Iraq's public works minister, lobbying for congressional approval of aid to her country, said that only half of Iraqis have access to safe drinking water and that up to $8 billion will be needed to ensure everyone has potable water.
"My ministry's main focus is water – delivering safe drinking water," Nesreen Barwari, a Harvard-educated Kurd who became minister of public works three weeks ago, told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday, including Will Dunham of Reuters.
"The task is huge because we have inherited 35 years of neglect to public services," she added. "It won't be achieved in the coming months."
Saying 50 percent of Iraqis lack access to safe drinking water, Barwari said her first goal is to boost access to prewar levels of 60 percent of urban households and 40 percent of rural households by the end of this year.
Barwari estimated that providing access to safe drinking water to all Iraqis, as well as increasing the proportion of the population with proper sewage systems from the current 3 percent to 30 percent, will cost $7 billion to $8 billion by the end of 2005.
President Bush has asked Congress to approve about $20 billion for rebuilding Iraq as part of an $87 billion request to pay for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That request does not cover the sum Barwari identified as necessary to bring drinkable water to all Iraqis.
Barwari said that part of the security problems in Iraq can be attributed to frustration felt by Iraqis because of a lack of essential services and jobs.
"Iraq cannot do it alone," Barwari said.
"And part of my message is that by investing on Iraq at this stage ... you're going to create a strong Iraq by the end of 2004 who can stand on its feet, who can depend on its own resources of oil, water and human resources. So it's this critical period that we need support so that we afterward can take care of ourselves."
Barwari also said her ministry is undertaking renovation or maintenance of water pumping stations in Basra, Najaf, Diwaniya, Mosul and Kirkuk, and repairing leaks in the system.
Saboteurs blew up a water pipeline serving the north of Baghdad on Aug. 17 as part of a wave of attacks on Iraq's infrastructure. But Barwari said water facilities have not been regularly targeted.