Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Beautifying Baghdad Proves Unpopular

Residents want basic services before greenery.
By Yasin al-Rubaii
Efforts to beautify the city are not going down well with residents, who say they won't enjoy the smell of flowers in spring unless they have a functioning sewage system and electricity.

The Baghdad municipality this year launched a campaign to smarten up the war-scarred capital with trees, flowers and fountains. The project, which costs 4 billion Iraqi dinars, (about 2.6 million US dollars) includes planting 500,000 flowers and evergreen trees on traffic islands as well as grassy areas in the city's famous public squares.

Garbage, which is only sporadically collected in the capital, is strewn across the squares. Traffic islands are dirty and often hold private generators serving local shops.

"Baghdad was the number one city for green space in the Middle East until the late eighties," said Sabir al-Isawi, head of the Baghdad municipality.

"Now Baghdad is last. It has desert-like areas and a shortage of services. We need to work to change this image to better protect people and the environment."

But Baghdad residents say the city should get its priorities in order.

They complain that the sewage system is a wreck; pools of water constantly accumulate around houses and along roads because there is no drainage; and they often have only four hours of electricity a day. The stench of garbage worsens both in Baghdad's cold, wet winter and its sweltering summer.

"Our neighbourhood is not suitable for living anymore," said Um Manar, a 50-year-old housewife who did not give her full name. "It's unbearable, because the trash piles up in the alleys and streets, and many dogs roam everywhere."

Under the project, the municipality has removed two million cubic metres of garbage and debris from Baghdad's squares, and there are plans for a cleanup of the rest of the capital.

Al-Isawi said the municipality has a 100 million dollar budget for 2006, up 15 million on last year, and that efforts would also be made to improve the capital’s sewage system and drinking water supply. Bridges would also be built and streets paved.

He admitted that they are small projects and will not solve Baghdad's problems, but said the council of ministers turned down the municipality's 800 million dollar budget request.

Notwithstanding the need for more funds,

many residents believe the focus on greenery rather than basic services is wrong.

Mustafa al-Masudi, a 30-year-old website designer in central Baghdad, questioned how the government could plant flowers when several areas were flooded with dirty water after recent heavy rains.

"Where is the head of municipality? Let him have a look at our houses, which are buried, because the sewage system is blocked," he said. "It's better to fix the sewage and pave the roads before planting trees."

Yasin al-Rubaii is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.

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