Heet, Iraq, 18 October 2021 – The two-square-kilometre Al-Baker neighbourhood, sprawling on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, is the largest and most populated of the 14 areas comprising the city of Heet in Anbar province. After 2003 and due to the deterioration of the security situation in the surrounding rural areas, many low-income families moved to this neighbourhood, putting even more pressure on the city’s limited resources.

During the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from 2014 to 2017, over six million Iraqis were displaced from their homes. Following the toppling of ISIL, many people could not return to their areas of origin due to the extensive damage or destruction of their homes and were forced to remain in displacement camps or find temporary solutions in rented or crowded accommodation with relatives, or unfinished buildings.

“After ISIL occupied Heet district in 2014 for two years, the infrastructure, houses, and public services of the district were destroyed, so we coordinated with the central government, Anbar governorate, Civil Society organisations and United Nations to rehabilitate what ISIL destroyed. Because the biggest problem was in the residential buildings, we coordinated with UN-Habitat to rehabilitate the damaged houses,” said Heet Mayor Muhanned Zbar.

“Additionally, we needed to extend water networks, upgrade the WASH facilities in the medical centres and establish parks and sport fields in Al-Baker neighbourhood, which suffered from the lack of many services and deserved the support,” he added.

To encourage the sustainable return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and enhance living conditions and livelihoods in conflict-affected governorates, UN-Habitat partnered in 2019 with the European Union and UN Development Programme (UNDP) to implement local recovery projects in five targeted communities, including Al-Baker in the town of Heet. 

Having implemented a set of impactful recovery projects in Al-Baker West in close coordination with the local authorities, UN-Habitat was able to secure a complementary partnership with Alwaleed Philanthropies in mid-2020 for activities aimed at mitigating COVID-19 transmission and enhancing community resilience in Al-Baker East.

Between these projects combined, UN-Habitat has rehabilitated 180 war-damaged houses; renovated a primary school; created a new park and two sports facilities; upgraded and extended potable networks serving over 600 houses, supporting water supply to 4,125 people; and upgraded seven health facilities, including Heet’s General Hospital, to protect some 130,000 people among health personnel and community members in the current pandemic crisis.

“Aside from promoting a build back better approach that adopts greener technologies, these projects also contributed to supporting Heet's economy by recruiting local labour, operating machinery and purchasing construction materials available in the city,” said Maan Sami, UN-Habitat Programme Officer in Iraq.

Overall, UN-Habitat projects have created over 6,500 working days for Heet residents in construction, civil works and landscaping, as well as offered vocational training for 120 unemployed youth. It has engaged Iraqi contractors, community groups and non-governmental organisations, thus creating opportunities for synergies and capacity building, and organised “soft activities” such as sports activities such as children's activities and planting campaigns.

UN-Habitat’s 360-degree approach in Heet to solving community problems through local area development projects has also manifested itself through a lasting trust relationship with the local authorities, specifically the mayor's office.

UN-Habitat’s work in Al-Baker is an example of how the agency uses a multi-dimensional holistic approach in designing and implementing series of high-impact local area projects that, put together, aim to solve community problems, increase cohesion, and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as improving shelter conditions and combatting climate change, but also promoting multi-stakeholder partnerships between donors, local authorities, private sector and civil society to enhance the effectiveness and impact of interventions (SDG 17).

As a result, the projects not only have improved living conditions and access to basic infrastructure but also increased the residents’ sense of dignity, safety, security. Female headed households specifically highlighted the importance of solid walls and gates to protect them and their children.

Safe homes and safe places for children to play have become even more critical since schools were closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing children to stay home all day. With the completion of Al Nejoom Park and its playground, children now have a safe space to go and play, and just ‘be’ children.