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

1 / 3
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)
2 / 3
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)
3 / 3
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
0

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.


First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

Updated 22 February 2019
0

First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

  • President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
  • EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the gathering is about much more than migration
CAIRO: European and Arab leaders are to hold their first summit Sunday, in what the top EU diplomat sees as a chance to boost cooperation across a troubled Mediterranean region.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss topics like security, trade, development and migration.
Wars and conflicts in places such as Syria and Libya are on the agenda at a summit guarded by the security forces who are fighting a bloody jihadist insurgency a short distance to the north.
But analysts voiced doubts over how much progress can be made, with Europe split over migration and Arab countries still grappling with the fallout from Arab Spring revolutions.
European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria in September amid efforts to agree ways to curb the illegal migration that has sharply divided the 28-nation bloc.
But checking migration is only part of Europe’s broader strategy to forge a new alliance with its southern neighbors.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insists that the gathering in Egypt of more than 40 heads of state and government is about much more than migration.
“We will have frank, open discussions, not only on migration, definitely not,” Mogherini told journalists in Brussels on Monday.
“We will have first of all discussions on our economic cooperation, on our common region,” she said.
“That is a troubled region but also full of opportunities.”
Attending will be Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of EU member countries, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
EU officials said 25 European heads of state and government will attend.
These include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who could also discuss the stalemate over Brexit on the sidelines.
Apart from El-Sisi, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will attend from the 22-member Arab League, which is based in Cairo. It is not yet clear who else will be present.
A UN official warned that Europe’s failure to bridge divisions on migration “risks blocking all the other discussions” at the summit.
“How do you discuss an issue if you can’t even mention it!” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said EU countries like Hungary refuse to mention migration because they oppose asylum seekers and migrants, particularly from Muslim countries.
The EU has struck aid-for-cooperation agreements with Turkey and Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, which has sharply cut the flow of migrants since a 2015 peak.
But the official said broader cooperation with the Arab League, which includes Libya, is limited without the EU being able to speak in one voice.
Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Tunisia and Libya, said the summit will struggle “to establish a dialogue between two sides who are confronted with their own challenges.”
The meeting comes as “the Arab countries are still feeling the effects of the revolutions started in 2011,” Pierini told AFP.
“Arab League unity is in trouble,” said Pierini, now an analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank.
With expectations low for EU-Arab progress, the focus may shift to EU efforts to break the logjam over Britain’s looming exit from the bloc on March 29.
Britain’s Philip Hammond said May would have an “opportunity” in Egypt to discuss Brexit with her EU counterparts who have balked at her requests for concessions to sell the divorce to her parliament.
But officials in Brussels and London have played down the prospect of a Brexit “deal in the desert” to try to ensure an orderly departure.