Mosul, Iraq (AFP):
Five years after it emerged from the control of ISIS, Iraq’s once thriving cultural centre of Mosul has regained a semblance of normalcy despite sluggish reconstruction efforts.
However, like in much of oil-rich but war-ravaged Iraq, ramshackle public services and deep economic difficulties continue to hamper people’s daily lives.
Ghazwan Turki is just one of Mosul’s many residents who struggle to make ends meet in the former IS stronghold, where the militants had declared the establishment of a so-called “caliphate” in 2014.
Mosul urgently needs “job opportunities for families that have no income, to improve their living conditions”, Turki said.
The father of 12 and aged in his 40s, who lived for years in displacement camps, juggles shifts as a taxi driver and different odd jobs.
“We have to borrow money and get into debt to cover half of our family’s needs,” said Turki, who shares a single-storey house with his brother.
While acknowledging “progress” in rebuilding efforts, he described “overcrowded schools, where there are 60 or 70 students to a classroom”.
Iraqi forces with the help of a US-led coalition wrested back Mosul in July 2017 after gruelling street fighting. Iraq claimed victory over IS on December 9 that year.
Signs of reconstruction dot the city of 1.5 million, with workers constructing a new bridge, and cafes and restaurants buzzing.
But many buildings and public hospitals are still in ruins, and in the Old City, some areas are still just piles of rubble.
‘Lack of jobs’
Mosul, Iraq’s second city, has historically been among the Arab world’s most culturally significant settlements — a hub for trade and home to mosques, churches, shrines, tombs and libraries.
Today, in the wider Nineveh province, a third of people are estimated to be unemployed and 40 percent live in poverty, according to local authorities.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which has provided aid to some 100,000 Mosul residents, has noted “rising unemployment, high dropout rates (at schools), and limited economic opportunities across the city”.
NRC’s communication coordinator Noor Taher said that although reconstruction continues, many people are particularly worried about “under-resourced schools, overstretched teachers and lack of jobs”.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says that “economic conditions in Mosul remain dire for many families”.
An IRC survey of over 400 homes reported “an alarming spike” in child labour, with around 90 percent of families sending at least one minor to work and some three-quarters toiling in “informal and dangerous roles” such as construction, or litter and scrap metal collection.
Mayor Amin al-Memari said the city was working on several “strategic projects”, but funding remained a key obstacle.
Despite the construction of about 350 schools in just two years, Mosul still needs 1,000 more to end the “chokehold” in education, Memari added.
There is also “a significant shortage in the health sector,” he said, with more hospitals needed, including with oncology and cardiovascular surgery departments.