BAGHDAD — As home to nearly 38 million people in the Middle East, Iraq is a nation far too familiar with political and economic strife. Between war with the Islamic State (IS), and the international decline in oil prices over the last few years, Iraq faces several challenges domestically and internationally. One of the most severe consequences of the nation’s current posture is the growing poverty within its borders.
The State of Iraq
Iraq is facing violence, civil conflicts and hosting a war against an international terrorist group. In addition, the nation’s government is thought to be one of the most corrupt in the world, according to Transparency International. In the midst of hardship on so many fronts, therein lies an almost unnecessary question: why is Iraq poor?
In between 2014 and 2016, the poverty rate in Iraq increased from around 16 percent to 22 percent, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Planning. Abdul-Zahra Al-Hindawi, a ministry spokesman, declared that the Sunni provinces, which are suffering from the most IS presence, have seen poverty rates as high as 40 percent. Even in the country’s capital, Baghdad, poverty rates have reached upwards of 13 percent.
As a nation, it is estimated that about 10 million of the country’s 38 million people are living beneath the poverty line. However, some analysts suggest the poverty rates may be even worse due to these reported numbers stemming from government officials.
Meanwhile, the World Bank points towards Iraq’s weak economy as a primary contributor. The government is facing increased pressure from the fall in oil prices, which has resulted in a lower national GDP over the last two years and a loss of about 800,000 jobs. The oil sector makes up nearly 65 percent of the nation’s GDP and therefore forces Iraq to rely on steady oil prices.
The problem intensifies when the need for basic reconstruction of war-torn areas is added into the equation. Essentially, Iraq is getting less money for oil, but needs more money to extend welfare services to its people, while it also tries to afford the expenses tied to devastating infrastructural damage as a result of war within its borders.
The government’s ability to extend welfare services to the people in need has become such a burden that rations have been limited to basic food items, like wheat and sugar, while the rations have also been reduced in quantity. Simply, the government does not have the necessary funds to take care of its people or its structures.
The people of Iraq have suffered greatly as an extension of the war and economic losses. Iraq has a youthful population, with over 50 percent of people under the age of 19 years old. However, it has one of the lowest employment-to-population ratios globally, even among men. Without a way to pay for basic needs, millions of people have been internally displaced into “shanty towns” built in and around Baghdad.
It is estimated that 250 complexes exist in the area and each host between 2,000 and 17,000 squatters. As the conflicts continue, more refugees are pouring into these shanty towns regularly.
Water and War
Poverty in Iraq is a high priority item to its people. Nearly 75 percent of the nation say reducing the poverty rate is the most pressing need. The cry for aid comes when as few as 30 percent of households can even access a sanitation network and more than 20 percent of Iraqis are drinking unsafe water. Additionally, over 1.6 million people are still affected by active landmines and unexploded ordinances. Iraqis are publically pointing to each of these issues by protesting and highlighting the serious lack of basic human necessities.
In short, why is Iraq poor? War. Without a turn in the oil market and some form of political stability, Iraq will continue facing extreme poor, and potentially worsening, conditions. The people of Iraq are relying on the governing body to manage resources wisely and do what needs to be done in order to secure basic needs and services within the country.
– Taylor Elkins