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.


OIC body urges Muslim countries to promote culture of reading

Updated 4 min 43 sec ago
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OIC body urges Muslim countries to promote culture of reading

  • Critical shortage of ‘reading rates’ and ‘lack of access to books’ deplored
  • ISESCO calls on Muslim countries to support publishing industry

RABAT, Morocco: Muslim countries must do more to promote books and reading, the Saudi Press Agency reported one of the world’s largest Islamic organizations as saying.

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), which was founded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation 40 years ago, called on Muslim countries to improve the publishing industry, provide copyright protection, and preserve manuscripts by digitizing them so that current and future generations could benefit from them.

It made the comments ahead of World Book and Copyright Day, a UN event celebrated on April 23. 

ISESCO said that knowledge and science in Muslim communities soared when printing was discovered, adding that paper books would remain a pillar of culture and a driver for development because civilization was founded on the discovery of writing.

“The media through which knowledge and sciences were transferred have varied with the advent of the information and communications technology revolution,” ISESCO said. “The world now has digital as well as paper books and, in spite of this great leap achieved by humanity to disseminate knowledge and sciences, there is a critical shortage of reading rates, and a large segment of people lack access to books and intermediate technologies. In addition, certain categories of people, such as the visually impaired, do not benefit from a large number of publications.”

The ISESCO statement mentioned statistics that showed an increase in the proportion of published books compared with previous years, which were characterized by a decline in the sector. ISESCO said the functions of paper and digital books were evenly divided.

But the popularity of books and reading could not hide the difficulties and risks facing the written word, it added. Manuscripts faced destruction and theft in some areas of armed conflict and this phenomenon threatened Islamic culture and history, said ISESCO.

The body said that technology could be used to combat book piracy through practical measures such as standardizing legislation, closing legal loopholes and raising awareness about the dangers of piracy.

ISESCO called on member states to give attention to books and reading as well as people with special needs to help them access books.

 

Environment protection

Separately, ISESCO and the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection (PME) had a meeting on Friday in Rabat, Morocco, to discuss the Saudi Arabia Award for Environmental Management in the Islamic World (KSAAEM).

The meeting, held at ISESCO headquarters, was presided over by PME President Khalil bin Musleh Al-Thaqafi and ISESCO Director General, Abdul Aziz Othman Al-Twaijri.

The meeting hailed the support of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the efforts of the PME and ISESCO in the field of environmental protection in the Islamic world, including raising awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and encouraging scientific research through KSAAEM.

The two sides highlighted their coordination, consultation and cooperation to achieve common goals. Mohammed Hussein Al-Qahtani, PME’s director general of media and public relations, commended the efforts made in this area and the results, and said there was a need to develop the award’s media plan to expand its outreach.

Dr. Abdelamajid Tribak, from ISESCO’s Directorate of Science and Technology, gave a presentation on the activities of KSAAEM’s General Secretariat.

He said the number of nominees had risen this year compared to the previous year, with 200 entrants from 40 Islamic and non-Islamic countries.