Iraq: Decline in municipal services boosts violence and disease

News and Press Release
Originally published
BAGHDAD, 25 April 2007 (IRIN) - As violence continues to plague Iraq's capital, Baghdad, the city's infrastructure continues to deteriorate, causing more violence, health hazards and misery for its seven million inhabitants.

"Our district hasn't had electricity for more than a year. Street lights have been long broken and not repaired, despite requests to the municipality," said Acram Rabia'a, a community leader in Dora, one of Baghdad's most populated districts.

"Because of this [lack of light at night], violence has increased. People are afraid to leave their houses in the evenings because of thieves and children who used to study at night have been forced to stop after some people tried to kill them," Rabia'a added.

In addition to darkness giving more cover for armed groups to operate, it makes it harder for municipal workers to carry out any work before sunrise or after sunset. And continual threats and murders by armed groups have driven many workers out of their jobs.

"Many government workers who are responsible for repairing the infrastructure are being targeted because of their sects," Khudar Nuridin, media officer at Baghdad Municipality, said. "Streets and lightning repairs, in particular, are being delayed for lack of professionals after many of them left their jobs because of violence."

Refuse collection is another municipal service that has greatly suffered as a result of the incessant violence in the capital.

"Many workers have refused to collect rubbish in areas where they have received threats and because of a lack of rubbish collectors there are now heaps of rubbish strewn all over the country near residential areas. As a result, locals are exposed to many diseases associated with waste," Nuridin said.

According to Nuridin, at least 43 workers have been killed in the past few months while collecting rubbish, changing lights or repairing sewage systems in the capital, mostly in the more dangerous neighbourhoods of Sadr City, Alawi, Dora, Bab al-Muadham and Adhamiyah.

Nuridin said that while the government is aware of the importance of repairing street lights, roads and sewage systems, and collecting waste, it also has a responsibility towards its employees and cannot force them to work in high-risk areas. "Employees are scared after being constantly targeted," he said.

Abu Dureid, 48, a rubbish collector in Baghdad, said he felt armed groups should realise the value of what municipal workers do and avoid targeting them.

"Militants and insurgents should understand that our job is to clean the city and protect all Iraqis from possible diseases caused by rubbish. But they don't understand this and soon we will not be able to work anymore. We will leave the city in a chaotic situation," Abu Dureid said.