Jordan lab prints limbs for war wounded and disabled children

Iraqi soldier Abdullah lost his left hand fighting the Islamic State group but now he has a prosthetic one, thanks to a 3D-printing lab in Jordan. 

Abdullah was wounded in a mine blast as Iraqi forces battled to oust the jihadists from Iraq's second city Mosul last year. His right hand was also seriously wounded. 

The 22-year-old is one of a group of Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni amputees to benefit from a 3D-printing prosthetics clinic at a hospital run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF). "It's not easy to replace a hand, but at least the new device gives me some autonomy and means I don't rely too much on my brother to eat," said Abdullah, who asked not to use his real name. 

Wearing jeans and a dark green shirt, he said he had been transferred from Mosul to a hospital in the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital Arbil before heading to Jordan. "Now I feel better," he said, managing a small smile. "I hope I can heal my right hand too." 

The 3D-printing technique allows the team to create simple upper limbs without moving parts, slashing the costs of manufacturing advanced, custom-made prosthetic limbs, according to MSF. The MSF Foundation, a wing of the charity dedicated to research and development, set up a prosthetics production centre in Jordan's Irbid in June. 

A team of medics and technicians use the technique to help people born with genetic deformations as well as war wounded from across the region. Doctors start by taking photos and measurements and sending them to the laboratory in Irbid, 100 kilometres north of Amman. 

The data is entered into a system that designers use to create a virtual model of the limb, which is then printed and sent to MSF's Al-Mowasah hospital in Amman for fitting. Several organisations have developed 3D printing for amputees in recent years, but MSF says its project is a first in the Middle East. 

The clinic aims to give orthopaedic care to as many people as possible affected by the region's conflicts. Project coordinator Pierre Moreau said it had treated 15 Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Palestinians and Jordanians since its launch. "We chose Jordan because we have one of the biggest hospitals and most advanced, and it is a stable place in the middle of a war region so we have access to patients from Syria, Iraq and Yemen," he said in English. 

Back to school, back to work 

It has also benefitted people born with deformities, such as seven-year-old Palestinian refugee Asil Abu Ayada from the Gaza camp northwest of Amman. She lives with five brothers and her parents in a mud house and was born without a right hand. With her new prosthetic hand, she can now go to a normal school and even sketch drawings. 

Too shy to speak to reporters, she sat manicuring her artificial fingers with the help of her sister Ines. The 3D devices range in cost from $20 (R234) to $50 (R585), a fraction of the cost of conventional prosthetic devices, which can cost thousands of dollars. "You can design something that can suit this patient and is very specific to the activity of the patient," Moreau said. 

The new technique was developed by MSF in collaboration with Fab Lab, a digital manufacturing laboratory in Jordan. Another beneficiary was Ibrahim al Mahamid, from Daraa in southern Syria, who suffered injuries to his left hand in a bombing raid in 2013. 

A 33-year-old taxi driver, he had the hand amputated at a field hospital in Syria before moving to Jordan. "The new prosthesis has given me hope to be able to go back to work and take care of family expenses," he said. 

AFP

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Australian festival to celebrate achievements of Iraqi women

Fairfield City Museum and Gallery will celebrate International Women’s Day with a free festival. 

The free community event will be held on 4 March, four days ahead of International Women’s Day, which recognises the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women globally. 

It will include interactive activities, performances and a special ceremony recognising the achievements of local Iraqi women. Mayor of Fairfield City Frank Carbone said the International Women’s Day Festival will be a fun and engaging event that demonstrates the power of women in Fairfield City. 

“Women are strong, courageous and deserving of recognition for the dedication they continue to show to their families, community and beyond,” Mayor Carbone said. “Council recognises the need for women and girls around the world to have greater opportunity to feel empowered and show their strength.” 

As part of this year’s festivities, Council is working with the Iraqi Australian University Graduates Forum to promote inclusivity of women of all cultures, with a particular focus on the City’s growing Iraqi community. 

