HALCROW CHAIRMAN Tony Allum was to lead a trade mission to Baghdad as NCEI went to press, in a bid to win reconstruction work for British firms in Iraq.
Allum was heading a party of businessmen under the Trade Partners UK banner.
The group was to carry out an initial assessment of Iraqi infrastructure so British firms can get a better understanding of the potential for rehabilitating the country's neglected water, power and transport systems, a Trade Partners spokesman said.
The decision to send a party to Iraq comes after Bechtel picked up a major short term infrastructure rehabilitation contract from US international development agency USAID.
The contract, worth up to ú425M (US$660M) over 18 months, covers the repair, rehabilitation or reconstruction of infrastructure, including power generation facilities, electrical grids, municipal water systems and sewage systems.
Power supplies currently stand at 1,800MW, down from a pre-war capacity of 5,500MW, and a pre-1991 war capacity of 9,500MW.
In Baghdad supply remains problematic with the main water plant which supplies 75% of the city operating at 50% capacity.
In Basra water supplied exceeds pre-conflict levels, but this is still too low. USAID estimates that 20% of the population is at physical risk because it cannot access clean water.
A shortage of chlorine in the south is adding to the problems.
Sewage treatment and disposal is also a major problem. In Basra the reconnection of mains water supplies is pushing sewerage infrastructure to breaking point.
The World Health Organisation has now confirmed 18 cases of cholera in Basra. It has also warned that the high level of hospital admissions for diarrhoea may indicate an increased risk of water-related diseases.
There is also a provision in the contract for the rehabilitation or repair of airports, and the dredging, repair and upgrading of the Um Qasr seaport.
The contract may also involve repair and reconstruction of hospitals, schools, selected ministry buildings and major irrigation structures, as well as restoration of essential transport links.
Bechtel is expected to work through subcontractors on a number of these projects.
Trade Partners UK and the British Consultants & Construction Bureau (BCCB) have met with Bechtel and USAID in Washington to discuss how UK expertise can be used.
But Trade Partners is determined to ensure that longer term work does come the UK's way even if Bechtel spurns British expertise in the short term.
'Iraq's infrastructure has been neglected for the last couple of decades and we want the UK to play a part in changing that, ' said a Trade Partners spokesman.