Oct 07, 2004

Iraq's Security Needs Siphon U.S. Funds From Water, Sewer Budget

Iraq has only 10 percent of the money needed over the next six years to fix its sewerage system and drinking water network, a dilemma worsened by a U.S. proposal to shift $2 billion from water to security needs, the public works minister said Thursday.

"It is very critical that grants get expanded for the sector," Narseen Barwari told a news conference in Baghdad.

The US government promised to pump $18.4 billion into reconstruction projects in Iraq after last year's invasion.

But last month it revealed a plan to shift some of this cash into beefing up the country's security forces in response to a violent insurgency in the country.

Barwari said this move would affect her ministry of municipalities and public works the most, with $2 billion of the $4 billion initially promised set to be siphoned off.

As a result, Iraq's government would present an updated list of priority areas for funding at a donor conference in Tokyo next week, which will place "water, sanitation and electricity at the top," the minister said.

Donor countries are due to meet in the Japanese capital to discuss Iraqi reconstruction, which has floundered amid the deteriorating security situation and left many Iraqis still without basic services such as water and electricity.

The interim government was disappointed that pledges made last year at a similar gathering in Madrid have largely failed to materialize. More than 90 percent of the country's cities have no sewerage system, and only two-thirds of Iraqis have access to safe drinking water, Barwari told reporters.

"Our vision is to provide 100 percent coverage for water and hopefully 50 percent at least coverage for sanitation and sewage within the coming five to six years," the minister said.

To achieve this goal, "we are talking about 18 to 20 billion dollars that we need, which means an annual budget of four to five billion dollars," she said.

At present her ministry received only $200 million from the interim government's budget and a further $300 million from donor countries and other external funds annually.

That is "10 percent of what we need as an investment," Barwari said.