“The festival will showcase traditional Iraqi cuisine, an art competition, live music and performances,” Mayor Carbone said. “A special ceremony will be held to honour distinguished Iraqi women from the Fairfield City community whose work is a testament to the strength, abilities and dedication of women worldwide.” 

“I invite women and their families from all cultural backgrounds to come together and join in the free celebrations at Fairfield City Museum and Gallery.” 

Event details 
International Women’s Day Festival - Free 
Sunday 4 March, 5pm-9pm 
Fairfield City Museum and Gallery 
634 The Horsley Drive, Smithfield 
Entry via Oxford Street

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Baghdadi Museum of Folklore celebrates the old ways of Iraq

Though it is described as the Iraqi “Madame Tussaud’s,” the Baghdadi Museum of Folklore is not meant to celebrate famous people but to commemorate bygone customs and the old lifestyle of Baghdad’s residents. 

Located in an old, traditional building near the Tigris River, the museum, unlike London’s famous wax gallery, offers a nostalgic journey into the past daily life of Baghdadis through scenes featuring life-size wax models. 

The museum building erected under the Ottoman rule in 1869 was initially used as the publishing house of the province of Baghdad. It was converted into a museum in 1970 at the behest of Baghdad’s mayor, who saw it as the best way to document the city’s past. 

More than 80 scenes featuring 450 wax statues represent different rituals, folk crafts, trades, professions, local customs and street life. One scene illustrates matriarchy in Iraqi society through mothers’ attachment to their sons. The character “Oum Ibrahim” admonishes her son “Ibrahim” for leaving the family home immediately after his wedding, forgetting about his mother while in the arms of his beautiful bride. 

The scene is a reproduction of a traditional Baghdadi home. The decor is simple with old paintings and wall mattresses adorning the walls and statues of women clad in colourful traditional dishdashas sitting around. 

“The scene reflects the kind of relationship that existed in the past between mothers and daughters-in-law. Some of the characters depicted in the museum, including ‘Oum Ibrahim’ are common in oriental societies. Many oriental mothers carry the same feelings towards their male offspring… They don’t like to share them,” said Balkis Kazem with a laugh. 

“I am keen on visiting the museum every now and then as it commemorates our popular and social heritage, which is withering away. The children also enjoy watching the statues and the scenes that mirror a world that is strange to them,” said Kazem, who was touring the museum with her three young children. 

Another scene reproduced a traditional wedding procession, or “zaffa,” in which the groom, accompanied by family and friends, proceeds to the bride’s home amid applause, music and dances. 

“The scenes replicate with lots of details a time frame and a way of life that was much healthier and more beautiful than the present,” Kazem said. “Everything was simpler; relationships were more transparent and genuine. Development and modernism made us lose our social heritage and traditions.” 

There are scenes of circumcision rituals, afternoon tea gatherings, women baking bread and grilling fish and of a traditional basement, where people sleep in hot summer days. 

The Baghdadi museum was damaged during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, causing it to suspend its operations. Explosions led to the collapse of ceilings, the shattering of windows and ruined some scenes. The museum was restored and reopened in August 2008. 

Museum Director Jassem al-Baydani admitted that much restoration work needs to be done on the scenes and the wax models. “We have devised annual plans to modernise the premises, renew the scenes and replace the 430 statues despite funding limitations and the difficult security and economic conditions,” Baydani said. 

Among the renovated scenes is a great depiction of traditional Maqam singers and Iraqi musicians, Baydani said, adding “specialised teams of artists and sculptors are working on replacing the old statues and restoring the facilities in the building, which goes back to 150 years.” 

“The museum is a very popular and family-friendly place to learn about local folklore and past lifestyles,” Baydani said. “Our revenues have been increasing constantly although the entry fee is equivalent to less than $1. Regular visits by students are organised by the Ministry of Education to keep children aware of Baghdad’s history and heritage.” 

Art student Walid Saleh described the museum as a symbol of Iraqis’ resilience and attachment to their social heritage that they try to transmit from one generation to another. 

