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Jan Benvie reports from Baghdad

This is an 800 word article by Scot Jan Benvie who is currently in Baghdad with Christian Peacemakers. One photo of Jan is attached.
Jan at the end of the Susan Karim walk in October 2003
Jan at the end of the Susan Karim walk in October 2003
Here is a report from Jan Benvie who is in Baghdad right now with Christian Peacemakers. Jan is friend of Susan Karim who did two sponsored walks for Iraqi orphans in Scotland. Jan is a teacher from Kirkcaldy in Fife, Scotland. A photo of Jan with the Susan Karim walk in 2003 is attached.

Here is her report:

Dear Friends & Family

Things are much the same as ever here. Actually that
is partly the problem, people feel nothing is getting
better. I was up north for a few days last week and
have now seen my first car bomb. Neither I nor the
people I was with were close enough to be hurt
thankfully, but it is a bit scary to have been so near
other people's violent deaths. I have written a piece
about it, but haven't checked it over. I shall send it
in a few days.
The electricity has been very bad lately, but an
article in the newspaper today said it was meant to
improve - 3 hours on, 3 hours off.

Below is something I have written about Sadr City.

In Peace

Baghdad, 6 August 2005

A few days ago I visited Sadr City, a sprawling,
poverty stricken suburb of Baghdad, home to some 2.5-3
million people.

It is difficult to describe what I witnessed. Neither
words nor photographs (3 attached) can adequately
depict the living conditions. The infrastructure of
Sadr City, designed for a population of 750,000, was
built in the 1960s to provide homes for Shia peasants
moving to the city from the south. As a Shia
neighborhood, it was neglected during Saddam's reign,
when the minority Sunni population in Iraq was
favoured. Now it is crumbling. Fighting last year
between Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army and US forces
added to the existing disrepair.

Burnt out vehicles, a reminder of last year's
fighting, still litter the streets. The main roads are
full of craters, the smaller side streets are rutted
dirt tracks with pools of sewage, some large pools
that fill the street, some small pools that can be
circumnavigated. In some places the sewage can be seen
bubbling to the surface from cracked pipes and open
drains. Where there are no pools the sewage runs along
channels at the side of the streets, outside houses.
There is no doubting what fills these channels and
pools, the smell is overwhelming and unmistakable,
particularly in the 120o F (50o C) summer heat. We
watched children, some in bare feet, wading through
the water, and others, as children do, playing at the
muddy edges of pools.

Everywhere we went people welcomed us, some inviting
us to photograph the conditions in their homes. Many
of the houses are the original ones built in the 1960.
They are small, 144m2 , and overcrowded - often
families of 20 or so people live in one house. One
woman showed us the courtyard leading to the rooms of
her house where sewage relentlessly seeps through the
cracked tiles from the broken pipes below the surface.
There was a strong smell of disinfectant, evidence of
the endless attempt to prevent disease, and no doubt
to mask the stench.

In many houses we could see containers, of various
sizes and shapes, filled with water for drinking,
cooking and washing. The water pressure throughout
Baghdad is low. This means that people have to pump
the water from the street pipes into their homes.
Electricity to power the pumps is only available for a
few hours a day (not many people in Sadr City can
afford even small generators), so water has to be
stored in available containers for many hours in the
searing summer temperatures. The quality of the water
is poor. The system was installed during the Iraq/Iran
war, a time of austerity. Now the adjacent underground
sewage and water pipes are cracked and leaking,
polluting the water supply. There have been reported
cases of hepatitis and typhoid - community leaders
told us that 72% of the population has hepatitis. When
we spoke to Drs at the local hospital we were told
that the only reason more people did not die is
because over many years they have developed a degree
of immunity. This does not prevent them from
contracting these diseases however and many suffer
chronic ill health as a result. There are insufficient
medicines to treat people. Even basic antibiotics are
in short supply and many of the medicines available
are extremely cheap generic drugs. Drs told us they
are rarely effective.

There is no adequate system for garbage collection,
people simply add to the piles of rubbish in the
streets. We observed the bi-monthly refuse collection,
two men with a horse and cart shoveling the garbage
onto the back of the cart.

What we witnessed in Sadr City is not unique, and yet
this is not a poor country.
Iraq has vast oil reserves, believed to be second only
to Saudi Arabia. Little wonder the people we talk with
are angry. Under Saddam much of the wealth was
squandered on wars and palaces, now their wealth is
being stolen by US multinationals.

The Christian Peacemakers website is: www.cpt.org

Their phone number in Baghdad is (from the UK) 00964 1 719 7163

Jan's e-mail:  jbenvie@yahoo.co.uk

address: address: Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland.