Basel washing his hands in Faihaa school in Basra old city, Iraq. Access to clean water and handwashing has become a luxury in Basra schools. The water runs for only 2 hours a day and is not suitable for consumption. Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC

Iraq: Basra’s children face disease outbreaks in rundown schools

Published 23. Oct 2018
More than 277,000 children are at risk of contracting water-borne diseases in schools which have just reopened in Basra, where water and sanitation facilities have totally collapsed, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned today.

Teachers told NRC they are witnessing concerning numbers of children hospitalised since they returned to school, suffering from diarrhoea, vomiting, rashes and scabies.

“With classes just reopening after summer, more than 800 schools are now breeding grounds for an epidemic of water-borne diseases, including cholera, as temperatures drop in the coming weeks,” said NRC’s Country Director Wolfgang Gressmann. “We are extremely concerned that the deteriorating water and sanitation infrastructure of schools and the overcrowded classrooms will catapult the city into a veritable public health disaster.”

The water crisis in the city and the region has already led to more than 110,000 people poisoned over the last three months, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights. NRC is working with some of the worst affected schools to ensure children get safe, drinkable water, but the needs are overwhelming for local authorities and aid agencies.

“We urge donor governments to fund the response to this unfolding disaster before it’s too late,” Gressmann said. “As one primary school teacher told us: Everyone is at risk now.”

The water shortages in rural areas in Southern governorates of Iraq have also forced thousands to leave their homes – at least 3,780 in August alone. Residents told NRC that access to clean water was a key source of tension and even armed violence in the community.

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Tom Peyre-Costa, Media Coordinator

+964 751 182 3882


Karl Schembri, Regional Media Adviser

+962 7902 20159


There are more than 40 canals in Basra. Every single one is highly concentrated with bacteria, chemicals, and salt. Most of them are littered with trash, plastic and debris. 

These canals flow into Basra's main river Shat al Arab, where the water is pumped for its residents. This hazardous sanitary situation resulted in more than 100,000 cases of waterborne diseases in the last three month, fueling public anger and protests.

Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC
Basra water canal littered with trash, plastic and debris. Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC