GDP Growth: -0.5% (2014)

Inequality adjusted Human Development Index rank: 120/187 (2013)

Population: 35.1 million (2014)

Urban Population: 69% (2014)

Youth population (15-29): 28% (2014)

Internally Displaced Persons (Anbar/Mosul crisis) 3.3 million (2015)

Population Growth Rate: 3% (2013)

Urbanization Growth Rate: 3% (2013)

Proportion of urban population living in slum areas: 7.7% (2013)

Ongoing Conflict and Displacement

The current crisis in Iraq is one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises. The main challenges facing humanitarian aid in the country are the surge in internally displaced persons (IDPs), security-related issues and concerns, and the difficulty of access to vulnerable groups. One of the most notable causes of this unprecedented crisis is the recent rise of the group calling itself Islamic State (IS) and its expansion in Iraq, which has resulted in the massive displacement of people fleeing terror and violence.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Iraq Displacement Tracking Matrix, approximately 3.4 million people have been internally displaced from 1 January 2014 to 31 March 2016. The total IDP population comes from eight of Iraq’s 18 governorates; most of them are originally from the governorates of Anbar (43 percent or 1,486,866 individuals) and Ninewa (33 percent or 1,125,414 individuals).

Baghdad Governorate hosts the largest recorded IDP population (18 per cent or 577,230 individuals), followed by Anbar (18 per cent or 570,768 individuals), Dohuk (13 per cent or 409,170 individuals), Kirkuk (12 per cent or 381,156 individuals), Erbil (10 per cent or 329,472 individuals), Ninewa (7 per cent or 220,398 individuals) and Sulaymaniyah (5 per cent or 162,678 individuals).

In addition, Iraq has been hosting nearly 245,000 Syrian refugees, the majority of whom are residing in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). While some of the displaced persons are able to stay temporarily with relatives or rent apartments, massive numbers of IDPs are still in need of shelter and basic services. To address such needs, the Government of Iraq, the regional government of KRI, UN agencies and international NGOs have been providing camps and temporary shelters as part of their emergency response.

Informal Settlements

The number of informal settlements in Baghdad is increasing according to a report by Central Statistical Organization of Iraq, Ministry of Planning, which estimates that there are more than 360 settlements in the city today. Government officials state that such large numbers of informal settlements did not exist in Baghdad before 2003, and that these settlements have been aggravated by the sectarian violence of 2006. Today, the number of informal settlements in all Iraqi governorates amounts to 1,552 (excluding the governorates of Kurdistan), which accounted for almost 7.7 per cent of all neighbourhoods in Iraq.

Many of the settlements consist of both IDPs and economic migrants coming to Baghdad in search of better economic opportunities; however not being able to afford housing has led these migrants to live in informal areas with no or little access to water, sanitation, electricity, schools or health services. Such informal settlements, where migrants, IDPs and homeless returnees live, are spreading out in urban areas much faster than the temporary or durable solutions that are provided by the Government and UN agencies and NGOs.

Presently, livelihood, rather than shelter, is the top priority for IDPs; and local integration is considered the most preferred settlement solution among IDPs. Informal settlers should be regarded as a resource rather than a problem; yet without a comprehensive approach to integrate IDPs, the growth of informal settlements will continue. The city-wide approach identifies the city’s development opportunities for Iraqi citizens in terms of job opportunities provided by the housing and productive sector, the reconstruction of infrastructure, as well as different services and facilities.

Access to Drinking Water and Basic Services

Access to drinking water and basic services has not witnessed any significant development since 1990. With an unstable water supply, the rate of households using potable water sources was at 89 per cent in 2011, and only 60 per cent of the population had water delivered to their house or its vicinity through a piping system. There is also a huge disparity in access to potable water sources between governorates, as well as urban and rural areas.

For example, potable water is available to about 97 per cent of the population living in urban areas as opposed to 76 per cent living in rural areas. Additionally, since households in rural areas have limited access to water through public networks, it is therefore often accessed through informal water vendors. Only 47 per cent of households in rural areas use public networks, compared to 67 per cent in urban areas.

Furthermore, the salinity of water seems to be one of the main reasons why a significant percentage of households in governorates such as Basra and Maysan refrain from using public water networks. In addition to the limited access to water, basic services are unsatisfactory. Around 96 per cent of the population in Iraq uses improved sanitation means (99 per cent in urban areas and 90 per cent in rural areas). However, this percentage decreases when considering the use of a sanitation system that is linked to a sewage pumping network.

In the latter case, 4 per cent of the population uses these systems in rural areas and 33 per cent in urban areas. There is a prevailing dissatisfaction with the sanitation services in Iraq, with the majority of households describing these facilities as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’. This opinion is even stronger in rural areas, especially in central and southern Iraq. Similar to the issue of access to clean water, sanitation is also often accessed through informal means.

About one third of Iraqi households have access to public sanitation services and 66 per cent of these households are based in urban areas, mainly Sulaymaniyah and Baghdad. It is also subject to social class as more than half of the 53 per cent of households categorized as having a high per capita spending rate have access to public networks compared to 9 per cent of households categorized as having a low per capita spending rate.

