With the onset of the winter and temperatures dropping during the night, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) has paused until next Spring its on-going landscaping activities in Al Yarmouk Park to focus instead on the installation of solar lamp posts along the perimeter wall and the layout of a new irrigation system. Idle children unable to go to school because of the on-going pandemic, gaze with curiosity from the other side of the fence the bulldozers preparing the trenches and the trucks transporting the soil across the park. Solitary runners brave the chilly air in the morning to train along the route that next year will accommodate a brand-new running circuit in tartan.

Even before the ousting of ISIL fighters, which brought about the destruction of a substantial part of the city’s built fabric and basic infrastructure, Mosul was notoriously poor in public green spaces. Measuring 67,000 sqm, Al Yarmouk Park is one of the largest public spaces of the west bank of Mosul, a city known for its limited 1.4 sqm of green space per capita – far off from the minimum of 9 sqm of urban green space for each person recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). With its wide walkways and open views, the park was until a few decades ago a thriving public space, renowned for its tall palms and pine trees, colourful rows of flowers and large open grounds. Several of the older residents consulted during an assessment conducted in 2019 proudly recalled how in the past many of the best footballers of Mosul used to train in Al Yarmouk Park. Regrettably, poor maintenance followed by people’s severe hardship under ISIL ruling, saw the gradual dilapidation of its facilities, looting of all its infrastructure equipment and the cutting of most of its trees for firewood. 

The rehabilitation of Al Yarmouk Park as a multi-purpose public space is a critical component of the area-based integrated project funded by the European Union that UN-Habitat is implementing in west Mosul [under the UNDP programme Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development], aimed at restoring essential public services disrupted by war and conflict. Once the project is completed, the park will serve at least half a million people living in the west bank.

With this ambition in mind, over the past three months, the team has led the construction of three new multi-purpose sports courts and an open-air gym, repaired the boundary wall and gates, rehabilitated the damaged guard rooms, excavated a new well and installed ten large water storage tanks for irrigation fed by water pumps powered to a new solar panel system. So far, these constructions works have created 236 jobs for unemployed residents of the area (including 10 women), recruited on the basis of a roster set up in coordination with the Al Rabee sector municipality responsible for the park. 

Slide
Slide
Slide
Slide
Slide
Slide

 

Upon the completion of the football pitch and multi-sports field, in October 2020 UN-Habitat launched a 15-day long “Al Yarmouk Youth Athletics for Peace Initiative” which included a Football League Championship, as well as basketball, volleyball and Taekwondo matches, and running races among 200 vivacious children from the neighbourhood. “This is the most fun we have had in years!” exclaimed an elderly spectator interviewed while watching one of the football matches that were organised on the new pitch.

In consideration of the on-going pandemic, health precautionary measures were taken very seriously. Aside from restricting access to a maximum of 125 children and adults per day, and imposing strict precautionary social distancing measures among spectators, the team provided a COVID-19 screening point and a well-equipped First-Aid tent.

Team sports and athletics are known to offer a powerful tool to strengthen social ties and networks, overcome mistrust, and reach across political divides and ethnic/religious differences. Joint and interactive activities are particularly effective for youth that have grown up in an environment of intolerance and conflict, where diversity is considered a threat and disenfranchised youth may become susceptible to negative stereotypes and influenced by violent political and religious extremism. Sports also help to build bonds between youth of different backgrounds and physical ability and can result in truly transformative impact.

In the meanwhile, UN-Habitat announced the launch of a female-only horticultural training and gardening jobs opportunities for unemployed women of the area. Out of the 410 residents who applied, 30 amongst the most vulnerable yet fittest candidates were enrolled in an intensive 10-day long horticultural training course. Many of them are destitute widows whose families survive on charity and food provided by the local mosque.

