Mosul, Iraq, August 2020 – After squatting in Al-Yarmouk Park in Mosul, northern Iraq, for 22 years, Suliman Hassan Matar has been provided with a temporary new home and a full-time job as a park guard as part of the UN-Habitat rehabilitation project.

Mr Suliman moved into a corner of the park with his family in 1998, as they could not afford to rent anywhere, and began working as a guard. He remained in the park with his wife and six five children during the city’s occupation by the militant ISIL group and took in his brother’s daughter when the rest of her family died in the conflict.

“I have been living for over two decades with my family in a few rooms that I built myself with concrete blocks. We did not have running water or a proper toilet. I had very little money,” Mr. Suliman said. “It was a space that only animals could live in. Every year, in spring, we were suffering from floods that destroyed most of our belongings. I always dreamt of living in a proper house.”

Al-Yarmouk Park had not been maintained for nearly a decade and was full of rubbish, benches had been stolen and trees cut down for fuel. UN-Habitat started rehabilitating the park in late 2019 creating over 200 jobs for skilled and unskilled workers from the surrounding area, including female workers. The project, funded by the EU, includes new sports facilities, playgrounds, a community hall, a new irrigation and lighting system, and an intense horticulture training programme, targeting unemployed female residents, which will include planting of hundreds of trees and bushes.

Mr Suliman thought he would be evicted but instead UN-Habitat reached an agreement with the Municipality to assign him as one of the park guards and provide him with a prefabricated house on higher and safer ground.

“Many residents of the area are now passing by and congratulating me for my new house and feeling happy for me,” he beamed, sitting with his children in the doorway of his new home.

 “I will be taking care of the park as my home and family” said Mr. Suliman who is already taking care of the plants and has been occasionally hired as an unskilled worker by the contractors working on site. “This project has not yet been completed but it has already changed my life. I feel I can now provide a better future for my family.”

UN-Habitat has adopted strict preventive measures for all construction site workers and supervisors including physical distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks and gloves, measuring body temperatures and frequent hand washing. Contractors were instructed 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 economic crisis triggered by the pandemic is key to help conflicted-affected urban communities in their recovery and is considered a key priority  during the four-year-long EU-funded programme Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development implemented by UNDP in partnership with UN-Habitat.