In Iraq, on the banks of the Diyala River, the provincial capital of Ba’aqubah 50 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, swelters for much of the year. When the wind picks up over the warmer months, pedestrians battle the dust and dry heat; moving around the city can be tough. In the winter residents struggle through thick mud.
In an area still recovering from significant destruction during the ISIL occupation and liberation, UNDP Iraq is working to improve people’s lives — starting with their roads. The Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme has rehabilitated 29 roads across Diyala Governorate since 2017, with 10 in the capital alone.
As we walk down the bustling Al-Hassan Road, in central Ba’aqubah, it becomes clear that the hot, black asphalt, laid two months prior, has increased more than vehicle and foot traffic.
“The new street is clean and beautiful. Since the rehabilitation of the road, the prices of homes on this street have increased and the demand for buying and selling retail spaces and homes has risen; so more people enter my store.”
Havel, has owned his real estate agency for one year. Situated on a busy stretch of Al-Hassan Road, he estimates a 15 percent increase in foot traffic thanks to the new curbed roadside.
For Havel’s neighbor Mustapha, owner of a small mechanic workshop, business has also improved. “My shop is small, so I must do my repairs on the road,” he explains. “Before they rolled the asphalt, the dust made it difficult to work under the vehicles, and during the rain, the mud made it virtually impossible.” Mustapha’s job is now much easier, and the repairs are completed faster, so he can welcome more customers throughout the day.
Across town, we enter Gatoon Al‐Razi neighbourhood on Door Al‐Mandali road. With UNDP Iraq support, this street was leveled and compacted and it too is helping small business owners to boost their income. “The road has become much more accessible for vehicles and people,” says Saif, 25. “Previously, community members tried to repair the road themselves, but were not successful.”
Since the road was paved, Saif is able to keep his shop cleaner and well-stocked. “Not as much dirt and mud is being walked in from the street, and my deliveries arrive right to the door. The truck wasn’t able to get this close before, due to the rough road,” he says.
For the 8,000 students of Ba-aqubah Technical Institute, the upgraded roadways were also a very welcome sight. Marwan, a member of the Institute’s Administrative staff, saw a noticeable reduction in absenteeism after the work was completed, “Somewhere close to one in five students were skipping class, especially in winter and rain, due to the mud. Many have no choice but to travel on foot and would rather to stay home than arrive to class caked with mud or risk becoming sick,” he says. “And, if students did attend class on those wet days, they would walk all the mud indoors, so you can imagine how much happier the cleaners are now.”
“Thanks to the rehabilitation of Al-Hassan road, students are able to walk to class, rain, hail or shine,” says Marwan. “There are very few who don’t make it anymore.”
For Anram, 38, and his family, the issue of dirt and mud was also resolved when the street was rehabilitated. “My family has lived in this home since 1974, and my grandmother tells me that last time the road was renovated was in the 1980s. Now, the time and effort required to clean our home is reduced. When we return from the street, we aren’t walking in mud and dirt, which is great for a home of 39 people — there is a lot of coming and going.”
Back in the quieter street of Door Mandli Katoon Road, university student and 10-year resident, Ali, 23, is welcoming more frequent visitors thanks to the improved road surface. “People can now access our homes via car. Before, the holes were so big, you could only get to a friend’s home by foot,” he explains. “The conditions would get so bad in winter and rain, that children often had to stay home from school.”
As teams of street cleaners make their way through the district, residents are now noticing that they move faster on Al-Hassan Road. “Cleaning used to be more difficult. People would throw their rubbish out of cars or as they walk by. Now that Al-Hassan Road is a clean, paved street they don’t throw it,” says Mohammed and Ala, dressed in bright vests as they collect what trash has been left by the curb. The cost for cleaning on this street has dropped by half.
These projects were made possible with the generous funding of the Government of Germany in coordination with the Governorate office of Diyala.
The Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme (ICRRP) promotes the recovery and resilience of communities vulnerable to multi-dimensional shocks associated with large-scale returns and protracted displacement of Iraqis and Syrian refugees. This is achieved through a medium-term programming, integrating crisis management capacity building, rehabilitating basic service infrastructure, livelihood recovery and social cohesion.
Photo Credit: UNDP Iraq/ Vincent Haiges