No Power, No Water

Squeezing water from the desert has always been tough. This year in Baghdad, it's tougher than ever as power shortages hamper the ability to distribute water, which is taking a toll on the health of the children in this Iraqi city.

Dr. Nidhal Kadhum, a pediatrician at Al-Baladi Hospital in Sadr City, said kids are most vulnerable to water-borne illness, and this year she has seen her case load double.

"We've seen more diarrhea and severe cases of dysentery. Water contamination also causes typhoid fever and hepatitis," she explained.

Across town at Baghdad's Al-Ilwaiyah Pediatric Hospital, Dr. Tareef Fadhil is also dealing with a ward filled with sick kids. He said clean water would go a long way toward doing away with many of the diseases he is seeing.

"This disease primarily was in the rural areas in the past because they used water from the river," he said, "but now these diseases are in the cities because the water supply is not healthy."

Security Dangers Prevent Repairs

Baghdad's water woes have worsened along with the security situation. Water and sewer pipes are crumbling and that contributes to low water pressure and contamination.

It's not easy to fix the pipes, because with security so bad even the hard, dirty and lowly work of plumbing can make one a target. The United Nations said 600 municipal workers, those who fix water and sewage systems, have been killed across Iraq over the last 12 to 18 months.

The biggest impediment to water flowing from faucets is the ongoing problem of electricity. It has been five summers since the U.S. invasion, and Baghdad residents are still lucky to get a few hours of electricity a day.

The lack of electricity produces fury in Baghdad residents, particularly when the mercury can climb as high as 130 degrees, sometimes higher.

This year, the double whammy of little power and a worsening water supply has Iraqis boiling.

"We are going back," said Ali Issa. "The Arab and Gulf countries are developing but we are going back. We depend on well water like we are living in a desert back in the 1920s and 1800s."

In some Baghdad neighborhoods, residents have pitched in a few dinars each to raise money to have their own wells dug. Issa and his neighbors raised 65,000 dinars, about $52, to dig a well. The water isn't drinkable but at least they can use it for washing up.

Iraq's electricity minister said insurgent attacks on power lines and, ironically enough, a lack of diesel in this oil-rich country to run power station turbines, has kept electricity production far short of demand.

Provinces around Baghdad also aren't helping.

At a recent press conference, Karim Wahid, Iraq's electricity minister, complained that the national power grid is so antiquated that it relies on manual switches that have to be physically flipped so that power can flow onto the grid.

In many instances, he said, the provinces are simply not allowing any power to flow to the capital.

"The big problem we face in Baghdad," said the minister, "is that some provinces only supply power to its citizens and isolate Baghdad."

Iraq's electricity ministry workers, like their sewer and water counterparts, also face threats just for clocking in at work. Over the last couple of years 1,100 workers have been killed or chased off the job, said Wahid.

In the Meantime, Ice Makers Dominate

The United States has spent $20 billion on infrastructure here but officials say another $60 billion is needed.

Gen. Michael Walsh, who oversees the large infrastructure projects in Iraq for the Army Corps of Engineers, said, "The infrastructure in this country has been underfunded for 25 years. We're not going to be able to turn this around in three or four years."

Iraq's electricity minister said it will be another three or four years before the system is up and working, and that's if security increases so they can fix the ailing system.

If a silver lining is to be had, the summer heat and misery is a boon to Baghdad's ice makers.

The price of ice has kept pace with the temperature. A slab of ice now runs about 7,500 dinars, about $6. Still, it costs ice makers a small fortune for fuel to keep generators running, not to mention finding enough purified water to keep the ice flowing.

It's another Baghdad conundrum: Ice is easy; all it takes is freshwater and electricity to make it.