“It is wonderful to see that both children and adults are aware of Baghdad’s history. The city carries a lot of past magic and the museum depicts scenes reminiscent of the ‘Thousand and One Nights’ tale,” Saleh said as he took photos of the settings. 

He noted, however, that the place needs to be upgraded. “Many scenes and models have to be redone; besides, signs and information explaining the scenes are lacking,” he said. “Nonetheless, the museum remains a place close to the heart of Iraqis and a reminder of good old days.” 

by Oumayma Omar

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#ArabAmerica: Heather Raffo, bringing Iraqi women’s stories to the stage

It was more than a dozen years ago that actor Heather Raffo, whose family is from Iraq, recognised a void of female Iraqi protagonists in American theatre. That propelled her to write and perform her Off-Broadway show, 9 Parts of Desire, earning her raves for her portrayal of nine Iraqi women. 

“When I wrote 9 Parts of Desire, there were things I wanted to see and articulate on stage that didn’t exist yet. There wasn’t an Iraqi, female protagonist in the English language in the theater. Had there been, I may have never turned to writing,” Raffo says. “Still, this story draws on so much of my life. There just aren’t that many other mid-40s, Middle Eastern, let alone Iraqi, characters, so it makes sense that I would be an actor right for playing this.” 

Raffo’s latest work draws on the personal stories of Arab American women and their response to A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama of one mother’s quest to balance her duty with her identity. Titled Noura, it is onstage now, produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company, and part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival

Noura challenges standard notions about modern marriage and motherhood through a portrait of Iraqi immigrants living in New York. As Noura (Raffo) and her husband Tareq (Nabil Elouahabi) get ready to celebrate their first Christmas holiday together as U.S. citizens, they welcome a young Iraqi refugee named Maryam (Dahlia Azama) into their home. 

“It’s on the eve of celebrating Christmas with new American passports in hand, and this family feels they’ve arrived,” Raffo says. “The arrival of the visitor upends Christmas dinner and the family is forced to confront their choices and [their] past.” 

Raffo describes the genesis of the play as coming from “a collision of three different events or perspectives”; being a mother of young children, ISIS taking control of Mosul, the city her father was born in, and a grant she received from the Doris Duke Foundation to work on theatre within the Arab-American community in New York. 

“The refugee crisis would be a fourth defining event, as I do have some family members [who are] part of the wave of refugees,” Raffo says. “I had been processing since the Iraq war, how identity changes due to these different traumas and different thresholds that people go through and that’s something I revisit in most of my work.” 

The playwright felt people were relating to being Iraqi or identifying as Iraqi in 2014, -15, -16, -17, than they were in 2008 or even before the war. 

“I had quite a few family members still living in Iraq at the start of the war. My father had nine brothers and sisters and they all had kids, and they had kids, so it was a big contingent of family who saw themselves as part of the makeup of the identity of that country,” Raffo says. “Now, in 2018, I can say that perspective has truly shifted. I now have two cousins in the country and everyone else is scattered. Going from about 100 people to two over the course of a decade is quite a dramatic shift.” 

That set the stage for this play, as one of the main themes in Noura are the different thresholds from which identity itself takes a massive shift, leaving people feeling quite lost. “It was something I experienced hugely in the group of women I was teaching with the grant, and that converged with young 20-year-old, Middle Eastern-American women who are really bound from two cultures and trying to find themselves in both and they don’t want to walk away from either,” she says. 

“They want to live as Americans and as Middle Eastern women; that’s something we explored and discussed in these theatrical writings we did.” During the workshop, the participants read A Doll’s House, tackling themes in the play that spurred some of their own writing and reflecting on the story because of Nora Helmer’s awakening. This was an emotion that the young women in the group had already experienced. 

“We were all post-Noras; we knew what it was to go out on a massive limb and take the leap and figure out what comes next and how to make a life,” Raffo says. The play is also about Raffo, a mother in a modern American marriage. And though she has a great husband and fantastic kids, she admits she finds it difficult sometimes. 

