By Steven Ehrenberg

Citizens in southern Iraq gather to receive water from a water truck brought to their village by coalition forces on April 11. (Photo Staff Sergeant Quinton T. Burris/ 1st Combat Camera)

The U.S. military and the UN are hurrying to get water flowing back into Iraqi cities.

People need clean water to survive. In fact, humans can go much longer without food than they can without water. In Iraq, residents of cities such as Baghdad and Basra lost their water supply during the war—and suffered the consequences.

Gordon Weiss, a spokesman for the UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), explained to Scholastic News Online why dirty water is such a problem.

"The health of a child is at the end of a very long pipe, and at the end of that pipe you get water coming out," said Weiss. "The water is either good or bad. What we're getting at the moment is a lot of bad water and a rise in the number of children who are sick."

UNICEF has been the international group to take charge of restoring clean water to Iraq. Weiss went on the describe the obstacles relief workers face:

"If you trace [the water pipe] back, the first problem will be a broken water pump. Maybe it's been looted; perhaps it's been damaged during the war; perhaps they have no electricity. If you trace the pipe back further, you get to the pumping station. It may no longer have the chemicals to cleanse the water—because the chemicals have been stolen or damaged.

An Iraqi girl carries away a box of bottled water and humanitarian meals distributed by citizens of Kuwait and U.S. Army soldiers. (Photo U.S. Navy Photographer's Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson)

"If we trace the pipe back to the electricity station, [we find that] it's been looted or damaged, or it's run out of fuel. If we trace that problem even further back, we come to the ministry of power and water—and we find that the building has been bombed or looted. Or we find that people haven't turned up for work."

Engineers have worked quickly to repair the damage—and to prevent more Iraqis from becoming ill with diarrhea and life-threatening diseases. Water treatment plants north of Baghdad, hit during an air raid, are fixed and once again making water safe to drink.