Returnees in Yathrib, Iraq, helping rebuild their conflict affected communities amidst COVID-19
02 July 2020
The situation is very difficult due to Coronavirus pandemic. There are no jobs and no way to support our families. I was lucky to find out about this work
Yathrib, Iraq, 2 July 2020--- While living as an Internally Displaced Person in Baghdad for four years, 31-year-old Mohammed Madi Ahmad learned new skills in painting, plumbing, installation of false ceilings, electricity fixtures, and installation of fans, lighting and decoration.
Upon returning to his home town of Yathrib Mohammed is now able to apply his skills and is working as a daily labourer on various construction sites, while his 24-year-old wife stays home to take care of their two sons - two and one year old.
“The situation is very difficult due to Coronavirus pandemic. There are no jobs and no way to support our families. I was lucky to find out about this construction work and I thank God that I had a job for a month, and I hope there will be more opportunities like this in the future,” Mohammed says during the interview.
In this rural town of Yathrib, Governorate of Salah Al Din, just 45 kilometres north of Baghdad, returnees are rebuilding their lives with the assistance of UN-Habitat following several years of conflict with ISIL.
Since UN-Habitat’s contractors are requested to hire skilled and unskilled labourers locally, the construction works enabled 56 people from the neighbourhood, most of whom are recent returnees, to have jobs and earnings during the recent lockdown.
Like in other rural areas, the majority of people in Yathrib, many of whom are former IDPs and recent returnees, make their living working on either seasonal or daily jobs to make up for their low return on farming activities. The agricultural sector in these areas has suffered a decade of insecurity, conflict and under-investments in infrastructure. In recent months, job opportunities have become even scarcer due to the widespread COVID-19 pandemic and the country-wide lockdown, making it difficult for many to support their families.
Fortunately, the number of COVID-19 reported cases in the district has been among the lowest in Iraq since the beginning of the pandemic, which allowed UN-Habitat to continue with the EU-funded construction works and rehabilitation of houses that had started before the lockdown. Having the construction material delivered at the inception of the project and the fact that both labourers and supervising engineers live in the target neighbourhoods, UN-Habitat managed to complete rehabilitation of seven houses, the first batch of the planned rehabilitation of 120 houses, in the record time of just a few weeks.
“Prioritising the delivery of materials to the site was a key for successful completion of the activities. We are grateful that the local authorities were extremely supportive and approved the continuation of our ongoing works.
We took all preventive measures for our workers and engineers, such as wearing face masks and maintaining physical distancing,” said UN-Habitat Senior Programme Officer, Oday Lafta.
Even before the pandemic, UN-Habitat requested contractors to hire skilled and unskilled workers among unemployed residents of the target areas. This strategy has proven to be very successful as it not only gets the job done in a shorter time but it also supports local livelihoods. As emphasized during recent discussions hosted by UN-Habitat’s Urban-Rural Linkages unit, remote rural towns are likely to be more vulnerable to the socio-economy impact of this pandemic than dense urban areas because of their high dependency on the regular and reciprocal flow of people, food and goods between villages, towns and large cities. Providing jobs and income at the height of the pandemic is key to support rural communities in their recovery.
Soon after COVID-19 reached Iraq, UN-Habitat adopted strict preventive measures for all construction site workers and supervisors – including physical distancing of at least one metre at all times, mandatory wearing of personal protection such as face masks, measuring body temperature of all who enter the site and frequent hand washing.
“It makes me proud and happy that during the lockdown I didn’t have to go deeper in debt,” says Mohammed, noting that in the future, since he already knows many skills, he wishes to be able to pay off his debt and buy tools and equipment that will help him do his job better and earn more money as his children grow up.
Having a job and strong construction skills, Mohammed is certain that he will soon be able to rebuild his own house that was destroyed during the conflict and start cultivating his farmland, which was torched during their displacement.
So far, UN-Habitat has created 150 jobs for skilled and unskilled workers from Yathrib through a series of area-based integrated projects. These included the rehabilitation of the Emergency Unit of the local Medical Centre, the extension of the water network to 400 homes, rehabilitation of war-damaged houses and the on-going cleaning of an irrigation canal. All of these interventions are being undertaken within the four-year-long EU-funded programme ‘Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development,’ implemented by UNDP in partnership with UN-Habitat.