“I felt that there weren’t a lot of plays or places I could turn to as a person in a successful marriage,” she says. “It still felt like there were times I was drowning. There is still stuff we are not talking about as women. This could be so hard to balance—balancing motherhood with how I’m supposed to move through the world as a Western woman.” 

Although Raffo stars in Noura, (as she also did with 9 Parts of Desire), she notes she has no problem with writing plays for others. “I’ve written things that I haven’t been in and I really like it. It’s much easier. It’s so super to be in a process as a writer and watch other people realise it and just do notes related to writing. It’s a really stunning path,” she says. 

“The challenge of performing also is its own other thing. I wouldn’t say it’s hard for me to let go—I think my director would say I was a very generous collaborator. Just in previews week, we’ve cut half the ending and that’s quite painful as a writer but I am standing up there on stage having to try things at the hands of a director.” 

Still, she says when she did 9 Parts of Desire, the biggest thrill was when she stopped performing it and travelled around the country watching others in the role and being part of the deep community conversations. 

by Keith Loria

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Czech people contribute for the renovation of a war-devastated library in Mosul

The charitable fundraiser called Let´s Help the Library! is a joint project of the library of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University and the organisation People in Need. The fundraiser concluded on January 31, 2018. 500,000 CZK has been collected for the restoration of the Central Library of Mosul University. 

“On behalf of the University of Mosul I would like to thank all my colleagues and all those who helped with and contributed to the fundraiser. We are very grateful for all the support our library and our whole university is getting,” said Mohammed Jassim Al Hamdany, the director of the Mosul University library.

The fundraiser Let´s help the library! launched on October 2, 2017, was extremely successful: in total over 280,000 CZK was collected from donors. The organisation People in Need knows the situation in Mosul very well and believes that it is extremely important to help and support the university library. Therefore, the organisation released some funds from its fundraiser Real help to bring the total amount to 500,000 CZK. 

The money will be used to buy equipment the library needs in order to function as a Learning and Social Centre. “We are delighted to see that the project has borne fruit and that the amount of money collected will help to gradually bring life to the university library in Mosul again. We thank all those who were not oblivious to the fate and future of the library and contributed to the fundraiser, “said Klára Rösslerová, director of the CU FA Library. 

The fundraiser Let´s help the library! has finished but you can still help The central library of Mosul University in Iraq was one of the most important and best equipped libraries in the region. It included valuable manuscripts and old prints. During the years 2014 - 2016 Mosul was occupied by the so-called Islamic State and the library was ransacked and almost destroyed during fighting. 

The city of Mosul was eventually liberated in July 2017 and efforts to revive the city began immediately. The efforts also concern the University of Mosul and its central library, which has always provided its students and teachers with reliable information and background for studying and teaching. 

You can contribute to People in Need´s long-running collection SOS Syria and Iraq. ”We have been working in Iraq since 2003 and we will continue working there in the future. Millions of people in Iraq are still in need of immediate humanitarian aid." 

"Apart from helping these people, we are trying more and more to focus on long-term programs whose aim is to re-establish basic services. Such as education or access to drinking water. These programs also support people who lost their livelihoods as a consequence of the conflict,” added Naďa Aliová from People in Need.

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How Daesh left a toxic footprint in Iraq

Like any typical 15-year-old, Ahmad Jasim stays glued to his smartphone, watching music videos and playing games. In his family’s modest living room with dark concrete walls, the light from the phone’s screen illuminates his handsome but gaunt face. 

But unlike his peers, Ahmad doesn’t go outside to play soccer or fly kites. Simple activities tire him out quickly because his heart is permanently damaged, the result of inhaling the smoke that blanketed this town of farmers and shepherds after Daesh militants ignited nearby oil wells.

“He hates life. He just hates life,” his mother, Rehab Fayad, said wistfully. “It’s affected him not just physically, but psychologically.” The militants detonated 25 oil wells in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful effort to defend their terrain against Iraqi security forces in 2016 and wreck a prised national asset. 

