Senior United Nations officials and representatives of donor governments gathered in the Spanish capital Madrid on Thursday for two days of talks aimed finding the funds and political consensus to rebuild Iraq. Set to play a major role if called upon, UN-HABITAT has a new game plan for longer-term urban rehabilitation and governance, and a fresh strategy for immediate needs. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Madrid donors’ conference on the future of Iraq was “off to a good start,” towards the country's reconstruction in “a robust and determined manner.” Speaking after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Mr Annan told reporters: “I think the conference is off to a good start. First of all, early last week the Security Council unanimously agreed on a resolution on Iraq.”
More than 70 countries and multilateral organisations are attending the two-day meeting in Madrid, which has the strong backing of the United States. Washington is seeking more than $30 billion dollars in pledges, but donations are expected to fall short of that target.
Besides Mr. Annan, other senior UN officials at the conference include Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, and Mark Malloch-Brown, the UNDP 's Administrator, under whom UN-HABITAT's delegation will participate.
The United Nations Development Group and the World Bank initiated the Iraq UNDG/World Bank Joint Needs Assessment following high-level technical meetings held in New York on Humanitarian Relief and Reconstruction, on 23-24 June 2003.
Organized into 14 sectors, the Joint Needs Assessment offers recommended actions for reconstruction. UN-HABITAT is the Task Manager for the Housing Sector that includes urban management, housing and property restitution. Under the auspices of the Joint Needs Assessment, UN-HABITAT and the World Bank undertook a series of missions in Iraq that culminated in the Housing Sector Report.
A wealth of experience
UN-HABITAT has a wealth of experience in post-conflict societies such as Afghanistan, Kosovo and Timor Leste. In Iraq, UN-HABITAT has a well established countrywide operational network set up in 1997 under the Oil-for-Food programme. Initially, the agency provided through local contractors tents and homes for 350,000 internally displaced persons. Later it helped provide a further 21,000 housing units, 475 primary schools, 220 secondary schools, 130 health centres, 560 kilometres of water and sewerage systems, 2,700 kilometres of roads, 110 facilities to support community activities. In work still underway, it created thousands of jobs for women and men.
But on 19 August, a devastating bomb attack on the United Nations headquarters claimed the lives of several staff throwing into question and disarray the future role of UN-HABITAT and other UN agencies. UN security ordered the withdrawal of all international staff, putting most operations on hold. The return of the United Nations to Iraq now under discussion in Madrid is taking place in a substantially new environment that will have a profound impact on its operations and resource requirements.
UN-HABITAT’s new Reconstruction Plan
Iraq’s total population is estimated at 26 million, with close to 70 per cent of the population living in cities. UN-HABITAT’s new Reconstruction Plan articulates a comprehensive and holistic vision for urban reconstruction. Its surveys have found that growth of a few urban centres, notably in the capital Baghdad and the southern city of Basra, has been impressive in the last 30 years. Population estimates show remarkable growth of Baghdad in particular, from just over 500,000 in 1947 to close to 6 million today. In northern Iraq, towns like Dahuk, Arbil, and Sulymaniyah have experienced very rapid growth, triggered by the unsettled conditions that prevailed in the region.
The UN-HABITAT Reconstruction Plan thus provides for sustainable housing and urban development based on a vision of government playing an enabling role for the private sector, local authorities and civil society, revitalising Iraqi institutions, based on equitable participatory decision-making processes and alleviating urban poverty.
It promotes revised policies for renewing housing delivery and upgrading, improving urban planning and management, encouraging good local governance, and addressing specific urban sub-sectors such as water supply, sanitation and solid waste management, land management, and public transport.
Working closely in partnership with UNDP, UN-HABITAT is the lead United Nations agency for Cities and Human Settlements. Its survey of the housing sector has shown a rapidly deteriorating stock of housing due both to neglect and to inadequate capital investment. Too many people still live in sub-standard shelter and unplanned neighbourhoods. There is insufficient capacity for lending or investment. Land and property management systems lack resources and equipment. An impoverished private sector is reluctant to risk capital. Adequate rental housing supply is limited.
Thus priorities in the plan include assessing and reviving existing property registration systems, improving living conditions in unplanned and sub-standard neighbourhoods, developing and modernising institutional capacities at central and local levels, re-establishing supply capacity for service and housing provision, and undertaking a nation-wide housing analysis to revise national and local policies. The Madrid meeting comes days after the UN Security Council approved a US resolution calling for a multinational force and aid for Iraq from the world community.
UN-HABITAT is prepared to explain to donor governments its proven expertise in developing legal and practical frameworks, through participatory development practice, in support of new central and local government institutions responsible for spatial and human settlements planning and management. It is also in a position to help transform Iraqi local government from an appendage of centralised decision making, financing and policy making, into a competent custodian of local development, participation and constructive support to central government. The agency is also ready to help the Iraqi Ministry of Housing and Construction transform itself from a public agency that contracted its work out it into a democratically based properly functioning organisation.
The strategy envisages the placement of a strong team of international and Iraqi policy advisors in the Ministries of Housing and Construction, Public Works, Planning, and Justice. The team can help them review policies and organisation in key areas such as urban and regional planning, housing policy including gender and environment policies, information management, training and capacity building, and decentralisation and institutional relations.
An immediate needs strategy
UN-HABITAT also has a plan for immediate measures that provide an emergency response for urgent needs in shelter and urban management. It provides a new starting point for the country - a fresh point of departure for the longer term goals outlined above.
Besides helping other UN agencies deal with the immediate needs of displaced and dispossessed people, refugees and returnees, UN-HABITAT will specially focus on a range of needs to assist those who are physically challenged, orphans, households headed by women, the urban poor, and school children and students.
It is based on a number of Iraqi-driven projects related to quick repair of damaged buildings and water services, solid waste systems development and management; deeper assessment of housing and shelter sector issues, and capacity building of both community and professional practitioners. See also: http://www.unhabitat.org/iraq/