Access to education and other basic services is a critical component of the socio-economic infrastructure of sustainable human settlements and UN-HABITAT, as part of its global mandate, makes every effort to assist with programmes to improve educational access, especially for persons living in poverty.
In Iraq, over two decades of war, economic sanctions, mismanagement and neglect resulted in the severe deterioration of educational facilities. A survey carried out by the World Bank and the UN in 2003 showed that over 70% of the 14,000 schools could not provide minimum standards of comfort and sanitation and were in urgent need of rehabilitation. Other surveys carried out by UNICEF showed that the sanitation facilities were either lacking or in deplorable condition in most of the schools, a situation that was contributing to low attendance rates among girls. The Ministry of Education had long been reporting declining rates of enrollment and high dropout rates. Many school buildings were so severely damaged by war and looting that they could no longer be used. Furthermore, because no new schools had been constructed in the center and south of Iraq for over 12 years, the existing schools suffered from overcrowding and congestion with, some buildings having to accommodate up to 3 shifts in 1 day. As recently as June 2005, the Ministry of Education estimated that an additional 2,500 new classrooms were needed to address the problem of overcrowding at existing schools.
It was in this situation that UN-HABITAT, as a member of Cluster B (Education and Cultutre) commenced a programme to assist the people of Iraq to rehabilitate and expand the educational infrastructure as a means of improving access to education, reducing drop out rates and helping to stabilize the society. A secondary objective of the school rehabilitation programme has been to generate income and employment opportunities in the construction sector, and to help to build the capacity of the small enterprise sector as an instrument to expand sustainable livelihoods for the urban poor.
With funding of $11.4 million ($6.1 million from the Government of Japan and $5.27 million from the UNDG Trust Fund), UN-HABITAT has now successfully completed two out of three projects to rehabilitate and expand school infrastructure in Iraq, focusing on the lower south and Baghdad (the third project which is located in Baghdad is expected to be completed in April, 2006). The two projects have delivered the following:
- Comprehensive rehabilitation of 165 schools in Samawa, Basrah and Nassiriya
- Rehabilitation of sanitation facilities at 60 schools in Nassiriya and Basrah
- Supply of furniture for 55 schools in Nassiriya, Basrah and Samawa
- Construction of over 300 additional classrooms.
The projects are now providing an improved learning and teaching environment for over 80,000 students and teachers in the cities of Basrah, Samawa and Nassiriya in the lower south region of Iraq. The project beneficiaries have reported significant improvements in enrollment and attendance rates, a corresponding reduction in dropout rates and an environment that is now conducive to learning. Students in Samawa after their school was rehabilitated
The implementation strategy adopted by UN-HABITAT was to work with small local contractors from the communities where the rehabilitation projects were located and to adopt labour intensive methods as a means of stimulating employment. During the implementation of the two projects, over 700,000 person days of employment were created and a total of 170 small Iraqi contractors were awarded rehabilitation contracts, helping to generate income opportunities in a region of Iraq that had long been neglected by the central authorities.Students at a Primary School after rehabilitation
Before and After Photographs of a Primary School showing the impact of the rehabilitation works