Friday, July 23, 2010

Fallujah’s Wastewater Plant: Symbol Of America’s Failed Reconstruction Effort

The city of Fallujah in Anbar province was an early insurgent stronghold in the Iraq war. In 2004 the United States launched two offensives there as a result that devastated most of the area. Afterward the Americans promised a new sewage system to try to win over the population, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of U.S. reconstruction in the entire governorate. Violence, changes in design, and bad contractors all delayed the project, led to huge cost overruns, and forced the completion date to be continuously pushed back. Today it stands as an example of the failed effort to rebuild Iraq.

What was supposed to be a model-rebuilding project in Fallujah quickly turned into a symbol of everything wrong with the American effort. The wastewater plant was supposed to cost $35 million, and be finished in 18 months. Lack of security and poor work by contractors however, continuously pushed back the completion date and drove up the price tag, which currently stands at $104 million. The U.S. is not even going to be able to finish all the work, and instead will hand it over to Iraqis soon to complete. The Americans will pay for that as well because Baghdad said it couldn’t.

So far no houses are connected to the plant, and the city does not have a working sewage system. Waste goes into the streets and leaks into the drinking water as a result. The director of the city’s general hospital said that diarrhea, tuberculosis, typhoid, and communicable diseases are all affecting the population because Fallujah lacks proper sanitation.

Even when the plant is completed it will not fulfill all of its original goals. It was supposed to serve all the residents in Fallujah, but will only cover about 1/6 of the population. That’s because the facility will only operate at partial capacity, and the main pipeline for waste had to be abandoned because of a lack of money. When it is up and running, engineers are afraid that it will emit a foul odor. The Iraqi government hasn’t even agreed to provide the fuel and chemicals to run the plant, so it may have to pay for its own generators, fuel, and supplies. The U.S. also wont be able to complete the training for the Iraqi staff. All of those factors put into question whether the sewage plant will be able to run and be maintained after it’s done.

When the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein, President Bush promised to rebuild Iraq’s economy and infrastructure. The Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction has determined that failed. The wastewater plant in Fallujah was a perfect example. It will not finish in time, will be far over budget, and won’t even serve most of the population it was supposed to. A U.S. colonel in Anbar noted that the plan was too ambitious to begin with, especially for a war zone, and the Inspector General said that doomed most of the large projects that the Americans embarked on. The U.S. and Iraq would’ve been much better served by smaller projects that the locals actually asked for and were involved in the planning and building. Instead, the Americans endeavored to build huge facilities that the Iraqis sometimes didn’t want, and had no capacity to pay for or maintain. That puts in jeopardy the future of Fallujah’s wastewater plant that may go down as a massive waste of time and money.


Bowen, Stuart, “Effective Counterinsurgency: How the Use and Misuse of Reconstruction Funding Affects the War Effort in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Committee on Armed Services, United States House of Representatives, 3/25/09

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

IRIN, “IRAQ: Seeping sewage hits Fallujah residents’ health,” 7/14/10

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/10

Williams, Timothy, “U.S. Rushes to Complete Only Some Iraq Projects,” New York Times, 7/3/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

7 years on and Iraq is STILL in the reconstruction phase. The underlying reason projects like this are never completed is because of lack of security and lack of political will. Politicians are so busy fighting for control of the country they ignore the fact that it is rotting away.

And that's not the least of Fallujas problems, with the massive rise in infant mortality and birth defects in the area. That is one problem no amount of investment can solve, and I think probably the worst consequence of the war.

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