Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fallujah’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Update

It was reported before that the wastewater treatment plant in Fallujah was supposed to be a model of America’s reconstruction effort in Anbar. The province was one of the most violent areas of Iraq following the 2003 invasion, and became an insurgent stronghold. Twice in 2004 the United States launched offensives in Fallujah to clear out militants. Large sections of the city were left in ruins each time. In 2005, the U.S. offered a $32.5 million contract to build a water facility there to try to win over the population. The problem was Fallujah remained an unstable area until the end of 2007. An audit of the project found that it was unrealistic to expect any company to finish its work in an area where major fighting was still taking place. As a result, costs for the plant skyrocketed to $104 million by 2010. 

Although the wastewater facility is supposed to be completed this year, it will not meet any of its initial goals. Originally, it was planned to service the entire city, but now will only reach an estimated 4,300 of 24,500 homes in Fallujah. Whether even that number will be accomplished is an open question since there is no contract to build a pipeline to connect the plant to residents or to local septic tanks. Another issue is that people have already started dumping their waste into the system, even though it is not up and running. That is causing foul odors to be emitted, and authorities are worried that there will be possible seepage that could contaminate the city’s clean drinking water. There is also no guarantee that the government will be able to operate the facility as it has not agreed to provide the fuel to run it, and the Americans had to cut off training for the staff.

The Associated Press recently went through all of the audits by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and estimated that $5 billion of the $53 billion spent on rebuilding Iraq has been wasted. Fallujah’s wastewater treatment plant is a perfect example. Iraqis were never consulted on whether they wanted the facility, the lack of security led to skyrocketing cost overruns and delays that led to cutbacks in the original plan that may make the entire plant unfeasible, and even if it is finished Baghdad may not be able or willing to run it. It’s situation like these that has led the Inspector General to consider the reconstruction of Iraq a failure. The U.S. went into Iraq with too lofty goals, little experience in the country, and unprepared to deal with an insurgency that undermined the entire effort.


Associated Press, “AP IMPACT: US Wasted Billions in Rebuilding Iraq,” 8/29/10

Sly, Liz, “A U.S. ‘legacy of waste’ in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 8/28/10

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09


Don Cox said...

"Iraqis were never consulted on whether they wanted the facility,"

How could a town with no sewage system not want one? I think you are niggling here.

Joel Wing said...


I would assume that in 2005 when they started work on the water facility it was not the top priority in the city. Probably security and kicking out the Americans would be more important. Iraqis didn't seem to really push for better services until the fighting subsided.

As for not consulting Iraqis, it didn't appear that the U.S. asked the provincial or city officials whether they had the personnel to run the plant. They didn't. Then when the U.S. ended training before it was finished the local officials have not completed it. The U.S. also didn't ask Baghdad whether they would supply the plant. There's no deal currently for the Oil Ministry to give fuel so the plant can run. If those problems aren't overcome they'll cripple the facility more than it already is.

This was a problem for the U.S. reconstruction effort overall. The Americans built large facilities that Iraq either didn't want or couldn't maintain and that means a lot of them are running far below capacity or have been abandoned by the Iraqis.

Joel Wing said...


At the end of Aug. 2010 the LA Times had an article where they talked with the Planning Minister Bayan Jabr who said that only around 300 of the 1,500 development projects turned over by the Americans had been accepted by the Iraqis. The reason why so few have been taken up is because Baghdad either didn't want the projects or can't maintain them. That's what happens when you build a bunch of stuff and don't consult with the locals. The U.S. came in and spent billions on big projects they thought Iraq needed, without talking to the Iraqis, made more difficult by the fact that it was in the middle of a war. The smaller, local projects were much more successful.

Don Cox said...

Yet the urgent need for clean water and sewage treatment in Fallujah hasn't gone away. What is the Iraqgovernment doing about it?

Joel Wing said...


There's no doubt that Fallujah and cities across Iraq need billions of dollars of development. Services in the country are a wreck after years of wars and sanctions and nowhere near meeting demand.

My criticism is that the U.S.'s reconstruction plan was a disaster. I'm reading a 2008 audit of the Fallujah project right now and it's a comedy of errors. The original designs for the plant were inadequate, the concrete for the plant was poured improperly, the Iraqi Ministry of Public Words wanted the individual Iraq families in the city to connect their homes to the system on their own! There was no money to build the pipelines from the plant out to the houses to begin with. They didn't talk to Baghdad about getting fuel to run the plant. There was a later report by the Inspector General that said the project should've never been started in the first place because Fallujah was a war zone at the time and all this money got diverted to security and costs sky rocketed as a result. The idea for the plant was fine, the timing and execution were horrible.

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