Iraq Water Project endorsed by Ann Arbor City Council

BY LARA ZADE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 9, 2009

Support for the Iraq Water Project, a national effort to save lives in Iraq by improving drinking water, has made its way to Ann Arbor.

IWP is spearheaded locally by Michigan Peaceworks, a nonprofit organization that protests the way the George W. Bush administration handled the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously to endorse the project at last week’s meeting, which officially provides the city's support.

Laura Russello, the executive director of Michigan Peaceworks, said she believes the endorsement of the IWP by City Council adds much-needed credibility and visibility to the project.

“To be able to say the city of Ann Arbor’s government is behind the project can get it attention that it wouldn’t have otherwise,” Russello said.

Councilmember Tony Derezinski (D-Ward 2), the cosponsor of the resolution, said he wasn’t surprised that all of his fellow council members supported the endorsement.

“I just think we unanimously saw the value of it,” he said. “The project sells itself and it meets a human need.”

And as a Vietnam War veteran and a member of numerous war veteran organizations himself, Derezinski said the IWP stood out to him among other projects that City Council has supported in the past because it is a collaboration between a veteran program and an organization for peace.

“I’m so glad that now people respect the returning war veterans and that they can work with them on projects of mutual concern,” said Derezinski.

Nationally, IWP was created in 1999 by Veterans for Peace (VFP), Inc. — a national veterans peace and justice organization based in St. Louis.

The project was originally founded by VFP members to improve the living conditions of Iraqis and to inform Americans about the devastating effects a decade of U.S. sanctions had on the citizens of Iraq, according to the IWP website.

Russello said that the living conditions in Iraq are so difficult that only one in three Iraqis has access to clean water.

According to IWP Chair Art Dorland, the organization began by sending delegations to repair water treatment plants in Iraq. The group has also partnered with members of the Life for Relief & Development, an Islamic-American charity headquartered in Southfield, Mich.

However, Dorland said the IWP changed its plan two years ago. Instead of sending people to Iraq, the organization now sends eight gallon per minute water treatment units to Iraqi hospitals and schools.

“We made that change because we were not attracting as much funding and it requires a large commitment to fund these water plants,” Dorland said. “Now we don’t have to make as big of a commitment for as much funding.”

Each water treatment unit costs about $1,500 to send, including extra parts and transportation fees.

On one side of the water treatment unit, the water is filtered to remove sediments and improve taste. The water is then sterilized with an ultraviolet light to prevent any viruses or other organisms from reproducing.

“It doesn’t kill the organism, it makes them sterile,” Dorland explained. “The viruses are only dangerous when they get into your system and they multiply.”

So far, the IWP has sent about 30 water treatment units to Iraq.

Dorland estimated that the project has raised between $300,000 and $400,000 since its outset.

Michigan Peaceworks has been affiliated with IWP since 2008 and has raised about $960 — almost enough to fund one water treatment unit.

Russello said although the collaboration doesn’t have a specific amount of water treatment units it would like to send, the ideal number would be 50 to 70 over the next few years.

In addition, both Russello and Dorland agreed that the team might like to expand to other countries in need if the resources were available.

“There are a lot of countries that really need help right now, such as Sudan and Afghanistan,” Russello said. “It’s something we might consider in the future.”