For nine months, a thick, blinding cloud of smoke engulfed Qayyarah and the villages that surround it, turning people’s skin and sheep’s coats black from soot. The Daesh footprint on Iraq’s environment may be unprecedented and permanent, with a toxic legacy that includes wide-scale cattle deaths, fields that no longer yield edible crops and chronic breathing complications in children and the elderly, doctors and experts said. 

Up to 2 million barrels of oil were lost, either burned or spilled, between June 2016 and March 2017, when firefighters put out the final blaze, according to a United Nations report citing Iraq’s Oil Ministry. Environmental experts worry that much of the oil has seeped into the groundwater and the nearby Tigris River - a lifeline for millions of Iraqis stretching more than 1,000 miles to Baghdad and beyond. 

The militants also torched a sulfur plant north of Qayyarah, spewing 35,000 tons of the stinging substance into the air, the United Nations said. Reportedly containing one of the largest sulfur stockpiles in the world, the plant was set ablaze in part to help hold off Iraqi security forces, according to human rights and environmental experts. 

Still unknown is the full extent of the impact. 

Studies into the long-term health effects have been halting, with Iraq’s government putting greater urgency on rebuilding, resettling displaced people and the clearing of explosives. “The effect of what happened here will be felt for many years and decades, and the worst of it hasn’t even shown up yet,” said Abdul Muneim Tabbour, the head of Qayyarah’s health department. 

“The government has other priorities.” 

US officials who have monitored the destruction say that it recalls the environmental damage done to Kuwait by Iraqi President Saddam Hussain’s forces when they set fire to the country’s oil fields in 1991. 

But unlike in Kuwait, the toxins emitted around Qayyarah have settled over populated areas and farmers’ fields. Qayyarah and the surrounding villages and settlements that abut the oil fields are home to about 100,000 people, according to the last census in 2011. 

The fires in Qayyarah were an especially stark case, but the Daesh carried out a variety of environmental sabotage and degradation that blight a vast area, extending north to Iraq’s Hamrin Mountains and west to the farms and oil fields that line the Euphrates River near the Syrian city of Deir Al Zor. 

“The damage on the Syrian side is right in the country’s breadbasket, and [the Daesh] contaminated it through industrial practices and deliberate sabotage,” said a US official who closely tracked the destruction over the past three years. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the issue publicly. 

“You’ve got trenches filled with oil, oil spilled into the river, and soot from burning oil contaminating the fields,” the official said. “All of it makes it harder for the next leaders to govern, or even to provide clean food and water.” “We went through a disaster,” said Ramadan Mahjoub, the head of Qayyarah Hospital, recalling the days and months the smoke covered the area. 

Children and the elderly rushed to the hospital with breathing problems, up to 600 in a three-hour period, said Ali Farraj, an internal medicine specialist. After the sulfur plant was burned, the cases became more severe, involving skin rashes, severe bronchitis and suffocation deaths, he said. 

For months, children playing outside or waiting for a handout from passing Iraqi troops had faces caked with soot. 

Dead sheep and cows littered fields and roadsides. 

“The level of disregard by the Daesh was pure nihilism,” said Wim Zwijnenburg, a Dutch researcher and co-author of “Living Under a Black Sky,” a report on environmental destruction in Iraq, sponsored by Pax, a Netherlands-based nonprofit organisation. “The burning of the sulfur factory was a real case of using environmental damage as a weapon of war.” 

Ahmad was 13 when he awoke one humid September night choking from the toxic air. His face and legs were swollen, and he complained to his mother that he couldn’t breathe. His mother rushed him to a nearby clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, the French aid group, where they discovered that fluid was collecting in his lungs. 

He was taken to a hospital in the Kurdish capital of Arbil, 65 miles to the north. After he arrived at the hospital, Ahmad suffered a stroke. In a handwritten report given to Ahmad’s mother upon his release, doctors noted that he had suffered “severe heart failure,” possibly a result of his lungs expanding and putting pressure on his heart. 

