(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Meat, light and water become luxuries

[Iraq] Iraq Reconciliation. [Date picture taken: 09/25/2006]
Saeed Kudaimati/IRIN

The tenth in a series of IRIN stories examining the obstacles Iraq faces in implementing its government’s plan to reconcile different sections of Iraqi society. Click on the following link for an overview of the series: Iraq reconciliation series overview

Kawkab Sami wakes up at 5 o’clock every morning to clean her house and feed her four children breakfast before getting them off to school. As a resident of Baghdad, the 35-year-old widow says she lives in constant fear of a bomb killing her children and herself at any moment.

Her husband was killed by US troops in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Her children are between the ages of 4 and 10.

With only a few hours of power a day at home, no clean water, and broken sewer pipes in the road outside, Sami cries every night, worried about how long she will be able to take care of her family and keep them healthy.

“I cannot afford a generator and special filter for the water because my salary is hardly enough for the main needs of my children,” said Sami who, as a primary school teacher, earns US $200 a month.

“People tell me that I have to boil the [tap] water before I drink it, but I will need to use gas to do that and it is so expensive. The only thing I can do is pray my children do not get sick from it,” she added.

Sami’s basic costs add up quickly. She pays US $80 a month to rent a small house in a suburb of the capital; $30 a month for milk for the children and US $16 a month on cooking gas. That leaves her with less than $3 a day to feed, clothe and buy other necessities for herself and her children.

“Meat is like gold in Iraq,” Sami said, adding that good meat costs US $7 per kilo. “Because I cannot afford that, most of the time we have eggs, which are cheaper. Two or three times a month I buy meat for us, which is seen by my children as a gift.” Fortunately, Sami’s neighbours help her with some food from time to time.

Millions suffering

Her family is typical of millions of Iraqis who are suffering from a lack of basic needs because of an increasingly dire security situation.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a 24-point national reconciliation plan on 25 June aimed at stemming the violence in the country and addressing the needs of the population.

One of the objectives of the plan is to accelerate reconstruction and create jobs, thereby boosting the economy. Nearly 60 percent of Iraqis are unemployed, according to NGOs, a figure confirmed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Ensuring people can work and have access to basic needs are seen by NGOs as essential elements to stemming the tide of violence in Iraq.

“The lack of essential needs has provoked revolt from the population, and without controls it generates more violence and lack of support to the parliament which is running the country,” said Nissirin Hummam, public officer manager of the Bagdhad-based Iraq Aid Association.

“If the Iraq government focuses at least on power, water and sanitation, for sure Iraqis will feel more comfortable, and this can change the picture in Iraq. Locals are not asking too much but just what any human being would need; but they do not have it, while knowing that they live in one of the richest countries [in terms of natural resources] in this world,” she added.

Power, clean water and sewage treatment are the most pressing needs for Iraqis.

“Electricity in Iraq is going from bad to worse, and every month we have fewer hours of power,” said Salahdinne Alawi, 52, a shopkeeper in Baghdad. “And in addition, the water: before 2003 it was clean and healthy, but today it is not recommended for drinking, making the lives of ordinary Iraqis more difficult instead of improving them.”

Slow reconstruction

Government officials acknowledge that reconstruction is moving slowly due to corruption and a lack of security.

In the early days of the US-led occupation of Iraq in 2003, US and Iraqi officials announced nearly 6,000 projects to repair and upgrade the country’s infrastructure, said Ibrahim Ahmed, media officer in the Ministry of Reconstruction and Development.

“But only 35 percent of them have been finished, and the main reason is the lack of funds and the increase in violence against employees,” Ahmed said.

“To fix the infrastructure of the country you do not need only to rebuild destroyed buildings but generate with it new jobs. This will improve the living conditions of thousands of Iraqis and in meantime allow the population to have the choice of working for a salary [instead of] taking part in terrorism,” he added.

Ahmed pointed out that from the initial 475 electricity projects proposed for reconstruction, only 350 are expected to be completed by mid-2007 because a large amount of money has been diverted to security issues, he said.

Lack of money is also greatly impacting the quality of education and health services in Iraq.

In addition, 30 percent inflation over the past year makes it increasingly difficult for families to afford food. At least 70 percent of the population depends on food rations - nearly double the percentage of dependency during former president Saddam Hussein’s time, according to government officials and NGOs.

“Iraqis have never required food rations as they do now. Their situation is critical, and poverty has increased along with unemployment,” said Ibrahim Abdel Rahman, spokesperson for Peace and Charity for Iraqis, a Baghdad-based NGO.

“If urgent action is not taken soon, Iraq will become a huge land of poor people navigating over a river of oil,” he added.


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