Landmines, insecurity, lack of funding challenge Iraq reconstruction
Baghdad - “It is a second Hiroshima. The destruction is staggering. The whole place has been turned into a ghost city,” said Kamel Mubarak Eid, describing al-Baker neighbourhood in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad, where his home once stood.
The 57-year-old was looking forward to resettling in the city but landmines and unexploded ordnance, insecurity and poor funding have prevented him and other displaced inhabitants from returning eight months after Ramadi was liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS).
“The scene of destruction and desolation is just beyond description. It wiped out the joy of returning to Ramadi after its liberation from Daesh,” Eid said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The destruction extends to nearly every part of the city, once home to 1 million people and now virtually empty. That did not discourage Eid from partially rebuilding his home. “I borrowed 10 million dinars ($8,000) to rehabilitate part of the house. The complete reconstruction necessitates more than double the amount, which I simply cannot afford,” he said.
“The local government is not moving a single finger to help us. I have filed many demands to have the damage assessed for compensation payment but all my hopes vanished because the local authorities suffer from a deep financial crisis,” Eid added.
The number of displaced from Anbar governorate amounts to one-third of the total displaced population of 3.2 million who fled ISIS assaults two years ago. Many have taken refuge in Kurdistan in the north and provinces in the south.
Mohamad Ali Hamadi is another displaced person from Ramadi who decided to repair his home at his own expense instead of waiting for the Iraqi government.
“I had to pay from my own pocket to have the rubble removed and clear the place from landmines and explosives,” Hamadi said. “Ramadi’s houses and streets are all littered with mines. ISIS has booby-trapped everything. The vast quantity of mines could level the entire city or what is left of it.”
Although Ramadi remains an unsafe city, Hamadi returned with his wife and 12 children, who have been displaced for almost two years living in a single room in Baghdad.
“I can afford to fix only one section of the house. The authorities have abandoned us amid the vast destruction. It requires robust efforts, both local and international, to restore the city to its previous state,” he said.
A UN analysis of satellite imagery in February showed that approximately 5,700 buildings in Ramadi and its outskirts had sustained some level of damage since mid- 2014. Almost 2,000 buildings had been destroyed.
The staggering devastation of Ramadi and fear of landmines pushed Thabet Mohamad, a 35-year-old teacher, to settle in Baghdad after fleeing the ISIS assault.
“I am sort of settled in the capital and my life is somehow stable. One of my houses in Ramadi was destroyed and the second one has sustained extensive damage. In light of the current economic crisis in the country and the unstable security situation, I don’t think any reconstruction project will see the light anytime soon. That is why I don’t even contemplate the possibility of going back to Ramadi,” Mohamad said.
Faleh al-Issawi, the deputy head of the provincial council in the mostly Sunni Anbar province, noted that the extent of destruction varied in the province’s main cities but Ramadi sustained the most damage.
“In the city of Hit, destruction was estimated at only 3%, whereas in Falluja it is 17% and in Ramadi it is around 70%,” Issawi said.
The official acknowledged the government’s failure to give compensation for war damage, noting that neither the local authorities nor the central government in Baghdad had a budget for reconstruction.
“We were able to secure modest amounts that we used to carry out some infrastructure restoration projects in the badly damaged cities,” Issawi said, adding that the United Nations pledged to fund seven reconstruction projects in Falluja and 40 in Ramadi.
Seif Maamar, the head of the media office for the Anbar governor, argued that close coordination at the highest levels is taking place between the governorate and the central government in Baghdad to get reconstruction efforts on track. “Re-establishing security in the liberated areas starts with the restoration of primary public services and the reconstruction of government buildings and institutions in cooperation with the United Nations,” Maamar said.
He acknowledged that the committee in charge of assessing damage and handling applications for compensation has not disbursed any money due to the lack of allocation by the central government.
Economic expert Bassem Jamil Antoine said Iraq needs about $60 billion to ensure the reconstruction of areas, including Ramadi, recaptured from ISIS. “Iraq will not be able to afford the reconstruction of these cities without international efforts and aid,” he said.
The reconstruction of Ramadi and other devastated Iraqi cities and the return of their displaced residents will be among the biggest challenges for the international community to face.