In Iraq, a country most recognized for its oil production, it’s the micro – small – and medium-enterprises (MSMEs) that bring life and colour to the streets. Despite being the ‘small’ players in business, the private sector (excluding oil) accounts for close to 60% of employment, with MSMEs active in the widest range of sectors and with the greatest opportunities for youth.

In Basra City and Al-Qurna, two cities in the largest oil producing region in the nation, the unemployment rate has risen to at least 30% in recent years. Largely attributed to the lack of government employment opportunities and the skills mismatch of the growing youth demographic, investment in micro- small- and medium-enterprises is bringing new hope and opportunities for economic development.

Since mid-2019, the United Nations Development Programming (UNDP), in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), has provided targeted support to 319 new and established MSMEs across Basra City and Al-Qurna through business development training and cash-grants. The training worked to build skills that would enable enterprise growth, such as finance and accounting, marketing, human resources and employment management, as well as soft skills such as communication, leadership, negotiation skills, decision making and problem solving.

“I learned the importance of good leadership,” says Labieb, 57, father-of-5 and owner of a cherry and nuts store in Basra City. “I also learned how to best deal with customers and be part of a team.” Following completion of his training and receiving his cash-grant, Labieb was able to hire an additional staff member to manage increased stock and customers and enjoyed a 15% increase in profits.

But like most other cities around the world, the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 was also felt in Basra and Al-Qurna. Businesses took all precaution to prevent the spread of the virus, ensuring the safety of both staff and customers by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and adhering to the government curfews, with limited operating hours. By demonstrating solidarity, these business owners were not only able to continue making a livelihood for themselves and their employees, but to set an example for the community.

“As a business owner, I am empowered to build something successful – that I created the plan for, and that enables me to give back to the community,” explains Hisham, 40, father-of-2 and owner of a small five-a-side football stadium in Abu Al-Khaseeb.

For Kawthar and Jenan, both mothers-of-five and owners of successful beauty salons in Basra and Al-Qurna respectively, hygiene and care are always a big part of their daily work. “After receiving the grant, I was able to hire three new staff members and saw my profits increase by 40% – this is because I put together a good business plan, but also because we take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves and others safe,” says Kawther.

MSMEs continue to face challenges to their growth during COVID-19 pandemic, limiting their capacity to hire additional employees, but with the recognition and support they need, could MSMEs be the way forward for economic growth in Iraq?

Sustainable livelihoods through small business development and job placement in Basra

Together with NRC, and generous funding support from the Government of Japan, UNDP has supported 319 MSMEs through training and cash-grants and placed 125 individuals in jobs through private sector partnerships, since mid-2019.

(Source: UNDP)

By John Lee.

Dar Al-Shifa Hospital has been opened in Al-Zubair district in Basra Province.

The hospital, a private-sector investment project which created 100 new jobs and cost $24 million, has a capacity of 60 beds, five operating theatres, an ophthalmology centre, a dental clinic, a maternity ward, an emergency department, laboratories and a pharmacy.

The Iraqi Government said it encourages private investment in Iraq’s health infrastructure as part of its strategy to build a modern and accessible healthcare system.

(Source: Iraqi Government)

Siemens Energy and the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity have signed a contract for the Al Hamudhia substation, which will provide reliable and efficient power supply to the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah, Saqlawyah, Khalediyah and surrounding areas in Al Anbar governorate, North West of Baghdad.

Located about 20 kilometers away from Ramadi city, the turnkey 400- kilovolt (kV) Al Hamudhia substation will support greater grid connectivity and allows for a higher utilization of the Al Anbar power plant’s generated power, supporting anticipated energy demand growth of 10% annually.

Ammar Mohammed Kadhim, General Director of Planning and Studies Department, Iraqi Ministry of Electricity and the Head of the Japanese loan team “IQP22” projects at the Ministry, which are being financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said:

A top priority for the new government of Iraq is rebuilding the country’s power infrastructure. Upgrading and strengthening the Iraqi power grid is crucial to this ambitious plan, which will ultimately support Iraq’s economic, industrial and infrastructure development.

“We’re already working on comprehensive grid projects across the country in collaboration with international partners, like Siemens, to deploy the most reliable and advanced technologies.

The new substation will connect up to 750 Megavolt Amperes (MVA) to the national grid, helping decrease bottlenecks and transmission losses. Construction of Al Hamudhia station is expected to start in July 2020, and is scheduled for completion in July 2022.

