( After Fred Cuny's emergency water treatment plant was designed,
flown into Sarajevo and installed in a tunnel on the east side of the city, he
was optimistic that it would be turned on within a matter of days, thus
providing water to thousands who otherwise had to fetch it from wells often far
from home. But city authorities refused to let him turn on the valves.Cuny wrote the following letter to Morton Abramowitz, President of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace, explaining the situation as of late January
1994 and discussing some of the possible reasons for the city's reluctance to
provide water to its citizens. ")
After this letter was written, the debate over whether the water was
"officially" drinkable lasted for months, even though as "technical" water
(water not fit for human consumption) it was flowing through the pipes, off and
on, for a few hours almost every day. Sarajevans gradually used more and more
of the water, despite the city's warnings.
Finally, in early August 1994, the authorities quietly allowed the water
flow 24-hours a day. The following summer, when the Serbs had completely shut
down the city's main water source (they had shut it off throughout most of the
war), the mayor of Sarajevo - long an opponent of the
emergency water treatment plant - declared that "Fred's water" is what kept
Sarajevo alive. Unfortunately that praise came too late for Fred. He had
disappeared in Chechnya several months earlier.
3rd Floor, UNPROFOR Residency
To: Morton Abramowitz
From: Fred Cuny
Subject: The Soros/IRC emergency water treatment plant
As you know, the first water treatment plant funded by George Soros was
completed and ready to be put into operation in December. We completed testing
according to recognized international emergency water treatment standards for
piped water systems under the supervision of the manufacturer's representative
on Jan. 3 and the water from the system met and exceeded all WHO standards.
However, we have been unable to persuade the city authorities to allow us to
turn it on, even during the heavy shelling that occurred in January. At one
point, after several people were killed trying to collect water from the taps
at the brewery, I ordered the water turned on on my own authority but the
authorities intervened and cut it off.
On January 4, I asked for a special meeting with the water authority
(Vodovod), the Deputy Mayor Muhammed Zlatar, the president of the city council,
Mohammed Kupsevic, and representatives of the Water Institute to try to resolve
the problem. At the meeting, the head of Vodovod argued in our favor, as did
Mr. Kupsevic. However, the representatives of the Water Institute claimed that
the system was unsafe and refused to sign the papers allowing us to proceed.
Several days later, the press, who have been following the construction of the
system very closely, got wind of the problems and began inquiring about why the
city was not willing to turn on the water. The city authorities asked us to
reconvene the same group to again discuss the matter and set up a testing
program for verifying the safety of the water and procedures for turning on the
system. However, at the meeting, the Water Institute launched an attack on the
system making a number of claims that are utter nonsense. For example, they
claim one reason the system is not safe is because we do not have a first stage
settling tank to clean the water before it enters the system. We have
explained repeatedly that in a pressure treatment system, it is not needed.
They also claim that because the system is manually operated instead of
automatic, it is dangerous, yet they cannot define what the danger is. At one
point, they told us they would not allow the system to be turned on until we
painted the inside of the tunnel but could not explain what relationship that
had to water quality. The final blow came when they announced that the system
had failed to meet the city's water standards. The head of the Institute
solemnly said he was sorry to report that there were too many suspended
particles in the water -- however, we subsequently learned that the person who
was supposed to take the samples for the Institute had been sick and hadn't
even started the tests yet! The meeting ended when the Water Institute members
announced that they would require a three month water testing program before
they would allow the pumps to be turned on. The testing regime they outlined
is, in our opinion, unsafe and is designed to make the system fail. We asked
that an independent expert be called in to design a crash testing program; they
agreed but to date have not done so.
Immediately thereafter, certain members of the city government launched a
campaign against the system, claiming it is unsafe and should never be turned
on. The campaign culminated in an interview by Mohammed Zlatar, the deputy
mayor, in which he told Oslovijnia that the water that had been tested had
three times the permissible amount of suspended solids and that the solids were
fecal matter. Again, the agreed testing regime had not even been outlined,
much less started.
