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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Basra governor wants oil firms to build water plants

Assad Al Edani says the province has to make up for lack of support from Iraq's central government

Iraqis shout slogans during protests in the southern city of Basra on August 24, 2018. AFP
Iraqis shout slogans during protests in the southern city of Basra on August 24, 2018. AFP

The governor of the Iraq's Basra province has said major oil companies must set up water desalination plants for residents if they want to continue operating there.

The oil-rich province last week saw a surge in illnesses blamed on a lack of safe drinking water, which residents and local politicians say is part of a breakdown in public services caused by corruption and years of neglect by the government in Baghdad.

"The federal government must address this issue, otherwise we will take all necessary measures to protect our people in Basra," Governor Assad Al Edani told the Al Hurra TV channel at the weekend.

"Every major oil company that is working in the province has to set up a desalination and sterilisation treatment plant if it wishes to continue working," Mr Al Edani said.

He said an agreement had been reached with the director of Basra Oil Company, Ihsan Abdul Jabbar, to ensure that oil companies abide by the condition.

The state-run company, which oversees the development of Iraq's southern oilfields, last week signed an agreement with Chevron to start oilfield development, and earlier this month awarded a $370 million (Dh1.35 billion) engineering, procurement and construction contract to Petrofac, listed in London, to expand crude processing facilities associated with the Majnoon field.

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Mr Al Edani said hospitals in Basra had seen more than 1,500 cases of water-related diseases in the past week, a number he described as “very high and dangerous".

Along with a lack of safe water, Basra and the surrounding region suffers from chronic power cuts, a stagnant economy, widespread corruption, chronic unemployment and an agriculture sector devastated by drought.

Mr Al Edani said Basra was not receiving its fair share of state funding to address its problems, even though even its port accounts for more than 90 per cent of Iraq's oil export revenues.

"Since I assumed office last year, Basra hasn’t received any money from the central government,” he said.

After weeks of demonstrations over poor services, in which several people were killed, Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's caretaker government said in July that it would release funds to improve water supply, electricity and health services. Residents say they have seen no improvements yet.

Minister of Water Hasan Al Janabi promised at the weekend to "address the problem of drinking water and the increase of salinity in the Shatt Al Arab", the river that is the main source of fresh water in the province.

The ministry will hold a workshop on September 5 in cooperation with the University of Basra to study the water crisis, he said.

Iraqi Vice President Ayyad Allawi, a former prime minister, said the crisis highlighted serious mismanagement and corruption.

"A comprehensive rescue plan, accountability and proper planning could proffer a solution," Mr Allawi said on Twitter.

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