Iraq Project Not Worth the Millions Spent

Heavy fighting in Falluja, poor planning, unrealistic cost estimates, and inadequate funding led to significant cost-overruns and delays in constructing the city’s new wastewater treatment system, according to a new report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

After seven years and the expenditure of over $100 million dollars, the backbone of a wastewater treatment system is now in place, which is currently servicing approximately 38,400 residents. But this is far short of the 100,000 residents originally intended to benefit from the system.

Despite this shortfall, the facility is expandable and, with additional investment by the Iraqi government, tens of thousands of additional residents could be connected to it. SIGIR notes that the Iraqi government is now supporting the system’s current operation and its future expansion.

But completion of the existing backbone system was years late and millions of dollars over budget, leaving Falluja’s streets torn up and in disrepair for years. Many people, including U.S. State Department personnel, died while working in support of this project.

Assessing the Falluja Waste Water Treatment System solely on its excessive costs and limited results may not fully realize the nature of its secondary goals and objectives. Wartime projects generally have secondary goals that shape management decisions made along the way.

This project had the secondary goals of enhancing local citizens’ faith in their government’s ability to deliver essential services, building a service capacity within the local government, winning the hearts and minds of a critical segment of the Iraqi populace, and stimulating the economy by boosting employment (particularly for young men who were potentially recruitable by the insurgency).

This project was taken on in 2004 in a city wracked by violence. Little planning went into the project, and there was minimal understanding of site conditions, no skilled workforce available, and no clear idea about how much the new system would cost.

Very early in the project, security conditions rapidly deteriorated such that the trenches and pipes laid by the U.S. contractor were regularly being blown up, and construction workers were subject to continual attacks. On several occasions, U.S. combatant commanders had to direct the contractor to stop construction until security improved. So many adverse conditions faced this project from the outset; thus, it is hard to understand why it was initiated and continued.

The absence of information or analysis on whether progress was made toward achieving any of the secondary goals makes an assessment of this project’s worth or wisdom quite difficult. In the end, it would be dubious to conclude that this project helped stabilize the city, enhanced the local citizenry’s faith in government, built local service capacity, won hearts or minds, or stimulated the economy.

Coupled with the fact that the outcome achieved was a wastewater treatment system operating at levels far below what was anticipated, it is difficult to conclude that the project was worth the $100 million investment and the many lives lost.

Please click here to read the full report from SIGIR.

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