Households with no access to public networks tend to use septic tanks and covered sewage holes. This means that 65 per cent of households use an unsafe sanitation method. It should also be noted that 83 per cent of wastewater is not subjected to sufficient treatment; this leads to very serious environmental problems that put the health of citizens at risk and hence form an obstacle to achieving sustainable development.

Demographic Challenges

High rates of population growth pose a challenge to development in Iraq generally, but particularly to urban development. The country’s population in 2007 was 10 times greater than it was in 1927. According to the Arab Strategy for Housing and Urban Development, which was endorsed by the Arab League, the total population of Iraq in 2014 was almost 35 million.

Additionally, there has been a notable increase in the percentage of youth, which stood at 28 per cent of the population in 2014. This percentage is expected to continue to rise during the next two decades and will limit the economy’s ability to provide suitable job opportunities. So far the Iraqi economy has not been able to absorb this growing workforce in its private sector.

Previous policies targeting the youth have not been comprehensive or able to initiate sustainable change, which has led to unstructured and ineffective youth services. And together with low levels of technical skills acquired by the country’s youth, this has resulted in a precarious situation hindering their participation in public and political life.

Spatial Disparities

The standard of living in Iraq is closely linked to the level of urbanization. In general, rural areas suffer from higher rates of poverty; this reflects the disparities in the quality and access to infrastructure, health, education and security for different social classes.

The more urban agglomeration grows the less poverty occurs; thus poverty in larger cities is at its lowest levels. This has constituted a major motivation behind internal migration towards larger cities in Iraq, especially during the 1950s and 1960s of the last century.

Furthermore, coercive measures have led to a degradation of rural areas and villages. For instance, many people had to leave their villages due to a sudden lack of water, on which they depended for their livelihood, when the government dried marshes in the countryside during the 1990s.

In 2012 it was revealed that rural areas, where poverty rates reached 58 per cent, suffered far more than cities and urban areas where poverty rates were at 17 per cent according to the standard of living index. Discrepancies are also evident in the rest of the basic fields, indicating a clear superiority of urban areas compared to rural areas.

Urban Mobility

The transportation network of roads and railways in Iraq extends longitudinally and is parallel to the course of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Traditionally this has led to the concentration of human settlements and activities along these two routes. As other regions in Iraq faced a lack of main transportation hubs, these traditional routes suffered from high traffic volumes and increased pressure on the main roads in the country.

This situation was reflected in the high costs of travel delays and its negative repercussions on other economic sectors that are affected by transportation. Consequently, there is a strong need to increase expenditure on road maintenance and to address the soaring rates of traffic accidents. As such, a network of radial roads should be established in order to connect small and medium cities and create new hubs for development in Iraq. This would also strengthen the longitudinal extension of the Iraqi transportation network that links different industrial and economic sectors.

Furthermore, roads in Iraq are in poor condition. According to international standards, 1 km/km2 of roads are required for each 100 inhabitants per km2 of population density. Currently, road length in Iraq is around 0.19 km/km2; and given that population density in Iraq is at 79.5 inhabitants per km2 according to 2011 estimates, therefore the road network should measure around 240,000 km.

If unpopulated desert areas were to be excluded, then the required new roads would measure about 20,000 km, as per the standards mentioned above. In addition, the road network in Iraq has been exposed to heavy abrasion and most of its parts have been destroyed as a result of military operations; and it has further deteriorated as a result of insufficient emergency and periodic maintenance work.

This has led to a significant decrease in the capacity of road networks to absorb volumes of traffic and subsequently a reduced efficiency. Exacerbating conditions further are the damaged or lost traffic, warning and direction signs on the international roads and expressways. Hence the pressing need and urgency of repairing current road networks in Iraq.


The Government of Iraq has not regarded the issue of the environment as a priority during the past three decades. The deterioration and destruction of the country’s environmental infrastructure throughout decades of war, economic sanctions and the absence of security and stability is still very much evident today.

The country’s capacity for resilience is challenged further by: high population growth rates and high levels of urbanization; desertification and deterioration in the quality of agricultural land; salinization and over‐watering; discharge of drainage water, wastewater and untreated effluents from hospitals and factories; a lack of treatment units for dust and gases from industrial facilities; primitive methods of solid waste disposal; and poor community awareness regarding the value of the environment and the importance and methods of environmental conservation. All of these factors have contributed to the deterioration of the Iraqi environment in its three elements: water, air and soil.

Moreover, Iraq is no different from the rest of the world in being affected by the phenomenon of climate change, including global warming, declining precipitation, rising annual rates of temperature and humidity, and increasing rates of evaporation, dust, sandstorms and thunderstorms.

The Iraqi government sought to monitor changes in these rates through the monitoring stations for natural conditions which amounted to 10 stations since 2011; four of these are located in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and Rutbah, while the remaining six are spread across the cities of Kurdistan. Substantial progress in the monitoring and control of the environmental situation has been achieved and developed with regular and continuous readings of natural phenomena.

However progress remains limited due to the quantitative shortage and limited geographical spread of monitoring stations in Iraq. Geographical distributions have expanded since 2013 and are expected to continue to spread until 2017; these stations will serve as an early warning system against natural phenomena and as a measuring device for 27 pollutants in order to impede negative impacts that may extend to natural and man‐made environments as well as human beings.