Friday, January 14, 2005

Water & Disasters

By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Jan.16-22, 2005

For the last two weeks much of the media has focused on the tsunami disaster. We have seen the horror of whole communities
destroyed. Hearts around the world have been moved by the horrible loss of life and the daunting challenge to rebuild life amidst devastation.

The contrast between the vivid images of this disaster created by earthquake and water and the dull, dim images of the devastation of Iraq created by bombs and bullets is worth considering.

The wave killed 100,000 people in Indonesia‹so far. The death toll in Iraq is 100,000 people‹so far. By now most Americans have hundreds of images of the human dimensions of loss in Indonesia. Yet we have only vague images of the deaths created by our bombs and bullets.

This contrast is not by accident. Nor can it be explained away by the distinction between an unexpected natural disaster and the
slow, steady spreading of death through military conflict.

Most of the mainstream media has focused on this war through the eyes of the military and the political goals of the Bush
administration. Media coverage, when it happens, is of attacks by insurgents on American troops. We have vivid images‹usually from a distance--of car bombs. Or we hear of the attacks on American-backed Iraqis as insurgents unleash their fury on those
whom they view as collaborators. These stories are cast against the backdrop of the drive toward meaningless elections.

What we don∂t see are the stories of the deaths and lives of everyday Iraqi children, women and men. Most of us have no idea that the simple act of getting drinking water is still a major problem for almost everyone in central and south Iraq. People are drinking from filthy streams. Wells cannot function because of the lack of electricity. Ground water has been polluted by raw sewage and water treatment plants have yet to be rebuilt.

The lack of clean, safe, dependable water is a daily problem and creating a public health catastrophe. The restoration of the water supply is the responsibility of Bechtel. On April 17, 2003 this giant corporation was awarded a no-bid contract of $680 million behind closed doors. In September this was raised to $1.03 billion. Then Bechtel won an additional contract worth $1.8 billion to extend its program through December 2005.

Of course, we get little news of Bechtel∂s failure. Nor do we get images of the horrendous results created by the lack of basic
sanitation. We have little idea of what doctors are seeing in their daily work. In Fallujah, for example, the General Hospital was seized in order to keep out reporters and to keep doctors from reporting out. Doctors report typhoid, cholera and the very rare hepatitis type-E as common.

Medicine and materials are in short supply. Qasim al-Nuwesri, the head manager there, said, "We are short of every medicine. It is forbidden, but sometimes we have to reuse IV's, even the needles. We have no choice."

Nearly three-quarters of Fallujah has by now been bombed or shelled into rubble. The devastation of that town is as complete as if a giant wave had moved over it, flattening all in its path. Slowly reports are coming forward claiming the wave got its destructive force from chemical and phosphorous weapons. There are growing reports of the use of cluster bombs.

Many in Indonesia say they now curse the sea that brought them such destruction. How can we possibly think the Iraqi people
will not come to the same conclusion about the source of their pain?

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