Creative solutions to restore critical services in Mosul

The conflict in Mosul has displaced nearly 100,000 people, but almost a million people are still in the city. Many of those in newly retaken neighbourhoods have been left without any proper services.

UNICEF’s Chief of Water and Sanitation Ruben Um Bayiha talks about the challenges of providing safe water and sanitation services to both communities: those in camps and those still in Mosul.

 We always knew we were going to have to deal with two different challenges at the same time: children and families fleeing to camps and others choosing to stay in their homes.

What we were less sure of was how many were going to leave for the camps, and how many were going to stay in their homes.

So far, the majority of Mosul residents have listened to the call of the Government of Iraq to remain in their homes. In villages around the city, many have chosen to return to their houses as soon as they can after areas have been retaken.

With grants from the European Union’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO), the Office for U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), we have set up water, latrines and shower facilities to match the planned-for number of households to be accommodated in the camps.

But when it comes to the city of Mosul, we are talking about delivering water and services to people in apartment buildings and houses, in a city where we don’t even have blueprints for the existing infrastructure.

Right now we are working with Iraqi governorate officials who ran services in the city before the so-called Islamic State/Da’esh took it over in 2014. But it is hard to know what condition the infrastructure is in after two years.

What we do know is that hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from a lack of critical services. A few weeks ago, a major water pipeline was damaged in the conflict area, affecting hundreds of thousands of children and their families.

Thanks to the generous contributions from our donors (DG-ECHO, OFDA and DFID), we started working right away to support government efforts to truck safe water to people in the retaken areas of the city, because even though some bottled water is available, not everyone can afford it.

Right now we have come up with a number of solutions. Water is being trucked in from multiple sites. But some of those locations are already supplying other needy families and are as far as 80 kilometres away, so we also focused on revitalizing boreholes close to the city.

We are also working on boosting output from the Salamiya water treatment plant, which sits on the Tigris river.

But from the point of view of providing the people of Mosul with safe water and sanitation services, this crisis is only just beginning. As more areas in the city are retaken, we will have to scale up our response by a factor of ten.

This will take significant resources. But if it means making sure the children of Mosul have safe water and proper services, it is a challenge that I am proud to be a part of.

Ruben Um Bayiha is Chief of Water and Sanitation with UNICEF Iraq.

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