Mahmoud Hanafy, Senior Vice President, Transmission Solutions at Siemens Energy, Middle East, said:

The new substation will support in providing reliable power to the homes and industries in the governorate of Al Anbar.

“Our grid technology enables more reliable, sustainable, efficient and flexible power systems. From transporting electricity from power plants to the distribution stations, all the way to the citizens, our ability to optimize flexibility and efficiency will contribute to boosting the transmission infrastructure of Iraq.

Part of the JICA’s projects in Iraq, the 400-kV Al Hamudhia’s scope of work includes the design, construction, equipment supply, erection, testing and commissioning and training of personnel. The project will be completed by Siemens Energy’s engineers in collaboration with specialized local Iraqi subcontractors.

The company is currently building 13, 132/33-kilovolt substations as part of the Siemens Roadmap for the Electrification of Iraq. These projects aim to strengthen the country’s electricity transmission and distribution network – with a particular focus on the governorate of Basra as well as the other governorates that are located in the middle and south of the country. Siemens is also supplying 35 power transformers to support the Iraqi power grid.

In April 2019, Siemens and the Government of Iraq signed an agreement to implement Phase 1 of the Roadmap, which is designed to meet the country’s reconstruction and power sector goals, and includes the addition of new and highly-efficient power generation capacity, rehabilitation and upgrade of existing power plants and the expansion of transmission and distribution networks. Following Siemens Roadmap for the Electrification of Iraq agreement, 791 MW of electricity has already been added to the country’s grid.

(Source: Siemens)

By Azhar Al-Ruabie for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Basra, the richest city in Iraq with little water to drink

Iraq’s third-largest city, Basra, was once called “Venice of the East” due to the numerous water canals and bridges meandering throughout the entire city.

This description is no longer true, as the Shatt al-Arab (“Stream of the Arabs”) and its branches have become polluted with algae, bacteria, chemical toxins, and waste products from humans, hospitals and factory residuals.

Click here to read the full story.

Timely $10 million USAID contribution protects more communities against COVID-19 outbreak

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed over US$10 million recently to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq, allowing the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to scale-up its response to the pandemic into three additional governorates.

The funds – pledged under UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization for activities implemented in partnership with the Government of Iraq – will be used to rehabilitate healthcare facilities and provide medical equipment and furniture to hospitals in the originally-identified priority locations of Basra, Duhok, Karbala, Kirkuk, Najaf, and Ninewa, as well as three additional areas: Babil, Dhi Qar and Maysan.

Funding will also be used to rehabilitate the East Mosul Medical Fluid Factory – one of the largest in Iraq, and a critical source of medical supplies to government hospitals, primary healthcare centres and pharmacies. The factory was severely damaged in the ISIL conflict.

“The steep rise in COVID-19 cases detected over the past few weeks is gravely concerning and shows that the virus has not yet reached its peak in Iraq,” says Resident Representative of UNDP Iraq, Zena Ali Ahmad.

“USAID’s generous contribution comes at exactly the right time, allowing us to target even more communities by expanding our geographical scope to an additional three underserved governorates. As our biggest donor, we’re extremely grateful for USAID’s continued dedication to putting vulnerable communities first, and leaving no-one behind,” she adds.

“The United States is proud to support this work to combat COVID-19 and assist the people of Iraq; this work will directly support citizens throughout the country to get the high-quality treatment they need to fight coronavirus,” said Dana Mansuri, USAID Mission Director.

USAID joins Belgium, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden as key partners supporting UNDP Iraq’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Source: UN)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s parliament has approved the appointment of the former head of the Basra Oil Company (BOC) as Minister for Oil.

Variously named as Ihsan Ismaeel, Ihsan Abdul Jabbar Ismail, and Ihsan Ismaael, he was one of seven cabinet ministers approved on Saturday, completing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s 22-member government.

The other posts filled were foreign affairs, trade, culture, agriculture, justice and migration.

According to Al Jazeera, Fuad Hussein, who served as finance minister in the previous government, is the only member of the old government to join the new team, returning as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The veteran Kurdish politician is reported to be close to Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.

(Sources: AFP, Iraq Oil Report, Reuters, Al Jazeera)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has fought the pandemic with every tool at its disposal to save lives and support countries with limited COVID-19 response capacity, including Iraq.

WHO and Iraqi health authorities proactively coordinated a comprehensive response to the pandemic as early as January 2020. WHO Iraq scaled up the country’s readiness and response operations mechanism, as well as its pandemic preparedness plan of action.

“The Government of Iraq, with the full support of WHO, mobilized resources at an early stage of the pandemic to contain its transmission,” said Dr Adham R. Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “National, regional and local authorities implemented strong measures to reduce the number of cases and suppress the rapid spread of the virus.”

