Landmines, insecurity, lack of funding challenge Iraq reconstruction

Sunday 04/09/2016
In this January 4th, 2016 file photo, Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribal fighters help trapped civilians cross from neighbourhoods under control of the Islamic State to neighbourhoods under control of Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, 115km west

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.