Iraq: A Project to Address the Shortage in Potable Water Supply

February 10, 2010

February 2010 - On January 10, 2010, the Prime Minister and Minister of Municipalities and Public Works attended the inauguration of a water project in Al Samawa, Muthana governorate (South Iraq).

The project is financed by the Iraq Trust Fund's Emergency Water Supply, Sanitation, and Urban Rehabilitation Project, and has a total value of US$25.5 million.

This is the largest completed water project in Iraq in terms of amount and capacity since the 90s. The Al Samawa plant was prepared built the latest technology in water treatment and monitoring which was installed to monitor water quality for distribution.

The project is providing clean drinking water for over 250,000 individuals in the Al Muthana area.


At the end of the 2003 war, Iraq’s infrastructure was seriously degraded. The majority of the population had limited or inadequate access to basic services. Those who could afford it relied on costly alternatives for electricity and water services. Contaminated water supplies, improper handling of solid waste and disposal of sewage led to environmental degradation and increased health hazards.

The majority of governorates suffer from insufficient and damaged urban roads and storm water drainage, street lightning and social facilities. What was saved from destruction and looting operates at minimal capacity due to years of neglect and lack of maintenance.

Shortages of water supply and sanitation services are acutely felt in urban centers where the majority of Iraqis now live. Outside Baghdad, potable water service coverage averages below 70% and is as low as 48% in rural areas. In Baghdad, 25% of residents remain disconnected from the water supply network and rely on expensive alternative sources of drinking water.

Wastewater collection and treatment rates are even lower than those of potable water, with less than 8% of the population outside of Baghdad connected to sewerage systems. Immediate intervention to provide safe drinking water, adequate sewage collection and treatment services are therefore immediate priorities to safeguard public health, raise living standards and protect the environment.

Bank Involvement

In December 2004, the World Bank approved the Iraq Trust Fund (ITF)-financed Emergency Water Supply, Sanitation and Urban Reconstruction Project (total grant amount of $110 million). The project aims to upgrade and rehabilitate basic water supply and sanitation services in eight cities (Karbala, Al Majar, Beiji, Kena’an, Al Hussainia, Al Samawa, Badawa and Arbil), and conduct urban reconstruction in the poorest areas of the two cities (Badawa and Basra), choosing subprojects that will have high impact.

The project will strengthen Iraq’s capacity to manage large scale reconstruction projects. MMPW, the World Bank counterpart, is responsible for urban water supply and sanitation services, with 17 percent of resources allocated to projects identified by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).  MMPW’s strategy is to implement projects that focus on improvements in water supply and sanitation services coupled with institutional reforms that strengthen utilities’ capacity to respond to customers.

The principal objective of this project is to restore some basic water supply, sanitation and urban services for urban areas outside Baghdad City through the reconstruction and rehabilitation of existing facilities; and providing capacity building support through training and technical assistance.


After the 2003 war, thousands of refugees returned back to their homes which increased water demand. For example, in the cities of Al Samawa, Al Suwair and Al Khidir where the total estimated population is 320,000, the Euphrates River is the only water source.

With the sudden increase in population, and the practice of illegal connections of transmission pipelines, the need to increase the supply of water became urgent.

These cities receive good quality potable water supply from the Al Rumaitha water treatment plant, located north of Al Samawa.  However, there is a shortage of potable water supply in some parts of Al Samawa and in most parts of Al Khidir where water is available only in the evening.  Furthermore, along the pipeline, ten villages with total population of about 44,000 are illegally connected to the water supply system.

Approach of the Project 

The project is comprised of 13 components, one of which is the upgrading of the Al Samawa Water Supply System which specifically addresses the issues affecting the cities Al Samawa, Al Khidir and Al Suwair, and the ten large villages along the pipeline. The project consists of supply and installation of:

  • Eight water treatment units of 200m3/hr each (or a total of 32,000m3/day);
  • 25 km of a new water pipeline;
  • A staging water tank with 2,500m3 capacity; and
  • Pumping stations.

Local teams in charge of operating the project received technical assistance in the design, supervision, operation and maintenance.

The impact of the project has measurable and tangible results:

  • It contributes to the reduction of water-born diseases;
  • It reduces women’s time devoted to collecting water;
  • It eliminates the dependence on potable water delivered by tankers;
  • It improves families’ living standards and conditions by increasing water supply and eliminating the need to purchase expensive and contaminated water; and
  • It increases local employment opportunities.