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Report on IWP, March 9, 2014

Iraq Water Project Chair report to VFP Board, Spring 2014 

Greetings, everybody. Iraq Water Project, founded way back at the end of the last century, is still at work providing some tiny measure of help to a country and a people our nation has profoundly damaged. If only we had a scintilla of the resources that went into imposing that damage.

Back in around 1998 or so, as an oppressive but still sovereign Iraq was struggling under the onus of United Nations sanctions, two California VFP stalwarts, Fredy Champagne and Edilith Eckart (peace be upon her soul), struck upon the idea of helping Iraq’s people restore clean water services that had been nearly annihilated under the sanctions regime. Never having heard of Veterans for Peace, I met Fredy on an illegal trip to Cuba and distinctly remember him telling me his plan to gun the engine and ram a big flatbed truck piled with replacement water equipment smack through United Nations check points and on to the nearest broken down Iraqi water plant.

The plan was open to adjustment.

Not long afterwards Edilith made contact with staff from Life for Relief and Development, a Michigan based American/Islamic NGO with offices and workers on the ground in Iraq capable of repairing derelict water treatment equipment. This promising bride IWP wedded at once, and after all the intervening years we are still working with these great people. Over many months the LIFE/VFP cooperative effort managed restoration of six small to medium sized water plants in various parts of Iraq, including one at Falluja, a town none of us had heard of when our delegation was shown the site in 2002.

These were the halcyon days before the magnificent George W. Bush decided finally to finalize his deciding, and rebuilds like these were relatively cheap. LIFE, it seemed, was able to construct an eagle aerie on a sparrow budget. But then came the iron tread of US intervention with everything that followed, including massive inflation. The Labanni water plant, near Basra, for example, had been a sodden, barely functioning industrial mess when we visited in 2000. Next seen, on a revisit in 2002, the plant was fully functional, brightly painted, and even had a tidy vegetable garden where the trash dump used to be. The bill for this work came in at $123,000, and that included repairs to three other nearby treatment plants. The next time Labanni needed repairs---after the invasion---the estimate was a quarter million, and that was just for the one facility.

This unwelcome development, together with the withdrawal of several of the project committee’s members, including its surviving founder (they believed continuance under the US occupation would inevitably compromise IWP independence and make it in fact an unwilling partner of our government’s foreign policy) demanded a new approach to the work. After a couple of more small projects with LIFE we moved onto a new path in 2006, and have persevered in this alternative way even till now.

Since the aforementioned difficulties were going to inevitably diminish resources, IWP needed a way forward that would not require large amounts of money available all at once. Some Board members will remember Sami Rasouli, founder of Muslim Peacemaker Teams and the Iraqi American Reconciliation Project (IARP). Sami spoke at two VFP conventions. IARP has been for years installing small water sanitation units in Najaf area schools, at the very reasonable cost of about $1000 to $1500 per. IWP borrowed a light from Sami’s torch and we have been following a similar course since. Through correspondence Sami even introduced us to an Iraqi water engineer, Faiza alAraji, living presently in Jordan who nevertheless has many contacts and resources in Iraq itself.

After what was, at first experiment, uneven success in purchasing and shipping from Jordan ultraviolet sterilizers to various Iraqi hospitals and clinics---20 units or so: some made it, some did not---, Faiza set up her own three man team in Baghdad that acquired the equipment locally and installed it in various parts of the country. This arrangement, which included installations at Abu Ghraib prison and the famous alAskari shrine at Samarra, notoriously blown up by alQaida (?) in February 2006, accounted for some 80 more units until break up of this team in the spring of 2011 due to mortal threats on somebody’s part to the individual members. We are now functioning through a Youth and Student organization in Nassiriya, augmented by occasional combinations with Muslim Peacemaker Teams and our original partner Life for Relief and Development. This past month IWP managed placement of its 140th water treatment unit.

A serious problem throughout has been maintenance of the equipment once installed, and there has been no really satisfactory solution. All contact with the institutions served by the Baghdad team was lost when the technicians fled Iraq. Probably the larger hospitals have resources for upkeep, but the very poor and remote clinics will not, at least that is my guess. Sami and LIFE are capable of follow up attention, and we have sent extra funds to the Nassiriya people for the same purpose. But it’s a crap shoot. This advisement has always been prominent in website reports and solicitations.

So where does the money come from? At the outset of the project, back in the mists of the last century, Fredy Champagne and his team were terrifyingly efficient at raising funds through private donations (Fredy triumphs still: witness the imminent rapture of the Golden Rule). We also had support from foundations. In the early period when we worked exclusively with LIFE, IWP paid out upon invoice about $227,000.

Since foot went forward upon the new pathway in 2006 IWP has expended a further $177,000. We have had foundational support during this period, some VFP chapters raised significant funds, Michigan Peaceworks and a group in Alaska helped us out, as did a fundraising west coast tour by VFP member and ocean scientist Dr Marcus Erikson. At a much reduced level, private donations continued. But the bulk of funding over the last few years has been provided by one very generous member, both privately and through his family foundation.

Please direct your eyes to iraqwaterproject.org, especially the archive “What’s New”.

 Thanks for your patience, and all past support.

Art Dorland, Iraq Water Project Chair