UPDATES WITH IRAQI GOV'T STATEMENT, CHANGES DECK,
By Ali Jawad
BAGHDAD (AA) – Dozens of Iraqis on Tuesday staged an open-ended sit-in in the southern city of Basra to protest what they describe as the government’s failure to deal with worsening water and environmental pollution.
At the sit-in, which was held in Basra’s Al-Tiran Square, protester Rafed al-Kenani told Anadolu Agency that the sit-in was organized after numerous residents suffered temporary poisoning after drinking tainted tap water.
Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources recently reported that the percentage of dissolved salts had reached 7,500 tds (total dissolved solids) in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, Basra’s main source of drinking water.
According to the World Health Organization, drinking water should not exceed 1,200 tds.
Last Thursday, Iraq’s state-run human rights commission acknowledged that thousands of Basra residents had suffered temporary poisoning after drinking tainted water.
In a Tuesday statement, the government announced that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had instructed local authorities in Basra to urgently address the crisis “with a view to ensuring the public has adequate water supplies”.
The announcement was made after a ministerial delegation visited the oil-rich province to investigate the complaints.
Al-Abadi also ordered local authorities to repair dilapidated water desalination plants and antiquated water networks.
The prime minister further instructed the defense and transportation ministries to allocate vehicles to assist in delivering potable water.
Since early July, Iraq’s Shia-majority southern and central provinces have been rocked by a series of popular protests which at one point spread to capital Baghdad.
Demonstrators demand improved public utilities, including water and electricity, more employment opportunities, and an end to alleged government corruption.
Meanwhile, negotiations over the outlines of Iraq’s next government remain underway between the country’s leading political parties and blocs following hotly-disputed parliamentary polls held in May.