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"Water, water everywhere"

By LCDR Abram McGull

Project and Contracting Office Media Relations

Baghdad, Iraq (April 22, 2005) – Lurking beneath the parched brown sand of Iraq lays one of the nation’s worst enemies. This silent modern day insurgent does most its’ fighting underground and many believe have contributed to Iraq’s high infant mortality rate (top 25% according to UNICEF 2002 rankings for infant mortality).

“We have estimated that there are 500,000 water leaks throughout the country that robs it of safe and sufficient potable water, “stressed Project and Contracting Office (PCO) water program manager Akram Rabadi. Jordanian by birth, the affable engineer has spent most of his 23 years solving water problems around the world and now finds himself drawn to one of his largest struggles. “Water is a challenging subject for the middle east,” explained Rabadi. “And it (water) is one of the areas where you can do the most good for people.” His tan complexion is somewhat of a testimony that the work he enjoys hasn’t chained him to his desk.

He is among many like himself that rolled up their sleeves, packed their bags and headed for Baghdad. Through the generosity of United States taxpayers, the likes of which had not been seen since the Marshall plan of World War II, PCO is managing $18.4 billion to rebuild Iraq’s decaying and neglected infrastructure. And at the top of the list of the things to do in Iraq, is water.

Recently, Major General Daniel E. Long, Jr. has undertaken the task as the director of PCO. He is known by close friends as “Chip” and the converse moniker is fitting for someone who overcame the odds of passing Ranger school at the ripe age of 46. Long brings to the newly formed democratic nation of Iraq a vision that encompasses hope for the underdog.

“I’m responsible for six sectors that include transportation and communication; building, health and education; oil; electricity; security and justice; and public works and water. Each of these vital municipal services had been severely neglected for the past 30 years and consequently the citizens of Iraq have suffered as well,” stated Gen. Long. He continued, “The massive infrastructure reconstruction and materials procurement for Iraqis are all designed to rebuild and equip this modern day democracy with a turn key operation where they can oversee and manage the infrastructure through the capacity building programs.”

PCO had several problems that encumbered any would be success in Iraq. The World Bank had estimated that Iraq would need approximately $56 billion to rebuild the neglected nation. At that figure, the United States were contributing nearly one-third of the needed monies to move Iraq forward. However, PCO was confronted with the looming problem of an underemployed population and a work force that had not been equipped to maintain modern day improvements. Long stated, “If Iraq is going to succeed in today’s economic environment; we have to ensure they gain modern day construction, program management and business like skills to foster their growth into a competitive global marketplace.”

PCO addressed the underemployment problem by having the Iraqis rebuild their own nation with their people. In March, PCO employed over 40,000 Iraqis. By the end of March 2005, PCO and other U.S. governmental agencies (USAID, CERP, MILCON, MNSTC-I) operating in Iraq had employed approximately 167-thousand Iraqis. But there still remained the problem of equipping the Iraqis with the skills to operate and manage the new reconstruction.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

In an ongoing dialogue, Iraqi ministers and PCO representatives prioritized the needs of the Iraqi government. A prime example occurred in July 2004, when the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, Nisreen Birwari identified requirements for maintenance and repair of the numerous water distribution networks in 17 of the 18 governorates (states) in Iraq. Through extensive consultation with each governorates’ water director general, it quickly became apparent there wasn’t enough money to address the 500,000 water leaks around the country which contributed to the loss of 60% of the treatable water that never reached the Iraqi consumer. It was at this juncture that PCO decided to put into practice that old Chinese proverb – Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Training the Trainer

“It became too risky to go to all the cities and train the water departments of all the directorates, so we decided to bring the trainees here and teach to them to train others,” explained Scott Vela of Oklahoma. One look at the six foot Oklahoman and you know right away his ponytail was not a fad but a part of his North American heritage. His ancestry was members of the Choctaw Creek tribe. Scott, who insists upon being called “Chief”, has a folksy demeanor that he may have inherited from Texas. His “good old boy” attitude seemed to overcome any and all language barrier that existed between him and his Iraqi students.

“The capacity development program consists of two-week hands on field training”, “Chief stated. “This capacity training is followed by extensive three weeks of hands on observation by instructors in the respective cities of the former students.” It is that extra step that ensures the new apprentices are applying their new found concepts on real problems. The training curriculum covers operations, inventory control, equipment, safety, maintenance and data gathering. The primary thrust of the training is to equip the students to return and train others in their respective governorates. In addition, the PCO water capacity program provides the heavy equipment, tools and materials that are designed to resuscitate the various dying water departments throughout Iraq.

“We have conducted training in five cities and trained 150 in Baghdad,” stated “Chief”. He added, “So far we have trained 2000 water department employees country wide.” To the non-water observer, the meager figure of 2000 may seem like a drop of water in a huge bucket. However, if the capacity development plan proceeds as planned, by the end of 2005 with all 17 major cities water employees being trained it will impact 8.5 – 12.7 million Iraqi citizens.

Those kinds of numbers have director generals all over Iraqi thirsting for more water capacity training. Water Director General (DG), Salam Fahim Noor of Diwaniya in the governorate of Qadissiyah believes the program is good for the people of Iraq. “Those who have been trained are now training others in my region. This is improving the efficiency and the confidence of our employees,” stated DG Noor. “Before we had to send out work for others to do repairs,” he added, “now the water employees can do the repairs themselves. This will greatly improve the quantity, quality of water and reduce the problematic leaks.”

Pomp and Circumstance

Recent graduates of the water sector capacity development program are equally enthused by their new found talents. Mechanical technician, Mahir and electrical engineer Ammar didn’t need to hear British composer Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstances to know they have matriculated to a new level in their understanding of water conservation and rehabilitation. These eager students knew how severe the problems were in their home town.

“We had too many leaks to count,” exclaimed Mahir. “It was so bad and the leaks were so many, we had to shut the water down and the people had to get their water from a water tank,” he added. Not only have these men learned how to repair leaks but they have also learned how to find those leaks with ultrasonic equipment provided by PCO.

“We spent a lot of time digging up different areas looking for water leaks,” stated electrical engineer, Ammar. “Now we can detect the leak very quickly with the new equipment we have.” The citizens would often criticize the water department because of a lack of water. Mahir explained, “The people would often complain about water and sewerage. They (citizens) didn’t like not having water.” Mahir quickly added, “Now we will be like heroes back home.”


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Iraq Water April 22 2005
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