By Army Staff Sgt. Rodney Foliente
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 8, 2009 - U.S. forces are helping Iraqi officials ring in a new era – with services like trash collection. Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team and members of the provincial reconstruction team in Iraq's Basra province met with the provincial governor July 1 as he distributed the symbolic first trash can to a family as part of a far-reaching cleanup initiative.
Brigade soldiers coordinated with the local government to provide trash cans to residents throughout the city of Basra.
"Both the Iraqis and Americans are committed to follow the terms and conditions of the security agreement, which we are applying step by step," said Basra Gov. Sheltag Aboud al-Mayah. "At this time, we are going to start a new era of cooperation. In the past era, the cooperation was based on the military, but was also accompanied by some reconstruction efforts.
"The new era will witness that Iraqis and Americans will focus on reconstruction," he continued. "Our American friends comprehended the important priority of having a clean city, and also the priorities of having water and electricity. They will help us in having these things as essential services."
Distribution of the first trash cans was just the beginning, the governor said. "Today, we'll deliver to the people, as a first step, 12,000 trash cans. At the end, the number will reach 350,000, with each house having one trash container. This is the starting point for a lot of other projects to follow."
In addition to the trash containers, officials in the provincial capital plan on providing regular trash collection services, said Army Maj. Stanley Hutchison, the brigade's civil liaison team leader.
"This project is part of an ongoing campaign to clean up the city of Basra and change the way the city does trash collection," he said.
Other projects include street-cleaning services, incentives for citizens delivering trash directly to dump sites, repairing the trash collection fleet and constructing solid-waste transfer stations, Hutchison said.
"For the long term, we're also working with the provincial reconstruction team to get an incinerator to dispose of their trash," the major added. Additional projects include continuing to clean the canals and picking up the masses of scrap metal within the city.
The United States has funded about $8 million for local trash collection and cleanup initiatives, Hutchison said, noting that the city generates about 2,200 tons of trash daily. With the crippled trash collection fleet and other deficiencies, he said, the city has been able to collect and dispose of only about 40 percent of the daily trash volume.
With insufficient waste-management services, many residents simply dumped their trash outside their homes and along the roads. Children often can be seen playing around or in such areas. Local residents have been used to such conditions for years, Hutchison said.
"These conditions are causing problems with the health of the residents," he added. Such conditions also can lead residents to be discontent with their government and the lack of essential services, he noted.
"I would like it if Basra was cleaner," said 9-year-old Noordein. "It would be better. There will be more places to play safely."
As a member of the first family to receive a trash can, he also said the trash can and trash services will help to keep their own home and neighborhood cleaner.
"This is a good thing for the people of the city," said city employee Abasi, who drove one of the trucks loaded with trash cans, and watched in satisfaction as Noordein and his family received a container.
"This will help make the city beautiful, and we can have a healthier and cleaner city," said Abasi, who has worked for the city for three years. He said things have seemed to improve recently, and that he feels hopeful for the initiatives driven by the government and the future of his city.
"We are thankful to the Americans for helping us in our efforts to clean our city," he said. "A cleaner city will benefit all in Basra, but I want this mainly for my children and for all the children of Basra."
(Army Staff Sgt. Rodney Foliente serves with the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)