This article focuses on various engineering efforts required to reconstruct post-war Iraq. The two most crucial infrastructure issues, by all accounts, are water and electricity, and the ability to deliver clean, treated drinking water is largely dependent on the availability of a reliable source of electricity. Thus, from an engineering standpoint, restoring electricity should be the number one priority. Work has already begun to restore the electric, water, and sanitation infrastructure. The first phase of reconstruction, providing emergency supplies of water and humanitarian aid, began even before the war was over. United States Agency for International Development is in the process of tackling the long-term infrastructure needs of Iraq. The organization has issued nine procurement contracts for reconstruction work. SkyLink Air and Logistic Support Inc. has been signed to provide an assessment of civilian airports, collaboration on their repair, and ongoing management of the airports for receiving and processing humanitarian aid and reconstruction material.
Now that President Bush has announced that the major military effort in Iraq has come to a close, it's time to start rebuilding a country decimated by war and years of governmental neglect.
"From a reconstruction perspective, today is Day One," said Ellen Yount, director of the press office in the Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs for the United States Agency for International Development. In reality, though, the work of putting Iraq back together again has been going on for months-from before the latest war ever started.
USAID is the government agency overseeing the U.S. reconstruction efforts. In all, the U.S. Congress has approved $2.475 billion for the rebuilding of Iraq. Other coalition member nations have also anted up. The total cost to rebuild the country, which was in fairly poor shape even before the war, has not yet been established.
Still, according to USAlD's Yount, the situation is nowhere near as bad as it could have been. "We're fortunate that there isn't a wide-scale humanitarian crisis in Iraq," she said. "What we're facing is pockets of need.
The two most crucial infrastructure issues, by all accounts, are water and electricity. And, the ability to deliver clean, treated drinking water is largely dependent on the availability of a reliable source of electricity
From an engineering standpoint, restoring electricity should be the number one priority, according to Ralph Locurcio, former Commander of the Kuwait Emergency Recovery Office. "Without electricity, you don't even know if the water and sewage systems are damaged," he said. "Those are your life support systems." Locurcio currently serves as the senior vice president and director of federal programs for STV Inc., a New York-based engineering and construction company.
Assessing the damage to the Iraqi infrastructure and figuring out the next steps aren't going to be easy. Infrastructure baselines vary widely across the country, according to Al Gray, former deputy executive director of the Water Environment Fund and current executive director of the National Society of Professional Engineers. "In Iraq's big cities, like Baghdad, there's a sophisticated infrastructure in place to deliver electricity and water," he said. "But once you get outside the cities, to the poor, rural areas, there's very little drinkable water, almost no sanitation, and unreliable electricity."
None of these problems is exactly new to Iraq. Many, if not all, of the infrastructure issues go back at least to the first Gulf War.
"We're hearing horrifying stories of how Saddam Hussein let the water and sanitation infrastructure run down as a means of controlling the Iraqi people," said Wendy Chamberlin, USAID's Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East, during a USAlD Sectoral Conference on Electric and Water Systems. "We've found spare parts and new water and sanitation systems that were deliberately not installed."
The beginnings of a public health crisis in Iraq bear out concerns over the lack of reliable water and electricity. According to statistics released by USAID, from 1990 to 1996, typhoid fever increased from 2,400 cases per year to over 27,000. Roughly, 20 percent of the population is at physical risk because they don't have safe drinking water. Iraqi doctors report a sharp increase in the number of cholera and dysentery patients they've treated since the war broke out. All of these diseases are tied to unsanitary drinking water.
Let the Rebuilding Begin
Work has already begun to restore the electric, water, and sanitation infrastructure. The first phase of reconstruction, providing emergency supplies of water and humanitarian aid, began even before the war was over. USAID Disaster Assistance Response Teams, made up of humanitarian relief and engineering experts from a variety of governmental agencies, as well as coalition military forces and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, brought in portable desalination equipment and generators, ran water pipelines from Kuwait into Iraq, and set up bottled water stations to dispense free, clean drinking water to Iraqi citizens.
While these are emergency, short-term measures that don't address the infrastructure woes, progress has been made on those fronts, as well. According to a report released by the U.S. Central Command, power has been restored to prewar levels or higher in nine of 27 cities.
According to Larry Sampler, a reconstruction expert from USAID's Asia and Near East bureau, the total postwar electric capacity in Iraq is about 1,800 megawatts. Prewar capacity was 5,500 MW, down from a maximum capacity of 9,500 MW prior to the 1991 Gulf War.
"There is no electric power available in southern central Iraq," said Sampler during the USAID Electric and Water Conference. "The water supply for Iraq is provided by pumps that are electrically powered. The water sanitation equipment is run by electric power. The wastewater treatment plants are run by electric power. So these are all linked requirements and necessities."
According to the CENTCOM report, the water supply in 14 of 27 key cities has been restored to levels that are at or above prewar levels. Military reverse osmosis water purification units and wells are being used to supplement Iraqi supplies by producing more than 300,000 liters of potable water daily. Still, USAID's Sampler noted that water is not yet widely available throughout the country.
USAID is in the process of tackling the long-term infrastructure needs of Iraq. The organization has issued nine procurement contracts for reconstruction work. It has also awarded three grants. Among these contracts is a $4.8 million deal with Stevedoring Services of America of Seattle, Wash., to assess the reconstruction needs of the Umm Qasr port, develop improvement plans, and manage cargo-handling and shipments through the port.
USAID has also signed a $7.9 million initial contract deal with Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina for local governance. This deal, which will increase to as much as $167.9 million over 12 months, calls for RTI to work with local administrations and civic institutions in Iraq to improve the delivery of essential municipal services, such as water, public sanitation, and economic governance.
SkyLink Air and Logistic Support Inc. has been signed to provide an assessment of civilian airports, collaboration on their repair, and ongoing management of the airports for receiving and processing humanitarian aid and reconstruction material.
Perhaps the most controversial deal USA ID has signed is the $34.6 million contract with Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco to cover the initial cost of infrastructure repair and reconstruction. This deal, which can provide as much as $680 million over 18 months, subject to Congressional approval, calls for the repair, rehabilitation, or reconstruction of vital elements of Iraq's infrastructure. This includes assessment and repair of power generation facilities, electrical grids, municipal water systems, and sewage systems. There is also a provision in the contract for the rehabilitation or repair of airport facilities, and the dredging, repair, and upgrading of the Umm Qasr port, in close cooperation with other USAID contractors working in those sectors.
The contract may also involve responsibility for the repair and reconstruction of hospitals, schools, selected ministry buildings, and major irrigation structures, as well as restoration of essential transport links. It is expected that Bechtel will work through subcontractors on a number of these tasks after identifying specific needs. Through all of its activities, Bechtel is expected to engage the Iraqi population and work to build local capacity.
The deal, which USAID's Larry Sampler called "the mother of all contracts" during the USAID Conference on Electric and Water Systems, has drawn a fair amount of scrutiny because it seemed to have been awarded without an open bidding process, and because Bechtel has what are perceived to be strong political ties to the Bush administration. According to USAID and Bechtel, the company was one of seven invited by USAID to bid on the Request for Proposal, in accordance with Federal Acquisition Requirements. Bechtel was chosen based on competence, performance, experience, and capabilities, USAID said.
On the political front, former Secretary of State George Schulz sits on the board of directors of Bechtel. The company has also reportedly been a major donor to Republican causes.
Bechtel declined requests to be interviewed for this story. In a prepared statement, CEO Riley Bechtel said: "We won this work on our record, plain and simple. We have a decades-long record of experience and performance on tough jobs under tough conditions, including the Kuwait oil fires and scores of other projects in the Middle East and around the world."
A Bechtel press representative said the company is preparing to send out work packages to all qualified potential subcontractors that explain its needs. The company will then launch a full open bidding competition, with the goal of having the vast amount of work done by subcontractors. The company says it is planning to assure "maximum participation of the Iraqis on this job."
According to NSPE's Al Gray, any massive rebuilding project, like the reconstruction of Iraq, has four basic stages: emergency restoration, assessment, detailed design, and construction. Emergency restoration, the process of returning public health and safety to minimally acceptable standards, has already been completed in Iraq. Now, the teams are tackling the assessment.
One key to the puzzle, vital to assessing the damage to the infrastructure and setting priorities for rebuilding, has yet to fall into place: establishment of a stable government. "Engineers rely on government to set the scope of the project, set priorities, and establish the baseline for acceptable service levels," said Locurcio. "We were fortunate in Kuwait because we had a stable govenm1ent to make those decisions."
In Iraq, the process of establishing a new coalition government has already begun. Those efforts are being coordinated by the U.S. Department of Defense's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Postwar Iraq. In addition, USAID expects to issue an RFP for a contractor to provide economic governance advice, education, and services to the new government of Iraq.
Money, too, is covered, at least for the short term. The funding approved by Congress is enough to cover the Bechtel contract for 18 months. No one expects the reconstruction of Iraq to be completed in that time frame, but that's as far as the financing will carry the efforts, for now. "What happens after the initial 18-month contract is completed will depend on further funding from Congress," Sampler said. By Al Gray's estimates, the Iraqi reconstruction effort will enter the design and construction phase within 12 months. But, it will take four to five years to see significant rebuilding progress.
The level of rebuilding will vary greatly from sector to sector. The goal, according to Sampler, is to "pick appropriate technology." In some cases, that's expected to be the most recent, technologically advanced offering in the field. In others, though, the goal will be simply to restore service to pre-1991 levels.
Increases in power generation and distribution are constrained by transmission line and substation problems, especially at the 400 kV level, according to Sampler. USAID and Bechtel are sending teams around Baghdad and to the south to address these issues, he said. The majority of the reconstruction efforts will focus on and be based in Baghdad, then move outward from there.
By all accounts, the reconstruction effort will leave Iraq with electric, water, and sanitation systems that are vastly improved over what it had. Water treatment, recycling, and wastewater systems have all become more affordable, more advanced, and more automated in the past four years, according to Gray. The majority of the Iraqi systems in place before the war dated to at least 1991.
" It took soldiers to win the war, but it will take engineers to win the peace;' said reconstruction expert Locurcio. " If we want to ensure stability in Iraq, we have to rebuild the infrastructure to the point where the Iraqi people have real quality of life. That requires basic utilities ."
The heavy lifting needed to restore those utilities has just begun. It's going to take the work of many engineers to put Iraq back together again.