Yathrib, Iraq, 2 July 2020 - While living away from home in Baghdad for four years, 31-year-old Mohammed Madi Ahmad learned new skills in painting, plumbing, electrical work and installation of fans, lighting and decoration.

On returning to his home town of Yathrib, Mohammed is now working as a daily labourer on various construction sites, while his 24-year-old wife stays home to take care of their two young sons.

“The situation is very difficult due to the Coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “There are no jobs and no way to support our families. I was lucky to find out about this construction work and I am thankful I had a job for a month, and I hope there will be more opportunities like this in the future.”

In the rural town of Yathrib, Salah Al Din Governorate, 45 kilometres north of Baghdad, returnees are rebuilding their lives with the assistance of UN-Habitat following several years of conflict.

Since UN-Habitat’s contractors are requested to hire skilled and unskilled labourers locally, the construction works enabled 56 people from the neighbourhood, most of whom are recent returnees, to find employment during the recent lockdown.

The majority of people in Yathrib, many of whom are former IDPs and recent returnees, work in seasonal or daily jobs to make up for their low return on farming which has suffered due to insecurity, conflict and under-investments in infrastructure.

The number of COVID-19 reported cases in the district has been among the lowest in Iraq since the beginning of the pandemic, which allowed UN-Habitat to continue with the EU-funded construction works and rehabilitation of houses begun before the lockdown. UN-Habitat adopted strict preventive measures for all construction site workers and supervisors – including physical distancing, mandatory wearing of personal protection such as face masks, measuring body temperature of all who enter the site and frequent hand washing.

As the construction material was delivered at the start of the project and labourers and supervising engineers live locally, UN-Habitat managed to complete the rehabilitation of seven houses, the first batch of the planned rehabilitation of 120 houses, in just a few weeks.  

“Prioritising the delivery of materials to the site was a key for successful completion of the activities. We are grateful that the local authorities were extremely supportive and approved the continuation of our ongoing works,” said UN-Habitat Senior Programme Officer, Oday Lafta.

Even before the pandemic, UN-Habitat requested contractors to hire skilled and unskilled workers among unemployed residents of the target areas allowing the job to be done more quickly and supporting local livelihoods.  Providing jobs and income at the height of the pandemic is key to help rural communities in their recovery.

 “It makes me proud and happy that during the lockdown I didn’t have to go deeper in debt,” says Mohammed, who noted that as he already knows many skills, he aims to pay off his debt and buy tools and equipment that will help him do his job better and earn more money as his children grow up. He also wants to build his house that was destroyed during the conflict and cultivate his farmland, which was torched during their displacement. 

So far, UN-Habitat has created 150 jobs for skilled and unskilled workers from Yathrib through a series of area-based integrated projects. These included the rehabilitation of the Emergency Unit of the local Medical Centre, the extension of the water network to 400 homes, rehabilitation of war-damaged houses and the on-going cleaning of an irrigation canal. All of these interventions are being undertaken within the four-year-long EU-funded programme ‘Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development,’ implemented by UNDP in partnership with UN-Habitat.

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