What areas will be effected by the Water Supply Improvement Project?
DM: The water supply project is one of the biggest projects in Kurdistan right now because it covers the three governorates: Duhok, Erbil, and Slemani. The project also covers Halabja, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Slemani governorate.
What was the water supply situation like when K&A first became involved?
HG: Most of the networks in Duhok, Erbil, or Slemani are more than fifty or sixty years old. As a result, there is a lot of contamination in the pipelines, which require significant rehabilitation. It is actually preferable simply to remove and replace these lines than it is to restore them. Moreover, at the start of the project, Halabja did not have access to a secure water source. There were significant water shortages and there were very few projects in the works to improve the situation.
What does the plan call for in order to improve the situation?
HG: In Duhok we are replacing all the networks in the Baroshki area, as well as installing new lines in the Domez area. There are many Syrian refugees, so we are trying to improve their situation as much as possible. In Erbil we are replacing all networks inside the 60 Meter Road, as well as in a few other areas. In addition, we are handling the new 50,000m3 reservoir. In Slemani, we are replacing the pipes in 13 different sections of the city. In Halabja, the main aspect of the project is the construction of the 100,00m3 per day water treatment plant. We are also handling three new distribution reservoirs, which have a capacity of 20,000m3, 15,000m3, 12,000m3, respectively. So, that’s 47,000m3 in total in Halabja. The government wants to restore the tourism sector in Halabja. To do so, it has to repair the right infrastructure, and we believe reservoirs are a big part of the needed improvements.
Can you talk us through the importance of establishing these new reservoirs?
HG: Erbil has no water reserves or water storage at the moment. The city currently relies on deep wells or on water treatment plants. This is something that we want to change. In that system, the treated water gets directly pumped into the network or into the underground reservoirs. If there were ever any problems with the treatment plant, the supply of water to Erbil would have to be immediately cut and the people would therefore suffer greatly. So our plan proposed a new 50,000m3 reservoir that would at least provide for a few hours of storage to cover for any shortages or routine maintenance that could cause the treatment plant to shut down temporarily. We also have plans to expand the water treatment plant’s capacity to 240,000m3 per day. The population growth in Erbil is huge; it is around 2.5% to 3% per year. These figures will continue to grow because of the influx of foreigners due to economic opportunities and higher security levels. It is important for the available water supply to be able to provide for this large, and still growing, population. The government can not afford to have a shortage of water.
Why are reservoirs in Erbil and Halabja preferable to digging deep wells?
HG: In Erbil, for example, water wells used to only need to reach 50 meters in order to find water. Those wells then began to dry up, so the depth was increased to 100 meters. The process continued and now they have to drill up to 350 meters to get water. To me, this is exemplifies the type of problem the city will encounter if new water sources are not identified. Thus, our project in Erbil aims to provide an additional 144,000m3 of water. However, this is still probably not enough.
Going back to the pipelines, exactly how many kilometers of piping will be installed?
HG: The plan calls for the installation of approximately 1,200km of new pipelines. To break it down into specific sections, we are replacing approximately 300km of old piping in Erbil and 200km in Duhok. As I said, in Domez there were no existing pipelines, so we are installing 120km of new lines there. In Baroshki, we are replacing between 120 and 130km of existing pipelines. In Slemani, the total installed pipeline in 13 different areas of the city will be around 380km; 7 areas require new piping and in 6 others there were no existing pipelines. In Halabja, we are replacing around 60km and installing 40km of new pipelines.
Erbil has no water reserves or water storage at the moment. The city currently relies on deep wells or on water treatment plants. This is something that we want to change.
What have been the major obstacles that you have encountered either in planning or executing this project?
DM: One major problem, which made this project become even more vital, was an outbreak of Cholera in Slemani. This happened several years ago and was caused by a contamination of the drinking water. The pipes there were very old and leaking, which led to sewage contamination. These pipes were over 50 years old, so it became extremely important to replace them as quickly as possible.
A second issue that we encountered related to water revenue. We did a study of how much water was being lost in each of the four cities that I mentioned before. It quickly became apparent that there was a need for new laws to regulate water usage. The daily consumption rate for water is around 400 liters per capita per day. That is an incredibly high number. In other areas around the world, that number is usually closer to 200 liters per day. So, we advised the KRG to install meters and begin fining people for extra water usage. We also encouraged them to educate everyone, from young children to the older generation, about the importance of water and its conservation.
How was this advice received?
DM: Now there is another government initiative, the Smart Meter Project, which deals primarily with water meters. The program calls for the government to install an electrical meter and a water meter at the same time. Here in the Kurdistan Region, you can’t cut people’s access to water because it would become a political issue. So, the idea then is that when you pay for your electricity, you also pay for your water because they would both be included in the same bill. If a person doesn’t pay, then both services would be cut automatically. This way, the government isn’t cutting your water directly; it is cutting your power, which happens to be tied to the water. This system isn’t designed to take water away from the people or to charge them for regular usage. However, when you begin charging for overuse, people will naturally begin to cut back.
Where is the financing for this project coming from and who is handling the actual construction?
DM: The project itself is funded by a loan from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The loan itself came from the Japanese government and was given to the Iraqi government, which in turn allocated funds to the Kurdistan Region. Because this project is Japanese-funded, the bidding is based on international bidding practices. Thus, the contractors involved are all also international. The UNDP and JICA monitor the activities on a monthly basis to ensure that everything is proceeding on schedule. With other projects, there are delays because of supplies or because the quality of the work is not good. With this project, the government has learned from past mistakes and has instead brought in good companies, good materials, and good specifications. Even the human resources agencies are more strict!