As we neared completion of the system, I suspected that we might have some
problems along these lines. Therefore, I have been sending water samples to
Split and to the U.S. Army public health lab in Frankfurt. Every sample that
we have sent has passed all the tests for a normal municipal water system, not
just an emergency system. In fact, our samples have been consistently cleaner
than the water systems used in both locations.
Why then are we being prevented from turning on the water?
On the surface, there are several reasons. First, some of the people in the
Water Institute disagree with the design of the system -- despite that they
participated in the design process at every stage. Their arguments center
around the technology used. They are familiar with filtration systems, but not
presse asked for a number of features that we felt were not justified on the
basis of costs and which would have added substantially to the size and weight
of the modules making them impossible to fly in. Any emergency system is a
result of tradeoffs, but the final product -- the water -- is the ultimate test
of the design. We have passed the tests with flying colors.
The Institute has continually pressed us to automate the system. We have
pointed out that it was too costly, to hard to maintain under war conditions,
and really unnecessary given the simplicity of the design. (One of their
scientists told me he had no experience with operating valves!) We have
demonstrated that two people can easily run the system and have shown that it
can be completely turned off in an emergency in less than 20 seconds. In that
time period, no amount of water could reach the storage reservoirs 300 meters
away, and even if it did it would not be fed directly into the city system for
at least 1 hour since we use a two chamber reservoir.
They also asked for an automatic chemical mixer (cost $200,000), we told them
one man can mix all the chemicals needed by hand in about an hour. They wanted
us to install a 10,000 liter fuel tank; we told them that it was too risky and
that since fuel would be delivered daily in barrels that all they needed was a
hand pump and a dolly.
The Institute has claimed that they do not want to turn on the water until
they have completed studies of the river and developed a series of profiles of
its turbidity at different times of the year and at different stream flows.
They claim the data is necessary to develop tables to guide the mixing of the
chemicals used in the water treatment process. While these are nice and will
certainly make the dosing more cost effective, we can proceed now on certain
assumptions and can adjust the mixture later when they get the data. Besides,
they have had a year to develop the data, why have they waited until now?
Another concern they have is the possibility that the Serbs could pour poisons
into the water upstream that the system can't handle. We believe that this is
highly unlikely -- it would be a political disaster for them. If they put
poisons in the water, it would affect the Serb held areas more than the
Bosnian-held areas since the water eventually flows through Serbia and into the
Danube. Furthermore, if they wanted to poison the water, they could easily do
it at Bacevo, the part of the water system that they control. But even if the
Serbs did put poisons in the water, our system could handle many of them. It
is designed to neutralize most pesticides. But the ultimate safety feature is
the two chamber reservoir where we send the water. It takes about 4 hours to
fill each chamber. We can test the water in each chamber before releasing it
into the pipes. Since poisons show up instantly, there is no danger that
something will slip by. But we also plan to supply some water to the Serb side
at Grbavica and have informed the Serbs of that fact. That is probably the
As for all this testing they want to do, we feel it is bunk. With the quality
of water that we have now, we should be turning it on. One of the major
problems we have encountered in working in Sarajevo is the inability of the
authorities to modify their procedures to meet war and emergency conditions.
They simply proceed with business as usual. In what has to be one of the most
frustrating and bizarre meetings in my life, our team was pleading with the
city government to turn on the water during the heaviest day of shelling in
Sarajevo in 6 months. With bullets literally pinging off the window sill and
rounds going off in the lot next door, the Water Institute was talking about a
long-term testing regime that was more complex than anything we would see in
the U.S. They asserted the tests were to ensure that no disease organisms,
such a cholera, got into the water. The nearest case of cholera is Mogadishu!
At one point, when we were pleading with them to turn on the water so people
wouldn't have to go out in the shelling to fetch water, the head of the
Institute asked why we were more concerned with the lives of Sarajevans than
the government? Good question.
There may be some other, more sinister reasons why we have not been allowed to
proceed. They are presented below, going from bad to worse. Some are fact,
others are only hearsay.
First, the Water Institute is trying to pressure us into giving them a lot of
lab equipment. For example, they told us that they couldn't certify the water
unless IRC provided the Institute with a complete water testing laboratory.
