A local woman who wished to be known only as Um Kareem indicates just how poor the people of Diwaniya, capital of the southern province of Qadisiya, are. She is on the street in the neighbourhood of Akrad trying to give her children away. She explains that her husband has disappeared, she has no idea where he is and she herself is sick. Her oldest child is just six years old. “That's why I want to give my children away to someone who can look after them, or sell them,” she says desperately. “I want to make sure they are not homeless and uneducated.”
According to Iraq's Ministry of Planning, Diwaniya is one of the poorest places in Iraq. Over 40 percent of locals live below the poverty line here and unemployment is high. There are higher levels of illiteracy, disease and malnourishment than elsewhere in Iraq, as well as rumours about human trafficking. The province is one that always used to earn its living through agriculture and there are also unexplored oil resources in the area. On average, families in the province have about seven members. If the head of the family doesn’t have a job, then this means ever more individuals living in poverty.
When a family is poor they don't focus on educating their children, explains Saad Abu Mohammed, a local sociologist. “They’re too busy trying to fulfil their basic needs. This leads to increases in child labour and a larger number of beggars on the streets. And there is a relationship between all these things – poverty, disease and crime.”
As a result there's an ongoing debate as to what makes this province one of the poorest, how to change this and what is stopping a better exploitation of the province's resources.
“A lack of experience in successive provincial governments and their reluctance to seek the help of specialists and consultants,” argues local economist, Abdul Hussein Hinan. "Political conflicts and partisan fighting split the provincial government in two, with both sides looking after their own interests. So development opportunities have been lost and private sector activities have been attacked by amateur politicians. The only thing the desperate local government can do now is go and ask the politicians in Baghdad who oversee the oil industry to help them.”
The province has massive stockpiles of cement – an estimated 50 million tons – as well as raw materials, according to geological surveys. But nobody has looked into the potential of these resources. The province also has five reservoirs of oil, three shared with neighbouring provinces, as well as one oil refinery in the Shinafiyah area. The former governor of the province, Ammar Al-Madani, says that he corresponded with the Ministry of Oil, asking that a second refinery be built here. But the Ministry told him that the international market didn't need any more oil right now.
The whole province formerly had the same name as the city and was given this moniker because the area was famous for its guesthouses, or diwans. There was abundance and hospitality here. However the agricultural sector, which made all this possible, is failing now. This is due to water scarcity and a lack of good land management, explains Safaa al-Janabi, who heads the provincial Department of Agriculture. “There's no modern vision to help the farmers here,” al-Janabi notes.
The farmers themselves complain about the lack of fertilisers and grain. Many farmers and their children have left the business to join the army, the police or to take any job that offers a steadier income.
“Farmers have suffered because they just can't compete with imported crops,” explains local farmer, Hassan al-Naieli. “Most of the suppliers are partners of the government officials. The government tried to give farmers loans to improve their business. Although it was a good idea, its become completely corrupt now and people are taking the loans and using them on activities that have nothing to do with farming.”
The provincial government says that the high levels of poverty are not their fault. “The fight against poverty requires big plans and lots of financing,” according to the financial assistant to the province's governor “Plans have been prepared but never implemented. And the amount of the 2015 federal budget allocated to this province was only written on paper. The province has only received about 20 percent of what we were promised and this money was used to pay outstanding debts from previous years.”