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Urgency to build houses in remote north before winter

[Iraq] Houses being built in the mountainous town of Biyara close to the Iraq/Iran border. IRIN
Houses for the displaced being built in the mountainous northern Iraqi town of Biyara close to the Iranian border.
In the town of Biyara nestled in the mountains of northern Iraq, nobody is poorer than Bahar Kakahan. Three years ago, the radical Islamist group in control here until last spring took her husband away. Since his disappearance, she hasn't had a house she could call her own. In winter, she, her elderly father, brother, two sisters and four children cram into her father-in-law's three-room house. They spend summers camping out in a wood above the town, sleeping in a four-by-four-metre shack offered by the local mosque. Their garden fence is the Iranian border, their neighbours Iranian border guards and the occasional US patrol. Kakahan and her family should be among 100 Biyara families moving into new houses before the cold returns at the end of October. But the building project, funded to the tune of $300,000 by Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) and implemented by local NGO Civilisation Development Organisation (CDO), both based in Sulaymaniyah, has been plagued by problems. "For a start, it took us two months to find a place to start building," CDO project manager Zana Raza, told IRIN. The local family that owned the spur overlooking Biyara knew theirs was the only suitable land in the area and they struck a hard, and protracted bargain. Construction work finally began late in May, with masons paid by CDO assisting family members with the work. The houses, 80 on the spur and 20 built on the ruins of buildings destroyed during last spring's US-led attack on the town, are to be made entirely of stone, the best material to resist Biyara's harsh winters. Around 30 houses are now nearing completion, with work more advanced on those inside the town. "It's tough work," Mohamed Hasan, a security guard, told IRIN. Like most of the people due to live here, he fled Biyara when Ansar al-Islam held sway. He returned last year to find his house gone, and has great difficulty finding the money to pay for rented accommodation. "Four men could finish a house in a month," he added, "if we had all the materials we needed." The trouble is, he doesn't. Fuelled by a decision by the local administration to subsidise building in the city of Sulaymaniyah, the construction boom in this southern half of Iraqi Kurdistan is now so massive that there is no longer enough concrete to go around. Like private contractors, NGOs have now found their supplies of it rationed. CDO's budgeting has also been put out of kilter by sharp rises in the cost of both skilled labour and materials. "Even after the delays in finding a suitable place for construction, I was still optimistic that work would be finished before the end of October," Biyara's municipality chief, Raghib Abed, told IRIN. "Because of the new problems with construction materials, I fear these people may have to wait until next year for their new houses."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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