They claimed that their equipment had been destroyed by shelling and that there
was no way they could carry out the tests. We offered to provide them with the
type of equipment that is used in the U.S. for testing water under emergency
conditions but not the full lab they were asking for (which we estimated at a
cost of $100,000). They replied that it was our "obligation" to give them the
equipment. (UNICEF had promised to give them one but later dropped it from
their budget.) Ultimately we gave them a first rate test stand that actually
does all the tests required for the WHO standards, but they are holding out for
Second, during the process of selecting a company to build the system, we
narrowed the choices down to a U.S. company, FMI, and a French company which
Vodovod proposed. The authorities in Sarajevo pressed us hard to select the
French company claiming that they had a long standing relationship with them.
But the French bid was poorly defined, the design could not be airlifted, was
too complex for the conditions, and was 1.2 million dollars higher than FMI.
Nonetheless, we were put under tremendous pressure to select the French firm.
At one point in the bidding, we discovered that the French were being shown
FMI's bid documents and decided to disqualify them immediately. The water
authorities demanded that we give the French another chance. When we refused,
one of the Institute's senior officials told us that the French had agreed to
supply the city with several hundred thousand dollars of spare parts for the
water system if they were selected. By then we were convinced that some of the
officials were also being offered kick-backs by the French company. We also
learned that the French had never worked on the Sarajevo system and that the
son of one of the Sarajevo officials was connected to the company. We went
ahead with the selection of FMI. I believe that a lot of our problems now are
in retaliation for the authorities not getting the payoffs.
Third, we have been told by someone close to Mr. Mohammed Zlatar that the
reason that some officials are trying to prevent the water from being turned on
is that the officials are engaged in selling water from the brewery and Bacevo.
Tankers routinely take water from those sources and deliver it to a number of
enterprises, including the Holiday Inn. Some is also sold to households.
Water sales are brisk, especially during the winter. Our informant tells us
that the city will eventually allow us to turn on the water but only after they
have limited the area served (by closing critical valves) and after the winter
when the demand and price for water deliveries will drop -- thus, the three
month testing regime.
One of the officers in UNPROFOR claims that they have information that some
members of government are opposed to turning on the water because it will take
away one of the most omnipresent images of suffering in the city. According to
that source, the radicals in the government feel they need to offset the
negative publicity that the Bosnians have been getting due to their siege of
Vitez by with images of Sarajevans carrying water, fuel, etc. under the Serbs'
shelling. (I personally discount this theory given all the publicity the
system has received, but UNPROFOR thinks it's a possibility.)
Whatever the reasons, we seem to be at an impasse. When Aryeh was here, he
brought the matter up to the Prime Minister, Haris Silidjzic as well as the
Minister of Health (who said he thought the matter would be resolved in about a
week.) I will follow up with a call on Silidjzic in mid week. Ambassador
Galbraith said he will put in a call to the Bosnian ambassador in Croatia
stating the U.S.'s concern and Vic Jacovic has offered to put in a word.
Ultimately, we may need to ask George to call on Izetbegovic, but now is
probably a bit premature.
If the government continues to stonewall us, we have several options. I could
ask General Rose to simply order us to turn on the system or turn it over to
the UN. That may be the easiest and politically, the best way for the Bosnians
to deal with it.
I would like to mention that we have a lot of support from various sectors of
the government. Mohammed Kupsevic, the president of the city council, has told
me that he personally favors turning on the system but has been blocked by
"others." (He advised me to take the matter to the press.) The director of
Vodovod has spoken out and told the city government that in his opinion the
system should be turned on (but was told that he would loose his job if he went
public with his support). A number of staff of Vodovod have pleaded with us to
just turn it on but the reservoir has been locked.
I feel that we need to get a quick resolution to the matter. The
international press has been extremely supportive and has kept the pressure on
the government without being critical -- but they are getting restless and
several want to blast the government for not taking people out of the line of
fire. If this goes longer than another week, I think that they'll start
blasting the government. I've stressed to everyone who asks that the holdup is
with the Water Institute and the city government, not the national government,
but it's beginning to ring hollow.
My main concerns are (1) getting water to the people and (2) not discrediting
the government. I also want to preserve what up until now has been an
excellent working relationship with all other sectors of the government.
Your advice is sought and would be very welcome.
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