The US-led allied forces deliberately destroyed Iraq's water supply during the Gulf War-flagrantly breaking the Geneva Convention and causing thousands of civilian deaths. Since the war ended in 1991 the allied nations have made sure than any attempts to make contaminated water safe have been thwarted. A respected American professor now intends to convene expert hearings in a bid to pursue criminal indictments under international law against those responsible.
Professor Thomas J Nagy, Professor of Expert Systems at George Washington University with a doctoral fellowship in public health, told the Sunday Herald: "Those who saw nothing wrong in producing [this plan], those who ordered its production and those who knew about it and have remained silent for 10 years would seem to be in violation of Federal Statute and perhaps have even conspired to commit genocide."
Professor Nagy obtained a minutely detailed seven-page document prepared by the US Defense Intelligence Agency, issued the day after the war started, entitled Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities and circulated to all major allied Commands.
It states that Iraq had gone to considerable trouble to provide a supply of pure water to its population. It had to depend on importing specialized equipment and purification chemicals, since water is "heavily mineralized and frequently brackish."
The report stated: "Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidents, if not epidemics, of disease and certain pure-water dependent industries becoming incapacitated."
The report concludes: "Full degradation of the water treatment system probably will take at least another six months."
During allied bombing campaigns on Iraq the country's eight multi-purpose dams had been repeatedly hit, simultaneously wrecking flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of seven major pumping stations were destroyed, as were 31 municipal water and sewerage facilities-20 in Baghdad, resulting in sewage pouring into the Tigris. Water purification plants were incapacitated throughout Iraq.
Article 54 of the Geneva Convention states: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population," and includes foodstuffs, livestock and "drinking water supplies and irrigation works."
The results of the allied bombing campaign were obvious when Dr. David Levenson visited Iraq immediately after the Gulf War, on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He said: "For many weeks people in Baghdad-without television, radio, or newspapers to warn them- brought their drinking water from the Tigris, in buckets.
"Dehydrated from nausea and diarrhea, craving liquids, they drank more of the water that made them sick in the first place."
Water-borne diseases in Iraq today are both endemic and epidemic. They include typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis, cholera and polio (which had previously been eradicated), along with a litany of others. A child with dysentery in 1990 had a one in 600 chance of dying-in 1999 it was one in 50.
The then US Navy Secretary John Lehman estimated that 200,000 Iraqis died in the Gulf War. Dr. Levenson estimates many thousands died from polluted water.
Chlorine and essential equipment parts needed to repair and clear the water system have been banned from entering the country under the UN "hold" system.
Ohio Democrat Representative Tony Hall has written to American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, saying he shares concerns expressed by Unicef about the "profound effects the deterioration of Iraq's water supply and sanitation systems on children's health". Diarrheal diseases he says are of "epidemic proportions" and are "the prime killer of children under five".
"Holds on contracts for water and sanitation are a prime reason for the increase in sickness and death." Of 18 contracts, wrote Hall, all but one on hold were placed by the government in the US. Contracts were for purification chemicals, chlorinators, chemical dosing pumps, water tankers and other water industry related items.
"If water remains undrinkable, diseases will continue and mortality rates will rise," said the Iraqi trade minister Muhammed Mahdi Salah. The country's health ministry said that more than 10,000 people died in July of embargo-related causes-7457 were children, with diarrhoeal diseases one of the prime conditions.
In July 1989, the figure was 378. Unicef does not dispute the figures. The problem will not be helped by plans for the giant Ilisu Dam project (to which the British government is to give £200 million in export credit guarantees), which will give Turkey entire control of the water flow to Iraq and Syria. Constructors Balfour Beatty write in their environmental impact report, that for the three years of construction, water flow to Iraq will be reduced by 40%. Iraq has also suffered a three year drought, with the Tigris the lowest in living memory. Copyright 2000 The Sunday Herald
The author of this article is Felicity Arbuthnot, a Scottish journalist living in London. She helped John Pilger with his "Paying the Price" video, set up interviews in Iraq and accompanied him to Iraq for the filming, in spite of having fallen the night before and breaking her right shoulder. She has been, at last count, to Iraq 22 times. Published Sun., Sept. 17, 2000 in the Sunday Herald (Scotland).