CAIRO - Iraqi health officials say that a health crisis stemming from water pollution and a shortage of clean drinking water has worsened in recent days, as hospitals in the southern port city of Basra treat more than 1,000 cases of intestinal infections on a daily basis. The problem was exacerbated several months ago when Turkey cut back on water distributed to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
A crowd of young men took to the streets on in the southern port city of Basra Tuesday, demanding the central government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi increase the quantity of clean drinking water allotted to their province. Abadi vowed to increase spending on infrastructure for the province during a visit to Basra in July.
A young man, whose friend was killed during a rally several weeks ago, broke down and sobbed over the protesters' inability to force Iraqi leaders to improve the condition of public services in Basra, especially the region's worn-out water infrastructure and insufficient quantities of drinking water allotted by the central government.
Some health officials in Basra warn that a cholera outbreak is possible due to water pollution and water-borne parasites that have made thousands of people sick in recent days. The director general of the Basra Health department, Riad Abdul Amir, told Al Hurra TV the situation continues to worsen.
He says more than 17,500 cases of intestinal ailments, resulting from contaminated drinking water, have been treated by Basra hospitals during the past two weeks, alone.
Abdul Amir says the problem stems from insufficient fresh water supplies coming into the city via canals and water pipes from the north.
"Salty water [which has infiltrated the water network]," he asserts, "is known to reduce the efficacy of chlorine used to treat and kill bacteria in drinking water," he said.
Safaa Kazem, a docotor who has been treating dozens of cases of intestinal problems and diarrhea in Basra's Sadr Teaching Hospital each day, says water from the city's supply is not safe to drink.
She says the degree of water sterilization is minimal and that Basra's water is very salty and has an extremely high level of microbes in it, along with a high degree of chemical pollution.
Basra Governor Assad al Edani told Al Hurra TV that his province has been suffering from numerous infrastructure problems for a long time.
He says the water network in Basra hasn't been updated in at least 30 years and the old pipes often break, mixing drinking water with sewage.
Edani says "not enough fresh water is arriving via the region's only canal from Thi Qar province to the north." He thinks a "strong current of fresh water will flush out salty water seeping into the water network from the sea."
Edani adds that the population of Basra has "more than doubled since the water network was last updated in the early 1990s."
Iraq's individual provinces have been fighting for water, amid a general shortage, since Turkey in early June severely curtailed the number of cubic meters of water it funnels into both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.