“He will live with this for the rest of his life,” his mother said. Ahmad’s prospects for proper treatment are not good, and his chances of receiving psychological care for his trauma are even worse. Qayyarah’s main hospital is still being repaired from the damage it sustained during the battle to evict the militants. 

The closest hospitals equipped to deal with delicate cases such as Ahmad’s are in Arbil and Baghdad - a lengthy and costly trip. Ahmad’s father is a municipal employee who does not receive a regular salary. “We can only afford his heart medicine,” his mother said, adding that psychological care is out of the question. 

In the village of Ijhala, an hour’s drive from Qayyarah’s center, farmers have struggled to grow their traditional crops of okra, tomatoes, cucumber and watermelon. Herds of sheep that once numbered up to 50 are now limited to about a dozen. “The smoke destroyed us; people are not working,” said Ebrahim Al Agedi, a 52-year-old farmer. 

The meager crops that do grow are useless. No one wants fruits and vegetables “that have been poisoned,” he said. “Other cities and towns have had physical destruction when they were liberated,” Agedi said. “But none are going through what we are going through. Our land, our air and our water have been destroyed.” 

For Agedi, the loss of income is compounded by the health issues afflicting him and his family. There are 16 children in his household, all with various respiratory ailments. “I don’t have money to go to a doctor; I’d rather feed my children,” he said. Instead, Agedi and others in his village rely on Amin Yousuf, a 40-year-old nurse who treats people free in a humble one-room clinic. 

During a recent sandstorm that lasted several days, Yousuf said he was seeing 100 patients a day with persistent coughs and difficulty breathing. “This never happened before, and we can only guess that is a result of the smoke,” he said. “I can only provide a simple service,” Yousuf said, noting that many of the people he serves can’t afford the treatment they need. 

He blamed the Daesh for the condition of his village. 

“They claimed to be Muslims,” he said. 

“They left behind a symbol of their Islam: a toxic environment that will affect future generations.” Mahjoub, the head of Qayyarah Hospital, said the long-term health concerns from the toxicity in the soil and water are many. He worries most about birth defects, cancer and malignant tumors. 

Local and international experts say a sustained study of the contaminated area is urgently needed to prepare for future health effects and contain any spread of toxins. The United Nations said in a report last year that ongoing efforts to remediate the environmental impact of the 1991 Kuwait oil fires are expected to last until 2020. 

Saif Al Badr, a spokesman for Iraq’s Health and Environment Ministry, said the government is aware of the matter but is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the post-Daesh reckoning - with land mines and mass graves receiving most of the attention. Human rights groups that work in war-ravaged areas say environmental contamination from military conflict is a problem that is often far down the list of priorities for governments. 

“With other threats, such as land mines, there are funding streams and a well-developed legal mechanism. There’s nothing like that for toxic remnants of war,” said Doug Weir, manager of the Toxic Remnants of War Project, a research organisation based in Britain. “Most of the time, it’s just left to the affected state, where there are lots of competing needs.” 

As usual, he said, the most vulnerable groups in society are also most likely to experience harm. “It’s children, it’s the elderly, it’s people with existing medical conditions,” he said. “At this stage in Iraq and Syria, there’s not enough data to know what’s safe.” 

By Alex Potter

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War, poverty in Iraq lead to sharp rise in number of elderly labourers

Weak and sick, 64-year-old Munthir Haider still works hard daily to earn the bread for his family in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala. "No work means death for me and for my family," Haider told Xinhua. Haider works as porter, usually seen with his cart at a popular market in Baquba, the capital city of Diyala. 

He has to support his poor family, but it is hard for him because there are not enough job opportunities while he has no pension or any other financial assistance. Like other areas, Diyala is witnessing a sharp rise in the number of elderly labourers due to the hike in poverty rate after years of war and conflicts, particularly in the areas just liberated from the rule of Islamic State (IS). 

