The Republic of Iraq is located in an area with a rich urban legacy. Cities started to appear around the Euphrates and Tigris about 5000 years ago, when fertile land was successfully farmed to create agricultural surplus and became densely populated with human settlements.
UN-Habitat, as the UN programme promoting sustainable urban development, is proud to work within this deeply historic context. However, established in the 1990s during the Oil for Food Programme, the UN-Habitat Iraq programme is today confronted by very real and contemporary challenges that Iraq’s cities are facing.
These challenges can be classified into two categories: on the one hand there are general issues that are connected to the processes of rapid urbanization in a developing country and that can also be observed in other countries of the global periphery. At the same time, Iraq is enmeshed in a severe armed conflict and a big part of its cities and population are facing a fundamental threat to their very existence, represented by the group calling itself Islamic State (Daesh).
As for the general urban issues, Iraq’s cities accommodate more than 70% of the population and they are growing rapidly. Many people, particularly the poor, live in sub-standard housing and informal settlements and suffer from the health impacts of polluted water sources and growing traffic congestion. Women and children, whose focus of living is predominantly the home, experience the reality of poor services and absence of local amenities most acutely.
All of this is worsened by the advances of Daesh and the armed struggle against it, resulting in large numbers of internally displaced Persons (IDPs), destroyed infrastructure, cuts to basic services and disruption of local economies. In order to meet these challenges, UN-Habitat follows a multi-dimensional and coherent approach that is diverse and ranges from urgent tasks such as providing safe basic shelter for IDPs to projects which aim at building the capacities of local and national governments in planning and managing urbanization to more abstract endeavours like researching the dynamics of urbanization and the impacts of armed conflict.
In tackling the aforementioned problems, UN-Habitat is aligned to a global approach and commits itself to mobilizing the Iraqi Government towards the realization of the Sustainable Development Goal 11, “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” and its integration into the Habitat III (formally known as the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development), to be held in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016 process.
Despite all the challenges stemming from urbanization, it has to be emphasized strongly that UN-Habitat also sees great opportunities in it. If urbanization is managed in an inclusive and sustainable way, Iraq’s cities can become hubs of economic growth, drivers of development and non-discriminatory homes to its population, providing equal chances for everybody.
IOM, UNDP, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOCHA, UNOPS, UNFPA, WHO
UN-Habitat has been active in Iraq since 1996. After 2003, UN-Habitat was largely engaged in early recovery efforts, particularly those supporting internally displaced persons (IDPs) through the provision of shelter and reconstruction solutions. Since then, the portfolio of UN-Habitat Iraq has expanded beyond emergency responses to include humanitarian programmes, such as providing IDPs and returnees with dignified shelter and living environment and development programmes that provide technical and capacity development support to the national and local government counterparts through activities such as development of the National Urban Strategy and the National Housing Policy, upgrading informal settlements, and support to decentralization. UN-Habitat also chairs the Housing, Land and Property Rights Sub-Cluster in Iraq under the Protection Cluster and represents on the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) Cluster and Shelter Cluster Strategic Advisory Groups.
Following the conflict with ISIL, UN-Habitat has been engaged in the rehabilitation of war damaged houses and WASH and communal infrastructure, enabling local skilled and unskilled workers to be engaged in rebuilding their communities. In addition, through the provision of vocational training and by creating skilled and unskilled job opportunities, UN-Habitat enables young men and women from the affected communities to broaden their skills and increase the employment rate.
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, UN-Habitat Iraq has developed special protocols and requirements for COVID-19 prevention measures on construction sites and community mobilization activities. The new requirements are mandatory for all UN-Habitat personnel, implementing partners and contractors.
Iraq's cities accommodate more than 70 per cent of the population, and are growing rapidly. A large number of people, particularly the poor, live in sub-standard housing and informal settlements, and suffer from lack of basic services and the side-effects of polluted water sources, poor air quality and climate change.
At the same time, Iraq has been affected by a protracted political crises and conflicts for more than four decades. The country is still reeling from the occupation by ISIL and the physical destruction of homes, infrastructure and public facilities. As displaced families return in ever increasing numbers to their communities of origin, many find that their homes require major repairs, exacerbating pre-conflict housing shortages in the country. The Government of Iraq has estimated that the reconstruction of areas damaged in the fight against ISIL will exceed US$100 billion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased health risks, the disruption of livelihoods and additional challenges across the country for both the population of Iraq and for development sector as the frequent lockdowns are disrupting the planned rehabilitation works.
“When I first saw my house damaged by the war, I felt hopeless. It was as if I lost my lifetime’s work. I now have electricity, water and access to services. Standing here in front of my rehabilitated house has given me hope and a push to start again. Thank you very much.”
Rasho Sevo Qasim, beneficiary from UN-Habitat’s project titled ‘Pilot Housing Rehabilitation project in Sinuni’ in Sinjar, Ninewa Governroate
Donors and partners
Since the beginning of operations in Iraq, UN-Habitat has worked with international donors and has established a strong network of international and national partners.
UN-Habitat works closely with the national and local government counterparts such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Council of Ministers, Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Construction, Housing, Municipalities and Public Works, Ministry of Justice, and local authorities such as Municipalities and technical Directorates, in policy and project planning, development and implementation and on protection of housing, land and property rights.
Within the two largest ongoing programmes in Iraq, funded by the European Union, UN-Habitat is partnering with UNDP and national partners to ensure the stability and socio-economic development of the country by enhancing democratic governance at the local level and improving the resilience of host communities, IDPs, returnees and refugees affected by the Syrian crisis and recent conflict.
Through a series of projects funded by the Government of Japan, UN-Habitat is improving the living conditions of the vulnerable IDPs and returnees in the targeted conflict-affected communities and enhancing the self-reliance of the returnees through construction of durable low-cost housing units, rehabilitation of war-damaged houses, vocational training and increased employment opportunities. Rehabilitation of war-damaged houses is done also under the project funded by the Kuwait Relief Society.
UN-Habitat is supported through the Iraq Humanitarian Fund for two projects in Anbar and Dohuk to provide non-food items and shelter support to the most vulnerable identified through a socio-economic survey. This also includes rent relief for a small number of households at risk of eviction.
Residents in Heet, Anbar will benefit from a project funded by Alwaleed Philanthropies focussed on war-damaged shelter rehabilitation, community water network extensions to houses, and rehabilitation to clinics with a focus on water, sanitation, and hygiene as well as COVID-19 prevention and mitigation.
Under the ongoing project “Support to Housing, Land and Property Rights for IDPs in Nineveh,” UN-Habitat Iraq is partnering with Global Land Tool Network, which will provide training on land administration and management databases to local counterparts on Social Tenure Domain Model and legal support and advice on land- and conflict-related issues.