It's a random neighbourhood, with barely any of the necessities one would normally find in a housing district. But somehow the Hay al-Naft neighbourhood, also known as “Oil Town”, located between the Ahdab oil field, run by the China National Petroleum Corporation, and Russia's Gazprom-run field at Badra, has become a gathering place for those with nowhere else to go.
More than 50,000 residents live here and most of them were displaced by the previous or present sectarian conflict. Locals say the shanty town was named Oil Town either because of its proximity to oil fields or, some suggest, because it is thought there may be oil underneath the town.
It's ironic that the people of this neighbourhood suffer so much while black gold is all around them.
A woman living there who wished to be known only as Um Ali, said she had come here in 2006 after she was forced out of her own neighbourhood by sectarian conflicts.
“We see oil around us in all directions,” the woman in her 60s, her face dark and creased, told NIQASH. “But we don't benefit from any of the oil. We only inhale the smoke and fumes and fear the diseases they bring. I am really afraid for the future of my four sons here. I wish we could go elsewhere where we could live in dignity.”
The houses here, roofed with wooden panels that don't hold out the rain or wind, are separated by streets full of sewage, dirty water and rubbish. It's a kind of a shanty town where every dwelling was built randomly and without any planning, another resident who wished to remain anonymous, told NIQASH.
“The nearby oil fields are full of riches,” he noted. “While we live here in extreme poverty. It is really unacceptable.”
Besides the lack of services or jobs, another big problem is the lack of security, says Sadoun Hadi, who works for the government but lives here. “The houses here are all built on government land. Which means that at any time the government could evict us all,” he complains.
“There are a lot of health problems here,” concedes Sundus Abdul-Hussein, the head of Wasit's Public Health Department. “It's a highly populated area but there's no health care here. There's no infrastructure like sanitation, garbage collection or even the provision of drinking water.
There are so many challenges here, says Jassim al-Araji, a civil society activist who also works as an assistant to the governor of Wasit province, where Oil Town is located.
“There are no municipal services, no job opportunities and the current financial crisis is making things even worse,” al-Araji told NIQASH. “And it's impossible to get any development projects going here because the township is a shanty and doesn't fall within our municipal responsibilities.”
“If oil wealth in Iraq was more evenly distributed then the people of this township – and Iraqis living in other slums - wouldn't be suffering like this,” al-Araji says. “It's ironic that the people of this neighbourhood suffer so much while black gold is all around them, possibly underneath them.”