In Iraq’s oil-rich Basra, shanty towns flourish

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At least 18 percent of Iraqi youth are unemployed, with rates even higher among college graduates. Above, Iraqi boys on a trailer in Al-Zubair, south of Basra. (AFP)
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Basra authorities say they lose money every time a home is built illegally, as Baghdad bases provincial budgets on the number of officially registered residents. (AFP)
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Many internal refugees displaced by Daesh fled to Basra, untouched by the militant takeover, often finding homes in shanty towns. (AFP)
Updated 19 April 2018
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In Iraq’s oil-rich Basra, shanty towns flourish

  • Iraq’s oil sector accounts for 65 percent of the country’s gross domestic product but only one percent of its labor force
  • Nearly 10 percent of Iraqis live in informal settlements, one fifth of them in Basra, according to the ministry of planning

BASRA, Iraq: From his small home nestled alongside train tracks in the southern Iraqi province of Basra, Sultan Nayef looks out at plumes of smoke billowing across an expanse of oil fields.
Like thousands of others, the unemployed 25-year-old moved to oil-rich Basra in the hope of finding work in the energy industry, Iraq’s primary source of wealth.
Instead, he and many others like him live in cramped and chaotic shanty towns in a province already suffering from a lack of infrastructure.
Absent of any urban planning or public services, Basra’s informal settlements are an anarchic clutter of breeze-block homes and ad-hoc electricity wires.
“All we get from oil is pollution,” said Sultan who, along with his four brothers, still relies on his parents for living expenses.
A small stone wall is the only thing keeping cows and sheep grazing in a grassy field behind him from wandering into oil fields where burning gas flares emit thick black smoke.
Most of the young people arriving in Iraq’s only coastal oil province hoped to secure high-paying jobs with foreign companies.
“But most companies import their employees from abroad,” said Nayef, a resident of the Zoubeir district south of Basra city.
At least 18 percent of Iraqi youth are unemployed, with rates even higher among college graduates.
According to the UN, Iraq’s oil sector accounts for 65 percent of the country’s gross domestic product but only one percent of its labor force.
Even for those who work, buying a home is often only a dream.
“My husband is a civil servant, but with his salary we can’t even buy a centimeter of land,” said Umm Ahmed.
Even though they are against “the idea of squatting,” she and her family were forced to build a makeshift home on government land.
The municipality has already destroyed their home once.
“We had to completely rebuild it,” the 48-year-old said, her face framed by a long black veil.
Local authorities say the land belongs to the state, denouncing the illegal structures and the theft of water and electricity.
The last study on Basra’s informal settlements was completed in 2014, just a few months before the Daesh group swept across Iraq seizing nearly a third of the country.
At the time, there were more than 48,500 informal homes in the province, said Zahra Al-Jebari, head of urban planning at Basra’s provincial council.
Today “there are many more, but there is no figure,” she said.
Many internal refugees displaced by Daesh fled to Basra, untouched by the militant takeover, often finding homes in shanty towns.
Nearly 10 percent of Iraqis live in informal settlements, one fifth of them in Basra, according to the ministry of planning.
The only other province hit harder by illegal construction is Baghdad.
Basra authorities say they lose money every time a home is built illegally, as Baghdad bases provincial budgets on the number of officially registered residents.
Taxes in informal settlements are also left unpaid, said Jebari, adding the budget deficit was acutely felt in “allocations to education, health and other services.”
For Wissam Maher, it feels like authorities are “only interested in destroying our homes.”
“We live under power lines without any services,” said the 32-year-old metal worker.
“This area is huge and it doesn’t belong to anyone,” he said, pointing down a narrow sandy street lined with ramshackle houses and abandoned cars.


End Syria hospital attacks, Russia told at UN

Updated 19 July 2019
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End Syria hospital attacks, Russia told at UN

  • Kuwait, Germany and Belgium asked for the hastily called closed-door session
  • Russian and Assad egime aircraft have since late April ramped up deadly bombardment of the Idlib region

UNITED NATIONS: Russia on Thursday opposed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an end to attacks on health facilities in Syria’s Idlib region, diplomats said after the latest meeting over violence in the country’s last major opposition bastion.
The outcome led to a rare statement following the meeting by the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock.
“The carnage must stop,” he said.
Russian and Assad egime aircraft have since late April ramped up deadly bombardment of the Idlib region of about three million people in northwest Syria, despite a deal to avert a massive government assault.
Kuwait, Germany and Belgium asked for the hastily called closed-door session, the latest of many they have sought since May in response to worsening fighting in Syria’s northwest.
The draft text, given to journalists, expressed “grave concern regarding the recent attacks on hospitals and other health facilities,” including a July 10 attack on Maarat National Hospital, one of the largest in the area and whose coordinates had been shared through the UN “deconfliction mechanism” that aims to spare civilian targets.
Russia again denied bombing such facilities.
“I provided information from my ministry of defense” and investigation demonstrated that there were “no attacks at nine out of eleven facilities” allegedly attacked, Moscow’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters.
“The two others were partially damaged but not by Russian” forces, he said.
His British counterpart, Karen Pierce, seemed skeptical.
“There’s some interest in an investigation into the Maarat Hospital hit. So I think that’s the thing to focus on,” she said at the end of the meeting.
“We’ve got our suspicions. But let’s get a proper look into that and get a proper answer.”
Lowcock said after the meeting that since July 1, “at least six health facilities, five schools, three water stations, two bakeries and one ambulance have been damaged or destroyed.
“Entire villages have been destroyed and emptied” because of air strikes, he said.
Regime air strikes on Tuesday killed 11 civilians in Idlib’s south, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The region on Turkey’s doorstep is administered by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, but other jihadist and rebel groups are also present.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week strongly condemned air strikes in the region following reports from a Syrian doctors’ group that four health facilities including the Maarat Al-Numan facility were hit during a single day of bombing.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.