UN-Habitat in Iraq: 25 Years of Improving People’s Living Conditions
12 May 2022
UN-Habitat Iraq celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The program looks proudly back at the many milestones in its history of improving living conditions in Iraq by accelerating recovery and promoting adequate housing, better access to basic services and sustainable urbanization.
In response of the drastic deterioration of living conditions and widespread impoverishment, particularly among internally displaced people (IDPs), the UN Secretariat called on UN-Habitat in early 1997 to act as the implementing agency for the multi-million Settlements Rehabilitation Programme setup to assist IDPs and other vulnerable groups in Iraq. Between 1997 and 2003, UN-Habitat build over 21,000 houses, 756 schools, 134 health centers, over 700 km of water mains and 200 km of sewers, nearly 3,000 KM of roads and 34 bridges in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It also oversaw the Housing Sector Observation Programme in Central and Southern Iraq, as well as the implementation of the Neighbourhoods Rehabilitation Project in Baghdad.
After 2003, UN-Habitat was largely engaged in early recovery efforts, supporting new waves of IDPs through the provision of shelter and reconstruction initiatives. In those years, UN-Habitat has also played an essential role in delivering technical assistance to central and local authorities facing unprecedented urbanization challenges to advise on policy making and strategies, including the National Urban Strategy and National Housing Policy in 2010 (which was reviewed and updated in 2018), upgrading informal settlements and supporting decentralized decision-making.
In 2014, as the country plummeted into a complex humanitarian crisis triggered by the occupation by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which caused the forced displacement of over 6 million people and the physical destruction of settlements affected by the fighting, the portfolio of UN-Habitat Iraq expanded to include both humanitarian and development programmes providing IDPs, Syrian refugees and host communities with dignified shelter and an improved living environment.
In the past 3 years, the agency has refocused its attention towards community-based reconstruction, rehabilitation of housing and basic services in urban settlements affected by the conflict, participatory design and creation of public open spaces, construction of low-cost housing units to support the return of vulnerable IDPs to their areas of origin, delivery of vocational training, and implementation of informal settlement upgrading projects, while continuing to provide technical assistance to local and national authorities in urban policy-making and city planning, urban heritage conservation, advocacy, data analysis, GIS mapping, climate change adaptation, and the protection of Housing, Land, and Property (HLP) rights of minorities and vulnerable groups.
Since its inception, UN-Habitat in Iraq has applied a people-centered approach and established a strong network of international and national partners. UN-Habitat remains steadfast in its commitment to strengthen further the long-standing partnership with the Government of Iraq to achieve its goals for improving the lives of citizens. The agency has served as the leading thinktank for sustainable urbanization and human settlements and has played an unique role in supporting the country attain nine of the ambitious indicators of SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Mr. Wael Al-Ashhab, Head of UN-Habitat Iraq, remarked: “The last 25 years have given us plenty of reasons to celebrate. This is an incredible milestone for any UN-Habitat office. If we look back at where we started and what we have achieved, since 1997 we have certainly made remarkable progress. The programme has reached this success through our staff’s dedication, commitment, and hard work.”
Finally, these accomplishments would not have been possible without the trust and generosity of numerous donors who provided funding, commitment, and support to UN-Habitat’s programmes and projects. UN-Habitat has also partnered with UN sister agencies and national counterparts to contribute to the recovery, peace-building and socio-economic stability of the country. These partnerships have strengthened UN-Habitat’s efforts and impact throughout its 25-year existence in Iraq.
On this auspicious occasion, UN-Habitat Iraq renews its commitment towards enhancing urban prosperity, scaling-up environmental sustainability, combating climate change and contributing to improved urban policies and legislation, by broadening its collaboration with international and national partners to align and accelerate the application of the New Urban Agenda and contribute to achieving the SDGs in Iraq.