Iraqis face increasing problems with housing and homelessness.
Adel Abdel Sada is not proud of his home. Cobbled together from the wreckage of
old buildings, cartons and bits of scrap, the ramshackle, jerry-built dwelling
is all the 39-year-old unemployed security guard can afford.
"I've lived here for four years since I lost my job," he said. "I
built two rooms, a bath, a kitchen and a fence. I know no-one would like to
live in a house like this, but what can I do? I need a home for my family."
Sada is not alone, and many of Iraq's low-income or unemployed families are
struggling to find adequate housing countrywide.
The main reason for terrible living conditions for thousands of Iraqis is that
many houses have been destroyed over years of conflict in the country.
The number, officials say, has been increasing daily and very little investment
has gone into the sector.
Ahmed D'lemi, a senior official at the Ministry of Construction and Housing,
said that according to its records, more than 450,000 families were homeless
countrywide. Most were living in what he described as "very deteriorated
or miserable conditions".
"This number may shock the international humanitarian organisations but
it's the reality of Iraq now," D'lemi said. "Our government is working
hard to reverse this statistic, but we need very large investment."
He added that the number could be much higher than their records suggest, since
many homeless people have not been registered due to the prevailing insecurity
At a conference held in Jordan in November 2004 by the United Nations Human
Settlements Programme, known as UN-Habitat, and Iraqi government officials it
was stated that Iraq needed 1.5 million new homes to cover needs, confirming
the vast scale of the problem, but lack of funds has delayed the process.
In Baghdad alone, more than 54,000 people have been identified as homeless,
according to local government officials.
Recent conflict in the country, especially in the western province of Anbar,
where US forces are flushing out insurgents, has caused thousands of residents
to flee and become homeless, according to the Ministry of Construction and Housing.
US forces say their operations are needed to ensure security in the long term.
"The Coalition forces are assisting the Iraqi Security Forces and the
government of Iraq in securing their future as they move forward in the democratic
process." Lt-Col Steven Boylan, spokesperson for the US forces in the country
told IRIN on Wednesday.
"We take all precautions available to preclude any unnecessary actions
that would cause harm to the Iraqi people and their property. However, it is
the terrorists that continue to cause the most harm and damage by their use
of car bombs, rockets, mortars and IEDs [improvised explosive devices]."
It is ordinary Iraqi families that suffer the destruction of their homes, and
homelessness in many cases, according to one local.
"My house was totally destroyed in Fallujah in the last conflict and,
until now, I'm living with my family in an abandoned school just outside the
city, awaiting a solution from the government," said Muhammad Kubaissy,
a father of five in Baghdad.
"They are fighting insurgents and the result is more homeless people every
day in the country."
The country's housing problem dates back to previous conflicts, but has been
exacerbated by the war, insurgency and instability in the recent past.
After the Iraq-Iran war, in the 1980s, the government of former Iraqi leader,
Saddam Hussein, announced the need for more than three million new homes in
Baghdad and surrounding districts.
"A plan was established at that time to solve the housing crisis but,
with Iraq's entry into the [first] Gulf War in 1991, this plan was completely
halted," said Bassim al-Ansary, general director of planning at the ministry.
"The private sector declined as well because of weak funding, which made
matters worse - as did the sanctions imposed by the United Nations in Iraq."
The only project that was developed in Iraq between then 2003 was by UN-Habitat,
official said. Since 1997, it has helped to provide over 20,000 houses, 475
primary schools, 220 secondary schools, 130 health centres between other projects.
UN-Habitat stopped its work in the country after the terrorist attack on the
UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003, having to scale back staff temporarily,
but is working from the Jordanian capital, Amman.
According to al-Ansary, more than 1,000 houses have been built since 2003,
mainly for teachers at universities and government workers in central Iraq who
were in drastically living situation conditions.
In order to address the problem, the ministry has proposed five projects in
different places around the country, including several new lower-income housing
tracts to cover emergency needs.
However, only three, at a cost of US $40 million, have been undertaken due
to funding shortages.
"We have already started three new housing projects, one in [the northern
city of] Kirkuk with 600 homes, in Baghdad with 284, and in [the southern city
of] Karbala with 483 housing units," al-Ansary said. They should be completed
in 2006, he added.
The two projects pending, costed at US $12 million, are for housing needs in
the northern city of Mosul and for Missan in the south.
But locals claim that progress is slow and that they continue to suffer.
"For two years we had no home and I lived with my family in abandoned
buildings without water or electricity," said Suad Mohammed from Sadr City,
a vast low-income neighbourhood in Baghdad dominated by Shi'ites.
"Then, together with some other families, we moved into a small house
with two rooms and a kitchen. There are around 11 people living with us waiting
for a solution through the government housing project."