Before Iraq’s first COVID-19 case was reported on 24 February 2020, WHO coordinated with several important actions taken by the Ministry of Health at both central and regional level. These early actions included enhancing coordination and planning among all stakeholders and partners at national and international levels, communicating with communities about the risks and how people could protect themselves, and ensuring capacity was in place to find, isolate, test, trace every contact, and treat every case.

On 9 March, a joint technical team from the WHO Regional Office and WHO headquarters arrived in Iraq to assess the capacity of the Iraqi Ministry of Health and health facilities on disease detection and case management. The team provided guidance to address gaps and improve the health measures taken by the government. Designated hospitals were prepared to respond to a potential spike in cases, and health workers were trained on infection prevention and case management.

WHO support to the national health authorities also included active surveillance, situation assessment and analysis, and awareness-raising sessions targeting first-line staff at border points and airports. 1800 Ministry of Health mobile teams carried out social mobilization campaigns and distributed WHO awareness material all over Iraq.

Rapid response teams were mobilized to carry out country-wide awareness raising, contact tracing, and testing activities, including disseminating infection prevention and control messages and guidelines.

Case management and continuity of essential services, in addition to logistics, procurement and supply management were among the priority actions.

The provision of laboratory services was also a focus. Direct cooperation between WHO and the COVID-19 Crisis Cell of Basra University succeeded in April 2020 in producing urgently-needed laboratory supplies to speed up the testing of suspected cases. This significant achievement was later replicated by other countries in the Region.

WHO lead a series of activities encouraging adherence to the lockdown and avoidance of mass gatherings that could lead to an increase in the numbers of cases. In March, the WHO Representative visited the religious Supreme Seminary in Najaf and recommended the postponement of religious gatherings. “WHO commends the stance of the Supreme Seminary in support of WHO and Ministry of Health recommendations and commends its positive response in encouraging the people of Iraq people to follow health preventive measures and recommendations,” said Dr Ismail.

(Source: WHO)

Perceptions of Police, Security and Governance in Iraq: IOM Study

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Yale Law School‘s Center for Global Legal Challenges (GLC) are releasing a new report that evaluates community perceptions of police and security in three communities across Iraq.

This new study – Perceptions of Police, Security and Governance in Iraq – presents evidence from an assessment of IOM Iraq’s ‘Community Policing’ Programme, implemented alongside the Government of Iraq Ministry of Interior.

The study is based on data from two waves of surveys conducted in three communities where the programme was implemented in 2019: Baradiyah (Basra Governorate), Hamdaniyah (Ninewa Governorate), and Jubeil (Anbar Governorate).

Community policing (CP) is a method of law enforcement defined by the United Nations as “a strategy for encouraging the public to act as partners with the police in preventing and managing crime as well as other aspects of security and order based on the needs of the community.”

Surveys were conducted in July and August 2019, before IOM Iraq implemented the CP programme in the three communities, and again in December 2019 after six months of programming.

“In Iraq, where waves of violence over the past four decades have eroded trust between communities and security actors, there has been very little publicly available research on efforts to re-establish this trust,” said IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Gerard Waite.

“This study is a step toward establishing an evidence base to evaluate community policing methods in Iraq, that will help tailor the programme for diverse contexts across the country.”

“In Iraq and around the world, public distrust of state institutions has driven unrest, instability, and support for violent non-state groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” said Oona Hathaway, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Global Legal Challenges at Yale Law School.

“This study suggests that training police in the importance of human rights and equality under the law can strengthen both human security and national security.”

The study also included surveys in two comparison communities – Khor Zubair, Basra and Saqlawiyah, Anbar – that were selected for geographical proximity and demographic similarity to the communities where the Community Policing Programme was implemented. Conducting baseline and endline surveys in these communities provides some insight into whether other trends and events unrelated to the CP Programme might have contributed to the changes observed over the course of the study.

The key findings of the endline study are available in infographic form:

Evaluating Perceptions of Security and Police in Iraq, the baseline report analysing data from the first wave of door-to-door surveys conducted before implementation of the CP programme, was published in April 2020.

(Source: UN)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s national lockdown in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has reportedly given a boost to local businesses.

According to a report from AFP, local businesses no longer have to compete with imports from countries such as Turkey, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait.

It quotes the owner of an ice-cream factory in Basra as saying:

“The coronavirus crisis has allowed us to prove ourselves on the Iraqi market.”

More here.

(Source: AFP)