Mosul's dumper project in action. (photo: صالح الياس)
While some had hoped for a more positive outcome from the recent conference on reconstruction in Kuwait, others - in Mosul, at least - are seeing some glimmer of hope in the so-called “dumper project”.
For just over three years Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities, was under the control of the extremist group known as the Islamic State. Fighting to push the extremist group, also known as IS, out of Mosul caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage and cost countless lives.
Over the past three weeks, the volunteers and their dumper have removed between 7, 000 and 8,000 loads of rubble from side streets.
Authorities say almost 80 percent of the buildings in the more historic part of Mosul, the old city, were destroyed. This is where fighting was fiercest. And the Mosul municipal authorities say that they themselves have removed around 1.5 million cubic meters of rubble. There is still a lot more to go though.
But a small dumper vehicle is bringing those who see it some much-needed hope. It’s a small machine, not dissimilar to a three-wheeled taxi, and it is used because it is able to travel the narrow alleyways of Mosul’s older neighbourhoods. The dumper emits black smoke as it travels, carrying load after load of rubble out of the ruins of the inner city.
Seven months have passed since the IS group was pushed out of these parts of the city but still the people who fled have not returned, says Bandar al-Akidi, who is one of the locals who started the dumper project. Because so many of the alleys and streets are still blocked with rubble, it is difficult to move around.
The dumper project’s main objective is to clear these arteries to pump life blood back into the city, the organisers say. They are not engaging in reconstruction, they are simply clearing the streets, so people can return home.
“It is a revolution against apathy and neglect,” he told NIQASH. “And it aims to restore life to residential neighbourhoods that are still standing empty.”
The campaign started on social media with the organisers asking locals to donate US$2 per load of rubble that the dumper would remove; the dumper is cheap to operate and that’s the cost of the job, per load. “We got a lot of good responses and we first started working in the Mashahida neighbourhood where there was a lot of destruction.”
Since then the dumper has started working in other neighbourhoods too and now it’s black smoke can be seen rising above the streets of Tawaleb, Ahmadiyya and Sheikh Fatih in the old city too.
Safwan al-Madani is another of the project organisers and he says people are continuously coming to see him, with donations in an envelope. He gives the money directly to the young men using the dumper, he says.
Work clearing the old city of rubble with the dumper began slowly but now the crew do around 70 loads a day. Over the past three weeks, they have removed between 7, 000 and 8,000 loads of rubble, al-Akidi believes.
Over three-quarters of the work they can do has been completed in the Mashahida neighbourhood, where the project launched and now they’re moving onto other areas of the old city.
Still, the work remains dangerous. The men on the crew are all volunteers and they often come across unexploded ordinances or even explosive belts that would once have been worn by the IS fighters.
When NIQASH visits, the young men are standing around with their shovels looking at a mortar. They bend down to take a closer look and one of the men volunteers to pick it up. He carries it slowly and carefully to the dumper and loads it onto the vehicle with the rest of the rubble.
The volunteers also run across corpses frequently. The Mosul authorities have taken 300 bodies of extremist fighters and buried them outside the city. But there are still more bodies under the ruins, of both IS fighters and civilians.
This is something that has stopped families from retuning. “After the dumper project cleared the road by my house I decided to return with my family to Mashahida,” says Ahmad Saad, who is passing by the rubble-clearing crew. “But when we got there we found two dead bodies of IS men outside the door. So, we left again. It was terrifying. We cannot live like that,” he said, taking his small daughter’s hand and departing.
Additionally, displaced locals are also waiting for the return of state services in their areas – the returnees need power, water, health care facilities and schools as well as cleared streets.
“The dumper project is an important part of this. The rubble has been removed from the main streets by the United Nations Development Programme a few weeks ago but the municipal authorities don’t have the vehicles or the fuel to clear the side streets. The dumper campaign is needed for this reason,” he explains.