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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Hospitals in Basra flooded with cases of water-borne illness

Polluted water supply among grievances that have triggered weeks of protests in south Iraq

Iraqi men demonstrate in the southern city of Basra against poor services and governance. AFP
Iraqi men demonstrate in the southern city of Basra against poor services and governance. AFP

Hospitals in the southern Iraqi city of Basra are struggling to cope with a high number of patients with illnesses contracted from polluted drinking water, in a region that has seen weeks of protests over poor public services.

More 4,000 people have been admitted to the city's four main hospitals in the space of a week, according to local reports. Common symptoms included diarrhoea and vomiting

"This is the result of negligence and corruption by the country's political elites - it can be described as 'state terrorism'," said Khalid Ali, a resident of Basra.

The city's water crisis is worthy of a state of emergency, Mr Ali told The National after Basra's health department released a report on the quality of piped water on Tuesday.

The report found "100 per cent" chemical contamination of the water and 50 per cent bacterial contamination. No chlorine was being used in the city's water treatment plants, it said.

Ammar Hussain, a patient who was recently discharged, said the hospitals were struggling to cope with the influx of cases, including children suffering from poisoning.

"I was in hospital for a few days, I had constant abdomen pains. I have no other option but to drink water from the taps. What can we do?"

The high prices of bottled water put it beyond the reach of most residents, Mr Hussain said,

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Read more:

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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.

After weeks of demonstrations 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.

Lack of transparency and unreliable governance has been at the heart of Iraq’s woes, made worse by the effects of a costly three-year war against ISIS that coincided with a dip in oil prices.

The lack of action has prompted Mohamed Al Tai, a prominent politician from Basra, to threaten to take the government to court to push forward a bid for autonomy for the southern region from Baghdad.

"We presented our request for secession from Baghdad's central government in 2015 with over 68,000 signatures," Mr Al Tai said.

"Our request was passed by the electoral commission, as Article 119 of the Iraqi constitution allows individual provinces to transform into federal regions," he said.

However, Mr Al Abadi's office has not acted on their appeal so far.

More than a dozen members of Basra's provincial council have also called for establishing a federal province.

Citizens of Basra see themselves as marginalised by successive governments since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, even though its port accounts for more than 90 per cent of Iraq's oil export revenues.

The calls for autonomy come at a delicate time for Iraq as newly elected politicians try to form a governing coalition. The results of the May 12 election were only ratified by the supreme court on Sunday after allegations of fraud forced a partial recount of votes.

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