The director of UN-HABITAT’s Regional Office for African and Arab States, Mr. Aloiune Badiane visited Baghdad during the last week of November, marking the first visit by a senior official of the agency since 2003.
The purpose of the visit was to participate in a two day joint review of pilot Governorate Housing Strategies being supported by UN-HABITAT, and to discuss housing and urban sector programme priorities with key Iraqi and donor partners.
Iraq’s housing and urban sectors are in dire need of institutional reform and massive capital investments to combat total breakdown of basic services, increasing unemployment and proliferation of slums. The workshop which included participation from senior central and local government officials agreed on the need for a nationwide scaling up of such strategy formulation with Iraqi funding and UN-HABITAT technical assistance.
A national workshop is now scheduled to take place in January 2009 to be inaugurated by Iraqi Prime Minister, Mr. Noori Maliki.
During his visit, Mr. Badiane held discussions with Mr. David Shearer, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Mr. Sidharth Chatterjee, UNAMI Chief of Staff, and the representatives of UNDP,UNHCR and UNICEF. He also met with Baghdad-based senior representatives of Denmark, the European Commission and Japan. But a meeting scheduled with the Iraqi Housing Minister was cancelled because of a last-minute security incident.
In talks with officials during his visit, Mr. Badiane called for a 10-year urban regeneration programme starting in 2010.
In his three-day visit, he said he had been able to witness first-hand the housing situation in the country and said the 10-year programme would help remedy the already worsening situation in the housing sector and infrastructure. Iraq’s urban sector is saddled with a dilapidated water and sanitation infrastructure and a shortfall of 1.3 million homes needed to accommodate people settling at home again after years of conflict.
He stressed the need of institutional reform and massive capital investment in Iraq to combat total breakdown of basic services, increasing unemployment and rapid increase of informal settlements.
“Given the length of unrest in this country a lot of things have been lost including infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, and waste management systems,” he said. “But having visited Baghdad and talking to donors, UN partners and Iraqi officials, I can conclude that the future should be better.”
He said the housing sector should be at the top of the reconstruction agenda in Iraq and that it would go a long way towards helping the country meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
Mr Badiane was impressed by the support and willingness expressed by the donor communities both inside and outside Iraq to continue working with UN-HABITAT in the country’s reconstruction.
A planned seminar gathering the government, donors, leading NGOs, civil society and UN agencies next month will be inaugurated by the Prime Minister, Mr. Maliki.
"UN-HABITAT will work closely with donors, partners and UN country teams in providing development assistance to post-war Iraq," he added. Mr. Badiane was accompanied during his visit by Mr. Babar K. Mumtaz, Senior Housing and urban consultant, Mr. Tarek El- Sheikh, Iraq Programme Housing specialist, and Mr. Sudipto Mukerjee, the Iraq UN-HABITAT Programme Manager.