The FINANCIAL — A US$300 million World Bank project will improve the living conditions of over 1.5 million poor households in Iraq by increasing access to basic services and creating employment opportunities at the community level.
Approved on February 6 by the World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors, the Social Fund for Development will finance community level subprojects in education, health, water, small-scale economic infrastructure, and access to markets.
The recent war against ISIS, coupled with the decline in oil prices since 2014, have severely impacted Iraq at the humanitarian, social, and economic levels. Poverty and unemployment rates increased, gains achieved in health and education were reversed, and agriculture production decreased, undermining the country’s food sufficiency. Furthermore, millions of Iraqis became internally displaced due to the conflict or were forced to migrate to urban areas looking for jobs and support. In this context, the Social Fund for Development project (SFD) aims to address the pressing needs of the poor and most vulnerable and provide them with livelihood opportunities and rapid employment across all of Iraq.
“The Social Fund for Development emphasizes the Government of Iraq’s efforts toward stabilization and recovery,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “It builds on the results of the comprehensive social protection reform program launched in 2014 and is in line with the Iraq Poverty Reduction Strategy which aims to alleviate poverty, promote equity, and foster opportunities for the Iraqi people.”
The project will allow local communities, with the support of non-governmental organizations and local government officials, to develop Community Action Plans that reflect people’s needs and priorities. These plans would then be validated by local governments and assigned funding. The SFD will prioritize simple, environmentally friendly and labor intensive sub-projects that maximize the use of local materials. Financing is anticipated to benefit over 600 communities and villages through 1,700 projects, according to the World Bank.
“The Social Fund for Development is a key instrument of Iraq’s poverty reduction strategy,” said Dr. Mehdi Al-Alak, Secretary General of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers and Chairman of the SFD National Technical Team that prepared the project on the government side. “It provides a mechanism to target our support to poor and vulnerable households in a transparent, accountable, and participatory manner which will help strengthen social cohesion and reinforce trust between citizens and the state.”
The SFD will prioritize an inclusive and participatory approach in the selection of sub-projects, with a special attention to actively engaging women and vulnerable groups in the decision-making process. “Citizen engagement mechanisms will ensure that communities take the lead, thus reinforcing social accountability. Non-governmental organizations will also play a key role in helping the communities to organize themselves and identify their priorities, as well as in the execution of sub-projects,” said Ghassan Alkhoja, World Bank Senior Social Protection Specialist and Project Team Leader.
Project implementation will begin in Muthanna, Salahideen, and Dohuk, reflecting the impact of poverty, conflict, and displacement on these three governorates. Operations will then scale-up to reach all of Iraq’s 18 governorates in five years.