I was jobless, sitting at home depressed with no plans. – confessed Nafla Mohammed Ali – This training brough back hope in my life. I have learned new skills that will help me to find a job in the park or elsewhere”. The course, designed to blend theoretical and practice-oriented sessions held within the Park, was organised through the Engineering Association for Development and Environment (EADE), a national NGO implementing partner. The sessions were delivered by hand-picked local experts in this field, led by Mr. Hussamaddin Thanoon, lecturer at the College of Agriculture and Forestry at Mosul University, whose enthusiasm for this subject is palpable. Reflecting back, Mr. Thanoon said “This training was very special to me. I had the opportunity to support some very ambitious ladies. We managed to tailor the sessions in a way that was suitable for a range of education levels, including that of a few who are illiterate”.

Once they completed their training, the 30 female gardeners were recruited on a rotational basis to work under the watchful eye of Mr. Yasir Salih Al-Badrany, Head of Ninewa’s Forestry Directorate. In the month of November, they collectively planted over 260 new trees, including 45 mature Iraqi and Washingtonia palm trees, local Cypress trees, pomegranate trees, Jasmine climbers and shrubs. UN-Habitat partnered with Mosul Municipality and Ninewa’s Directorate of Agriculture to select the most suitable and robust plants for this region to create a mix of landscaping solutions for green and arid contexts – including some plants to absorb excess rainwater from stagnating in the lower section of the park.  “It was so exciting when we started planting the palms that I did not want to go home in the evening – exclaimed Ms. Shahla Faisal, UN-Habitat community mobiliser for the past four years, who closely supervised the creation of the new palm “oasis” in Al Yarmouk Park.

Public open spaces that are purposely designed to be ‘Accessible to All’ are still rare in Iraq.  The new design of Al Yarmouk Park will improve its accessibility, comfort and safety for people of all ages and abilities – including the elderly. UN-Habitat will be also creating opportunities for children, youth, and adults with disabilities to conduct physical open-air activities in a safe and welcoming setting. In occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on 3 December 2020, the park hosted two friendly sport events involving the renowned Mosul-based volleyball team known as the “Sitting Players” and the acclaimed football team of hearing and speech impaired players, known as the “Champions”. Once completed, Al Yarmouk Park will have playgrounds for children and youth – including toddlers and children with disabilities. Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. It is also central to the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “leave no one behind”. The commitment to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities in Iraq is not only a matter of justice for the European Union, but also an investment in a common future.

The project is promoting a “build back better” approach that embraces the adoption of greener technologies including renewable energy, recycling of debris, the use of materials sourced and produced in Iraq, and socially inclusive open-air activities. It will also offer designated places for small-scale facilities and commercial services, such as a cafeteria, snack shops, rental of bikes etc.

So far, UN-Habitat has been successful in securing a strong political commitment from the local authorities and developing a common vision on the value of freely accessible public space as one of the most important urban assets that will contribute to physical and social inclusion, in a post-conflict context where the management of many green areas is handed over to the private sector because of the scarce resources available to the local authorities.

UN-Habitat has engaged Mosul Municipality since the inception of the project by setting up a dedicated Technical Committee tasked to support the rehabilitation process, review draft plans and endorse designs, approve Bill of Quantities and help to solve problems encountered during the project. Mr. Muhammed Abdullah, Deputy Head of Mosul Municipality for Services Affairs stated: “We really appreciate activities and initiatives that involve women, enhance their skills and promote their role in the reconstruction and rebuilding the city and its public facilitates.”   

***

 

The programme Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development aims at contributing to the stability and socio-economic development of Iraq through enhancing good governance at the local level. It is working to improve the ability of selected governorates to efficiently manage local government and public services. Economic growth and job creation are prioritized, with a focus on green projects and the inclusion of youth and women.

Click here to download the programme fact sheet.

#LeadDevelopment

 

For additional information, please contact:

UNDP Iraq

Ms. Nidaa Hilal, Senior Communications Specialist

Mob: +964 751 745 0799

 

UN-Habitat Iraq

Mr. Aryan Muheddin Al-Jammoor, Communications Specialist

Mob: +964 (0)751 103 9494

 

The EU Delegation to the Republic of Iraq

Mr. Alsadiq Al Adilee, Press and Information Officer  

Mob: +964 780 928 5377

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Iraq (Republic of) 
Go to UNDP Global