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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Q&A: Iraq's continuing shortages
America's administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer has insisted reports that the country is "in chaos" are unfounded, while conceding that tens of billions of dollars will be needed over the next few years to rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure.

Nearly four months after President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq, BBC News Online looks at the situation on the ground for ordinary Iraqis, and asks whether daily life has improved since Saddam Hussein was ousted.

What's the electricity supply like?

Electricity shortages remain one of the biggest problems in Iraq. Before the war, the country's ageing power stations were operating at a level far below what was needed to fulfil demand. Baghdad was a long beneficiary of the nation's power grid with Saddam Hussein diverting the energy so that the capital had almost constant power. Other parts of the country, however, had to work on a three hours on, three hours off basis.

After the war, bombing and looting had reduced the country's electricity supply by about 30%. While output throughout Iraq has been boosted in the past few months, it is still almost half the expected peak summer demand of around 7,000MW, which would enable the electricity to stay on 24 hours a day.

Baghdadis are now suffering what the rest of the country has experienced for years. The Americans promised it would be three hours on and three hours off but that does not seem to happen. Often there is no power for several hours and it particularly seems to go off around 10pm. In some areas, such as the southern city of Basra, there have been reports of people bribing sub-station managers to divert electricity to particular areas.


Do all Iraqis now have access to clean water?

No. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), clean water supplies are not back to pre-war levels, although the situation varies dramatically around the country, as well as within Baghdad itself. There are two problems: no access to water at all, and access to dirty water.

Iraq has two large rivers - the Tigris and the Euphrates - so, in essence, water should not be a problem. But electricity is needed to purify and pump water and electricity shortages have therefore had a knock-on effect.

In Baghdad about 80% of the capacity is said to have been restored and the UN is delivering water in tankers to other areas that need it less well supplied areas. There have been isolated problems with sabotage. In the middle of August, the main pipe supplying water to Baghdad was bombed, flooding a motorway and leaving the city of five million without water. There is still a problem that inadequate sewage treatment means that much of it flows back into the rivers.


What about food?

Before the war, about 60% of the population - 16 million people - relied almost completely on food bought by Iraq under the UN's Oil-For-Food programme. These included handouts of wheat, flour, sugar, rice, milk powder, tea, detergent, pulses and cooking oil. The same number of people continue to be dependent on these handouts, which are supplied by the World Food Programme (WFP) and distributed by Iraq's Ministry of Trade.

The war has not, in fact, significantly disrupted distribution, as roads were not too badly damaged in the campaign. The WFP believes it is operating at about 99% of its former capacity.

The food rations are not, however, the most desirable way of feeding a nation. Many Iraqi women are anaemic, according to aid agencies, while children often appear malnourished and young for their age.


Are hospitals now able to function properly?

Although hospitals are given priority for extra energy they have frequently been forced to close because of lack of power. In addition to insufficient electricity, inadequate water supplies have also made conditions in hospitals worse.

The war disrupted the distribution of basic medical supplies and deliveries of these stocks continues to be irregular. During the looting which broke out in the immediate aftermath of the war, many hospitals lost key equipment which they have not yet been able to replace.


Is there still much looting and civil disorder?

No electricity has meant no street lights and crime has continued to soar. A curfew between 2300 and 0500 was imposed in Baghdad in an effort to crack down on this. Shortages have also led to growing dissatisfaction among the population at large. Basra recently saw rioting over the lack of petrol.


Are people able to make phone calls now?

The phone system has been looted and bombed, so there is very little communication. Where telephone exchanges have not been damaged, residents can mostly call within their area. Bidding for the right to establish a mobile phone network in Iraq recently closed, and the coalition authority has not yet announced which company has won the tender.





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