In Iraq, getting water to go uphill

In Iraq, getting water to go uphill


By Lindsay Mackenzie

To reach a group of Iraqi families sheltering on an isolated plateau with no water supply, the UNICEF team takes a creative approach to water delivery.

QASHAFAR, Iraq/ HONG KONG, 9 June 2015 – On a high plateau near the city of Dohuk, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) officers had a dilemma: 25 displaced families living in unfinished buildings had no access to clean water.

Connecting the scattered set of buildings to the existing water system far below would be impossible. And the families didn’t want to move to a formal settlement for displaced people, where water supply was available.

It seemed the only feasible solution would be to deliver water by truck, but the area was found to be inaccessible to large vehicles.

In the end, UNICEF found a simple solution.

“We used a tractor,” says Ghassan Madieh, UNICEF WASH Specialist in Dohuk. “It was appropriate for the terrain.”

Delivering clean water

© UNICEF Iraq/2015/Mackenzie
Romel Toma drives his tractor up the steep hillside to Qashafar hamlet of Sijie, in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. The tractor brings clean water to 25 families in an area inaccessible to regular water trucks.

With funding from Germany’s KfW Development Bank and other partners, UNICEF delivers clean water to 62,000 people displaced in Dohuk Governorate each day.

And the large water-trucking fleet now includes a water-trucking tractor.

Each day, a man from the area named Romel Toma, 22, hitches a 4,000-litre water tank to his matching blue tractor, fills the tank at a nearby pump, and then sets off towards the unfinished homes on the steep hillside. Drips of water trail behind the tractor as it weaves around potholes and stops for passing sheep. A rainbow pinwheel spins on the hood.

“The families are happy when they see the tractor,” Romel says.

The low rumble of the clunky vehicle announces his arrival. Displaced children, women and families emerge from within their makeshift homes carrying empty plastic containers, repurposed olive oil tins and multicolored buckets. Romel jumps off the tractor to connect a long plastic hose to an iron water tank while residents fill their buckets with water from the tractor’s tap.

© UNICEF Iraq/2015/Mackenzie
Hamid, 15, fills buckets with water as his family looks on in front of the unfinished building where they take shelter. Hamid’s family was forced to flee Sinjar in August 2014 and relocated twice before settling here.
Hamid, 15, helps with the hose. Quiet and serious, his face is weathered beyond his age. Continuing violence forced Hamid’s family to flee their home in Sinjar last August. After a difficult journey to Dohuk, they found shelter in a crowded school building. Then they moved to an informal settlement in the village of Khanke, but poor sanitation facilities compelled them to move for a third time, finally settling here in Qashafar two months ago.

“Without this water, we wouldn’t be able to live here,” he says. “We use it for everything – drinking, washing, bathing.”

Hamid hasn’t been to school in over a year. Instead, he works at building sites to help his family earn money. The 18 people from three families on this plateau share two water tanks. They can bathe only once per week.

“The water is good and clean, and we are healthy,” he says, “but it’s not enough.”

Romel, the tractor driver, says that despite making five or more trips to the pump, some days he cannot bring water to each of the 25 families in the area. In informal settlements like this one, everyone asks for more water, as well as other essential services like education, but for now a lack of funding prevents scaling up the operation.

A costly challenge

In Iraq, 27 per cent of displaced people live in unfinished buildings, informal settlements or other shelter arrangements, while 8 per cent live in organized camps. Reaching these scattered families to provide them with water, sanitation and hygiene services is challenging and expensive.

© UNICEF Iraq/2015/Mackenzie
Romel stands in front of his tractor in Qashafar hamlet, where he makes several trips each day to deliver water.
In fact, if funding needs aren’t met, even the limited provision of water to Qashafar may come to a halt.

In his office in Dohuk, Ghassan, the UNICEF WASH Specialist, says that if no new funding arrives, the impact on service provision will be catastrophic.

“There would be sewage in the streets, for example,” he says. “You will see people getting unchlorinated water. You will see less water quantity. It will have a negative impact on health, especially on children and the most vulnerable.”

For now, the displaced families in Qashafar, like Hamid’s, rely on Romel’s tractor chugging up the hill to fill the tanks. Each day, the rainbow pinwheel spins in the wind and the parade of containers comes out to meet him.

But how long he can continue – and what the families will do if he can’t – is uncertain.