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)

Awareness is key to flattening the COVID-19 curve in Iraq

The World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Iraq, today began a major COVID-19 awareness-raising campaign targeting people living in high-risk and heavily affected areas in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

The campaign will mobilize more than 250 community volunteers to deliver critical information, education and communications materials to approximately 6 million people living in 10 heavily populated districts for 4 weeks from 29 June to 28 July 2020.

“Health is the responsibility of all, and raising people’s awareness is essential to containing the aggressive spread of COVID-19,” said Dr Adham R. Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “WHO, the Ministry of Health, partners and donors are working hand in hand to fight this pandemic, and until a vaccine is developed we have to unite our efforts to flatten the curve and keep our communities healthy and safe,” he added.

The campaign will use mobile screens, booths and mobile medical clinics to display WHO educational videos and audio messages on a variety of protective and disinfection measures. State and private radio and TV channels will support the campaign with daily messages for the month. In addition personal protection packages containing masks, hand sanitizers, campaign slogan T-shirts and caps, COVID-19 awareness-raising flyers and other educational materials will be distributed to people in public places, main streets and bazaars.

Iraq recently reported a significant increase in the number of cases in Baghdad after lockdown measures were eased nationwide. Health authorities have tied the increase in numbers to increased testing capacity and improved active surveillance and weak adherence of people living in crowded districts to adopting protective measures as recommended by WHO and the Ministry of Health, such as practising good hand hygiene and social distancing and wearing masks.

The campaign includes support from key religious figures who have mobilized thousands of mosques in the capital to disseminate audio messages. “With no cure yet but prevention, we have to continue educating our people on the importance of following the health advice of WHO and the national health authorities to save our lives and protect our health workers,” a cleric attending the campaign opening in Sadir City, where the vast slums of eastern Baghdad are located, commented.

“WHO is aware of the challenging impact of the lockdown and movement restrictions on the limited and daily income which families in many areas in Baghdad earn. However, the Organization urges all individuals to follow safety measures and wear masks in gatherings and public places, keep hands clean, and pratise social distancing to stop transmission of the virus,” Dr Adham stressed.

WHO would like to extend its thanks to the Government of Kuwait and the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) for co-funding this campaign, and to WHO’s implementing partner the United Iraqi Medical Society for supporting its implementation.

(Source: WHO)

Characterized by long, hot and clear summers, Najaf, Iraq’s holy city, seems like the ideal place to realize the potential for solar energy in Iraq. Which is why in 2016, Najaf was selected as one of three sites to pilot rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, testing their potential for application across the sunny nation.

Energy consumption in Iraq is dominated by fossil fuels, at 96%. Not only is this a missed opportunity for the subtropical nation, but it has had very real, and visible consequences for the environment. As public infrastructure struggles to cope with the growing population, dependency on diesel generators has created a smoggy reality, with the air pollution levels in Iraq linked to health consequences for the nation.

In 2016, with support from the Global Environment Fund (GEF), six families were selected to receive rooftop solar PV systems. These initial six families, were selected as part of a pilot to raise awareness and demonstrate the potential benefits of solar energy. Since then, some of these families have benefitted from the cost savings and all are excited by a new vision for clean energy and solar for their country.

“I knew that using solar energy had positive returns on the environment, and in a country like my homeland, Iraq, there is an urgent need to use it,” explains Ihsan, 49-year-old father-of-four and recipient of a rooftop solar PV system in Najaf. “But I was also surprised in many aspects, I didn’t know that by generating clean energy, I could contribute to my community,” he adds, pointing to the excess energy the panels provide being pumped back into the government grid.

For Qusai, a 45-year-old father-of-four and Ihsan’s neighbor, the benefit was also linked to the “clean” aspect of solar energy production, “The financial burden of relying on expensive diesel generators and the noise and smog produced, makes solar energy very appealing,” he explains. “It’s also very efficient!”

On average, each of the six households were able to save $2,300 over the past four years and a total of 58,000 kgs of CO2 was saved from being emitted into the atmosphere – that’s the equivalent of consuming more than 7,000 gallons of diesel.

But to make the use of solar energy more sustainable, UNDP and the GEF knew that Iraq would need trained and experienced personnel to maintain and repair the systems.

Faridha, a local Najaf resident and Head of Amal Al-Hayat Organisation for Culture and Information, was one of 25 civil society organization members – including 15 women – trained in operating and maintaining solar PV systems, to both support the piloting of these systems over the past four years, but also act as advocates for the adoption of cleaner, greener energy across Najaf.

“Before the training, we had heard about solar energy, but we did not know how we could benefit from it in Iraq, especially in the province of Najaf,” she explains. “Solar energy is an investment for the citizen. If people consume wisely, they benefit not just themselves, but their community.”

(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)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi parliament has reportedly authorised borrowing of up to $5 billion (Dh18bn) from abroad after the fall in oil prices caused a financial crunch.

According to The National, the vote came a few days rating agency Fitch forecast the economy to shrink 9 per cent this year and debt to skyrocket.

More here.

(Source: The National)

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

Frustration builds as Iraq’s airports remain closed amid rising virus cases

When Iraqi aviation authorities first closed airports to commercial passenger flights March 17 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, they only gave about a day’s notice.

With flights already limited regionally, many got stuck.

The first ban was set to end March 24. But it has been continuously extended since.

Click here to read the full story.

Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP) has announced that Jón Ferrier (pictured), Chief Executive Officer, has informed the Board of his intention to retire from the Company upon appointment of a successor and after a period of handover.

The Company is now commencing a formal, externally facilitated, search process and will provide an update as and when appropriate.

Jaap Huijskes, Chairman of the Company, said:

Jón Ferrier took the helm five years ago, immediately leading the Company through its financial restructuring and breathing new life into GKP as an attractive investment proposition.  He has brought us the experience he gained over a long and distinguished career, resulting in GKP meeting the highest standards across all aspects of its business. 

“Today, Gulf Keystone is a highly respected and successful E&P Company, for which Jón deserves considerable credit.  On behalf of the Board and everyone within the Company I would like to thank Jón for his leadership and resolute commitment over the past five years.  We will be sad to see him step down when a successor is found and wish him all the best for his retirement.”   

(Source: GKP)

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting a community in Iraq’s historic marshes.

For years, people there have relied on the wetlands for herding water buffaloes.

But the pandemic is now threatening their livelihood.

Al Jazeera‘s Katia Lopez-Hodoyan reports:

The UAE has sent an aid plane carrying 10.5 metric tons of medical supplies to Iraq to bolster the country’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

This aid will assist approximately 10,500 medical professionals as they work to contain the virus.

Commenting on the aid delivery, Mohamad Saleh Altenaiji, Charge d’affaires of the UAE Embassy in Baghdad, said:

The UAE has contributed to supporting our Iraqi brothers for years and continues to provide all possible support in all areas, particularly the economic and developmental realms. The UAE is also keen to protect and preserve Iraq’s cultural heritage in the face of terrorist threats that have tried to destroy and maim it.

“In continuation of these efforts, the UAE’s wise leadership sent a medical aid plane today to support the efforts of health workers to deal with COVID-19, which comes in addition to the recent medical assistance sent to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”

To date, the UAE has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by providing over 974 metric tons of aid to 68 countries, supporting more than 974,000 medical professionals in the process.

(Source: Govt of UAE)