Rebuilding Iraq:

U.S. Water and Sanitation Efforts Need Improved Measures for Assessing Impact and Sustained Resources for Maintaning Facilities

GAO-05-872: Published: Sep 7, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 7, 2005.

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After security conditions in Iraq began to deteriorate in June 2003, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) included restoring essential services in Iraq, such as water and sanitation, as part of its strategy for establishing a secure, peaceful, and democratic Iraq. From 1991 to 2003, a decreasing number of Iraqis had access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, and water-borne disease rates rose. The United States has made available $2.6 billion for rebuilding the water and sanitation sector. As part of GAO's review of Iraq reconstruction under the Comptroller General's authority, we assessed U.S. activities in the water and sanitation sector, including (1) the funding and status of U.S. activities, (2) U.S. efforts to measure progress, (3) the factors affecting the implementation of reconstruction activities, and (4) the sustainability of U.S.-funded projects.

The United States has made some progress in rebuilding Iraq's water and sanitation sector. As of July 2005, State had allocated $2.6 billion; of this amount, agencies had obligated $1.8 billion and disbursed an estimated $450 million, mostly to support large-scale water and wastewater treatment projects. In addition, about $384 million in Iraqi and international funds had been obligated for the sector--about 21 percent of U.S. obligations. As of June 2005, 18 of 54 task orders for projects under five major U.S. contracts had been completed. For example, USAID's contractor repaired six sewage treatment plants, two water treatment plants, and an urban water supply in southern Iraq. State has set broad goals for providing essential services in Iraq, but the lack of sound performance data and measures for the water and sanitation sector present challenges in determining the impact of U.S. projects. State's ability to measure the provision of essential services, such as access to water and sanitation, is limited by a lack of water metering and measures of water quality in Iraq. In the absence of such measures, State tracks the number of projects started and completed, but State was unable to substantiate which projects were included in its reported numbers. Moreover, because these data do not measure the availability or quality of water and sanitation services, it is difficult to determine how U.S. efforts are contributing to the goal of improving access to essential services. However, USAID-funded surveys report that Iraqis experience low levels of access and satisfaction with water and sanitation services. These surveys demonstrate the potential for gathering data over time that could be used to gauge the progress of U.S. reconstruction efforts. Poor security and management challenges have adversely affected the U.S. water and sanitation reconstruction program, leading to project delays and increased costs. One U.S. agency estimated that the security environment has added an average of about 7 percent to its water sector project costs. Initial cost estimates of 25 to 50 percent below actual costs and delays in funding and awarding task orders also led to a reduced program scope and delays in starting projects. Other factors that impede progress and increase cost include lack of agreement on project scope, staffing turnover, inflation, unanticipated site conditions, and uncertain ownership of project sites. As of June 2005, projects costing about $52 million and turned over to Iraqi management were not operating as intended due to looting, unreliable electricity, or inadequate Iraqi staff and supplies. In March 2005, State reallocated $25 million for additional support at USAID's completed projects, and agencies have begun risk forecasting and planning to address sustainability issues. However, these efforts are in their early stages, and it is unclear if they will address the long-term ability of the Iraqi government to support, staff, and equip remaining large-scale water and sanitation projects for which the United States has obligated more than a billion dollars.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2005 (REBUILDING IRAQ: U.S. Water and Sanitation Efforts Need Improved Measures for Assessing Impact and Sustained Resources for Maintaining Facilities, 9/7/05, GAO-05-872), we recommended that the Secretary of State establish indicators and measures to assess how U.S. reconstruction efforts are improving the quality and quantity of water and sanitation services in Iraq. At the time, in the absence of metering and quality measures, State tracked the number of projects in progress and the number completed. In June 2008, GAO issued a progress report on Iraq (SECURING, STABILIZING AND REBUILDING IRAQ: Progress Report: Some Gains Made, Updated Strategy Needed, 6/23/08, GAO-08-837). As part of this effort, GAO found that State had instituted a revised metric in response to GAO's recommendation. In April 2006, State developed the goal of producing enough clean water to reach up to an additional 8.5 million Iraqis. State used progress against this goal as a metric and could report that, as of March 2008, U.S.-funded projects had the capacity to provide an additional 8 million Iraqis with potable water.

    Recommendation: To more accurately report the results of U.S. reconstruction efforts in water and sanitation, the Secretary of State should establish indicators and measures to assess how the U.S. efforts are improving the quality and quantity of water and sanitation services in Iraq. For example, State could include information on project scope and cost in its reporting on numbers of projects under way and completed. State could also include surveys that measure Iraqis' access to water and sanitation facilities and their satisfaction with these services in selected geographic areas that are served by larger-scale U.S. reconstruction efforts. Efforts to develop performance measures should take into account the challenges in collecting data in a difficult security environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Subsequent GAO reports have found that U.S.-funded infrastructure in Iraq is not being sustained. In our report "Rebuilding Iraq: Improved Management Controls and Iraqi Commitment Needed for Key State and USAID Capacity-Building Programs (GAO-09-526), June 3, 2009, we reported that the Department of State cannot ensure that the Provincial Reconstruction Development Committee (PRDC) program is achieving its objective to build capacity. Iraq has committed to sustaining U.S.-funded projects and programs and sharing in their costs in several official documents and the International Compact for Iraq. However, we have found that while Iraq budgets for investment and sustainment activities, it may not spend the budgeted funds. For the PRDC program, 16 of the 40 projects we reviewed had evidence that the Iraqi government agreed to sustain the project. However, the letters did not specify financial resources or other support that would be provided. In addition, State could not provide evidence that that Iraqi government followed through and budgeted or provided funds to sustain these projects.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that projects funded by U.S. appropriations operate at their intended capacity and provide benefits to the Iraqi people after their completion, the Secretary of State should work with Iraqi ministries to assess the resources needed to operate and maintain new and repaired water and sanitation facilities before they are turned over to Iraqi management and, afterwards, work with the Iraqi government to ensure that Iraq has these resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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