By Master Sgt. Brian S. Orban, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 18, 2007 - Cradled in his hands, Hamzah Zayd Kazim held the promise of a new beginning. The plastic bottle held nothing more than water drawn from a small hole tunneling more than 30 feet underground. But to the people living around the Iraqi village of Sedamine, the bottle held much more than just water. It meant regaining their livelihood and independence. This month, Kazim, a village contractor, with help from U.S. Army civil affairs officials, is working to restore the drinking water supply for the Iraqi town of Sedamine and four surrounding villages. By turning their underground discovery into a new well that will provide water for years to come, Kazim and the citizens of this community are improving the quality of their lives and the security of their neighborhoods.
In addition to providing clean water, the well will help prevent the spread of extremists in the area. With a new water supply, these villagers will no longer be vulnerable to terrorist attempts to control the region with promises of fresh water.
The village's water tower, built several years ago, remained filled from a nearby well and kept water flowing to the villages. But when the well dried up, the water tower stopped working and calls for help remained unanswered. Water from the nearby river proved undrinkable.
"Many of our people were forced to sell their animals because we didn't have any water for them to drink," said Shayikh Abu Husayn Ali Halal, leader of the Bin Sultan tribe.
The villages had no means to pay to drill another well or to run pipes to another source of water. The nearest source of drinking water was the city of Suwayrah, about 15 miles to the north.
But the villages remained determined to keep going. Each winter, they dug shallow wells by hand to collect rain water to drink, a Camp Sheejan spokesman said, cupping his hands together to illustrate.
But in the summer, they don't see a drop of rain for at least five months.
"In the summer, they have no way to collect water," the spokesman said. "Since most of them don't have cars, they would give a jerry can to a taxi driver and pay him to go out and bring back water."
"You prayed for the taxi to bring back your water, even if it was five gallons," said Shayikh Abu Hamid, leader of the Al Saidi tribe.
Despite the odds, the villages refused to weaken their stance against extremists and terrorists, avoiding the temptation to accept water and other favors from them in exchange for a safe haven from which to attack Iraqi and coalition forces. Instead, tribal leaders met with officials from Camp Sheejan for help. Initial attempts to fund the well construction project failed, but camp officials continued to push the project as their top priority, knowing these villages remained determined to keep extremists and terrorists out.
In early November, the needed money was finally approved.
The project's biggest challenge was finding a suitable source of water large enough to support the needs of five villages with a combined population of roughly 5,000 families, Kazim said. In some cases, drills must punch through 90 to 120 feet of compressed mud, rock and sand before they hit the water table lurking below.
Their worst fears were burrowing down 150 to 200 feet and bringing up black soil in the water sample. Black soil means the water contains salt or, even worse, phosphorous. It would mean having to drill elsewhere, delaying the project's construction.
Kazim's crew reached their goal after drilling just a few hours.
"We dug down a small hole to about 15 meters (35 feet), and we discovered a huge pocket of clear water; not salty," he said.
Cautiously optimistic, the technicians sent samples of this water to a laboratory for further testing. Their results confirmed his earlier hopes: It was safe to drink. The project could move ahead.
With the water source established, it was time to start the project's next phase, which included widening the hole leading to the water, followed by installing pumps, filtration systems and other infrastructure. The excitement continues to grow in the villages as the well project nears completion, according to Kazim. It'll prove especially vital during the summer, when daytime temperatures can easily top 120 degrees.
"The people digging my well gave me a guarantee that we can pull water from this well for at least 10 years. It is my responsibility for this well to have water available for our people 24 hours a day," he said while holding out the plastic bottle filled with what he called "top of the line" water.
The well project provided villagers temporary jobs and a direct role in their community's well-being, Kazim said. Villager assistance included technicians to dig the well and install the pump and filter systems, contractors to pour concrete for the well's base and security guards to keep watch over the project until the water starts flowing. Two people who live next to the water tower and have cared for it for nearly 30 years will serve as the well's maintenance staff.
"There are a lot of people that this well will bring lots of joy to when they can use it," said Shayikh Abu Husayn. "Words can't describe our people's reaction."
The well is one in a series of humanitarian projects U.S. civil affairs representatives are working to fund for these villages. Others topping the priority list include electricity restoration for nearby villages and extensive renovations to a school.
As the villages work to rebuild their communities and restore their lives, they have other plans to further protect their homes and towns from the extremist and terrorist threat. Among them is a concerned local citizens program. This all-volunteer organization offers local military and law enforcement officials an extra set of eyes to identify and report suspicious activity and people, giving them additional resources to keep their homes safe from the threat of these militants.
"They're a great ally to have," the Camp Sheejan official said.
(Air Force Master Sgt. Brian S. Orban serves with Special Operations Task Force Central.)