in tatters. The initial $32.5 million project was supposed to win the hearts and minds of the population after these devastating battles. Fallujah remained a stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the insurgency until the Surge of 2007 however, so the work was delayed as costs skyrocketed. By 2010 the contract for the facility had risen to $104 million. Along with that, the timetable for its completion was constantly pushed back. Originally, it was to be finished in 18 months. The fighting delayed that one year after another after another. Even after the governorate became more secure, work was still behind. In 2008 for example, it was supposed to be finished by April 2009. In 2009, it was supposed to be working by April 2010. By the first quarter of 2011, one half was to be operating in April 2011, and the entire project by May 2012. The April deadline has come and gone. The reasons for the setbacks are many, ranging from not contracting for specific jobs to residents dumping their waste into the system even though it’s not up and running, which then has to be cleared out. 

Work on the sewage pump system (Danube Engineering & General Contracting)
The remaining work is broken up into two parts. The first is the treatment system, worth $4.6 million, which is supposed to connect to 9,300 out of 24,500 homes in Fallujah. That was supposed to be done by the fist quarter of 2011, but was pushed back to May 2012. Originally, the system was to connect to the entire city, but that was abandoned, probably because of the costs involved. The second half is the Fallujah Sewer Collection Area B, worth $3.3 million. That was scheduled for completion in April, but didn’t happen. There was also supposed to be a ceremony in June to mark the facility, but that didn’t become a reality either. Even more frustrating is that despite seven years of work, not a single resident is being served by the sewage system. If the work is ever done, it may not become operational. That’s because the municipal Iraqi workers have not been trained on its operation because the Americans cut off their funding, it has no spare parts, and there’s no contract with the government to provide fuel to run it.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction considers the U.S. rebuilding effort in Iraq a failure. The water treatment plant in Fallujah is a perfect example. It was started in one of the most dangerous cities in the country, in between two major military operations that made the residents even more resentful of the Americans. Any serious planner should’ve rejected this idea from the get go. Instead, the U.S. command pushed the idea as a means to win over the city. Subsequently, the contractors couldn’t do much of their work because of the violence, and after that subsided the remaining parts of the job were mismanaged. The result is a facility grossly over budget, which is going to serve only a fraction of the homes it was supposed to, that continues to face delays, and may never operate. The whole project has become a fiasco, and a perfect example of all the problems the Americans ran into trying to rebuild Iraq after its 2003 invasion.


Glanz, James, “Report Finds Iraq Water Treatment Project to Be Late, Faulty and Over Budget,” New York Times, 10/27/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/10
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11


vidzee said...

This is an interesting blog yet I have read much trouble in Iraq after the restoration of "peace" in that country. Perhaps, some good news so far?

Joel Wing said...

There are plenty of positives in Iraq. They've held several elections, they've had the peaceful transfer of power at the provincial level, violence is at an all time low since the 2003 invasion, they're bringing in record oil profits right now, oil production is up as well to post-2003 highs. The country is bringing in new investment finally with better security. Most of the country is relatively stable.

That being said, Iraq is a dynsfunctional country like many in the developing world, but with terrorism on top.

Ross Caputi said...

There are few positives in Iraq, and they are exclusively for the Iraqis who have collaborated with the U.S. occupation, which still continues to this day. The fact that elections have taken place is only evidence of very minimal democracy--democracy means much more than one vote every few years. The current Iraqi government is a puppet for U.S. interests and it is violently repressive against the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been protesting in the streets calling for an end to the occupation and an end to corruption. Oil production may be up, but most Iraqis live in extreme poverty. The schools, the health care system, and the majority of country has been devastated.

Joel Wing said...

Couple responses.

1) If Baghdad is a puppet government of the U.S. why haven't they already okayed a troop extension? One is very likely to happen but it will probably be at the last minute. If Iraq was in the bag, an extension would've been done long ago.

When Iraq held auctions for its oil fields in 2009, only 2 U.S. companies won deals. Why haven't American companies taken over its most important resource if it's an American puppet?

2) Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have never protested. That's hyperbole. The largest sustained protests in Iraq this year were in Sulaymaniya and that was between 1,000-2,000 a day. Most of the protests in the rest of the country were only a few hundred. The demonstrations were significant, but they never were in large numbers, and have since completely faded due to a government crackdown.

3) The number of students in Iraqi schools are now up to what they were before. Infant mortality rates are what they were in the 1980s. Iraq still ranks towards the bottom of the Middle East in humanitarian indicators however.

Look, I'm not trying to say that everything is great in Iraq, but some things have gotten better. To ignore that is to condemn Iraqis to always live in hell. Most of that seems to be motivated by opposition to the war. The U.S. invasion was bad, therefore everything that happens in Iraq has to be bad. In fact, most of Iraq is rather peaceful and stable now because violence is highly selective and political right now. That means people are able to go out more, start businesses, go to school, and generally try to start over. The main problems are with the feuding politicians, the state-run economy, and corruption. If all you care about is criticizing U.S. policy none of that is going to matter. If you care about Iraq and its people though, you should recognize how things have dramatically changed from when the sectarian civil war was going on from 2005-2007.