Since Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul and other parts of Ninawa province from the Islamic State, municipal offices have returned to operation, contributing to reconstruction efforts and working to restore public services to the inhabitants. However, there are many challenges facing the municipal offices, and the services situation is still not on the level it was prior to 2014.
On 17 September 2020, I conducted an interview with the media of the directorate of the municipal office of al-Ba'aj, which is a locality in western Ninawa countryside located near the border with Syria. The interview concerned the humanitarian and services situation in al-Ba'aj. The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: What is the number of inhabitants in al-Ba'aj currently? What is the proportion of the original inhabitants who have returned since the liberation of the locality?
A: The number of inhabitants inside the locality of al-Ba'aj is estimated currently to be 24,000 people. As for the entire number of inhabitants (the locality with the complexes and the surrounding villages in the district of al-Ba'aj), it is estimated to be 75,000 people. Of course I am speaking about the district of al-Ba'aj, excluding the sub-district of al-Qahtaniya that is affiliated administratively with the district of al-Ba'aj. The proportion of the original inhabitants who have returned to the district of al-Ba'aj is estimated to be 80%. But currently the district is densely populated with inhabitants because the people of the surrounding villages have come to it seeking security foremost, as well as education and health. Just think about it: the rents currently in al-Ba'aj have reached 150,000 dinars.
Q: How are the public services in the locality like national-grid electricity and water currently? For example for how many hours does the national-grid electricity come each day? And for how many days each week is the water available from the state network?
A: The public services in the locality: the electricity office is present and works on a daily basis in maintaining and repairing the transformers and wires within limited capabilities. And we notice the electricity is available at night without cut off, but in the day it is continually interrupted and there is reliance on civilian generators as subscriptions. So the government electricity or as we call it the national-grid electricity works for around 15 or 16 hours per day.
As for water, this is a problem considered continuous since the establishment of the district. There is a project extending from the village of Kharab Ajar through a transmission pipe to the district and at a length of 22 km, but it does not meet the purpose because of the current transgressions by owners of agricultural lands and likewise a lack of presence of compressors for every specific distance.
There is reliance on civilian tankers at a price of 5000 dinars for every tank containing 1500 litres. But do not forget that it is a problem we have been suffering from before Da'esh [Islamic State] and before the fall of the regime in 2003. Of course the water arrives through the governmental transmission pipe but it is weak and perhaps every 15 days it arrives once and for a period of two or three hours.
Q: What are the biggest accomplishments of the municipal office since the liberation of the locality and what are the biggest challenges? For example are there financial problems because of the lack of availability of money from the reconstruction funds?
A: The biggest accomplishments of the municipal office: overlaying the main streets like al-Sayadeen and likewise laying new streets with concrete in the neighbourhoods of al-Intisar, Hateen and the area of the market, and renovating two car park squares, paving the grains square, putting a roof on the contemporary market, making roadbumps and marking signs in the main streets, and renovating some of the gardens and parks and circles.
And currently there are projects underway among them replacing side-blocks, paving with slabs and paving additional streets. Of course all I have mentioned to you about the municipal office is done through the funds of the province only in coordination with the municipal offices. As for the reconstruction funds we have referred statements to it but no response has been given until now. There is deficiency in designation and not in funds, meaning that the budget defines a specific sum we do not need. As for something we need, the sum designated for it does not suffice. For example I need to increase the number of workers but the designation does not suffice.
Q: Are there any international NGOs helping you in your efforts in reconstruction and restoring services?
A: The work of international NGOs: providing us with most of the vehicles that we need in the municipal office's work like the German GIZ NGO and the UNDP NGO and a Chinese NGO likewise. And there are NGOs that offered in the beginning of the liberation containers and a Swiss NGO has cleaned the valley inside the district.
All I have mentioned to you: we have not reached a stage before Da'esh until now. For example: the vehicles before Da'esh were more than 30. Currently there is half. The workers before Da'esh were more than 130 workers. As for now, less than half, and so on. There are offices for which the municipal office performs their capabilities: for example the sewers office has not undertaken work till now, so the municipal office undertakes the unblocking of the drains instead of it. And likewise the civil defence office has not undertaken work, and the municipal office puts out the fires instead of it. The burden of advancement is very heavy but the faith is in God who is Greater.