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 for more than 20 years. 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 developmental 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 is also chairing Housing, Land and Property Rights Sub-Cluster in Iraq under the Protection Cluster.
Iraq's cities accommodate more than 70 per cent of the population, and are growing rapidly. Many people, particularly the poor, live in sub-standard housing and informal settlements, and suffer from the side-effects of polluted water sources, poor air quality and growing traffic congestion.
At the same time, Iraq has been challenged by protracted political crises and conflict for more than four decades. The recent crisis in Iraq is one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises. Iraq is still reeling from the occupation by the ISIL and the physical destruction of the cities affected by fighting. 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.
“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
UN-Habitat works closely with the national and local government counterparts in policy and project planning, development and implementation. Under the EU-funded Local Area Development Programme Phase II, which was completed in 2018, UN-Habitat partnered with the University of Kufa in Najaf Governorate to develop and launch a professional MSc course on ‘Planning Sustainable Cities’ to ensure sustainability and ‘anchoring’ of capacity development of urban planners. Under the ongoing project titled “Support to Housing, Land and Property Rights for IDPs in Nineveh,” UN-Habitat Iraq is also partnering with GLTN. Under this project, GLTN will provide training on land administration and management databases to local counterparts on Social Tenure Domain Model and to providing legal support and advice on land and conflict- related issues. GLTN will also support on analysis of the root of causes of the conflict related to HLP and come up with the proposal or recommendations on resolution on how to find best approaches to resolve land disputes in Iraq.