Hassan al-Rubaie, an Iraqi economist, told Xinhua that the number of elderly laborers has climbed by 90 percent, and they have become a common phenomenon in Iraqi markets. Another porter named Abu Arkan, 60, carries goods in a local electricity market in central Baquba. 

"Poverty pushed me to work in a profession that does not fit with my age, but what can I do? I have to bring food to my family," he told Xinhua. Abu Arkan used to be the owner of a shop in his ethnically-mixed city of Jalwlaa, some 70 km northeast of Baquba, before IS militants burned it, forcing him and his family to flee to Baquba in 2014. 

"I lost everything back home so quickly and became a poor man, because my family and I couldn't take anything out from our house. We barely escaped with our lives," Abu Arkan recalled. Abu Hassan, 58, was hired as a temporary cleaning worker. He works for long hours a day, but cannot earn enough money to buy food for his family. 

The number of elderly labourers is rising sharply in Iraq, especially among the displaced people, who were forced to flee their homes and original careers during the war against IS since 2014. "I hope that the conference on reconstruction of Iraq in Kuwait would provide some help for us by rebuilding our cities so we can return home," said Abu Hassan, referring to the international meeting for reconstruction of Iraq being held in Kuwait City. 

The elderly labourers are harder to get a job because they face unequal competition from the young workers. "The elderly almost have no hope to compete with young men, especially for arduous jobs, which need the energy and strength of youth," Udai Abdullah, a young construction worker, told Xinhua. al-Rubaie said most of the elderly workers are victims of the U.S.-led invasion into Iraq in 2003 and the destruction done by extremist groups like IS, which took over large swathes of land in northern Iraq in 2014. 

"Elderly labourers is one example of the human tragedy that resulted from the extremism and terrorism," Rubaie said. Rubaie said the government's social protection program, designed to reduce poverty by providing financial grants to the individuals and families in need, is insufficient. 

"It cannot resolve all the cases of poverty, vulnerability and needs reforms," Rubaie said, adding that the program does not include the displaced people. Many Iraqis said the problem of the rising number of elderly laborers requires greater government efforts in cooperation with the civil organisations to encourage the displaced people to return home, while providing jobs that fit their ages and abilities. 

Local reports in Diyala indicated that the poverty rate there exceeds 30 percent, including 7 percent under extreme poverty. However, the figures released by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said that 23 percent of total Iraq's population live in poverty, spending less than 77,000 Iraqi dinars (2.2. U.S. dollars) per person per month.  

On Dec. 9, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially declared full liberation of Iraq from IS militants after Iraqi forces recaptured all the areas once seized by the extremist group. Nevertheless, Diyala, like several other Iraqi provinces, is still suffering from severe damage of its infrastructure and substantial government support for its reconstruction process.

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Charity Gives Aid to Repair 2,000 Assyrian Homes in Iraq

Christians forced out of their ancestral lands in northern Iraq are rejoicing after a leading Catholic charity announced an urgent injection of aid to rebuild an extra 2,000 homes. The US$5 million (£3.6 million) package from Aid to the Church in Need will support projects renovating 2,000 houses on the Nineveh Plains --1,500 in Qaraqosh and 500 in Bartella, Bashiqua and Bahzani. 

ACN's international executive president Baron Johannes von Heereman, who has met with displaced families in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil, stressed the urgent need to provide help. He said: "If we do not do everything in our power to support this first third of returning Christians, they will leave their towns again -- and perhaps even the country -- for good." 

ACN Middle East projects head Father Andrzej Halemba said he was encouraged that up to 35 percent of Iraq's Christian had already returned to their homes. He said: "More than 30,000 Christians have in the meantime gone back to where they lived before the Islamist terrorist groups invaded. "However, their situations are anything but easy." 

Father Halemba said that Christians are facing high heating and electricity costs due to a severe winter. He added that although Daesh (ISIS) had been defeated in the region, their extremist ideas had taken root in some sections of society. Rebuilding is being overseen by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, which was formed by the Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Churches. 

Since it was set up in late March 2017, the NRC has rebuilt nearly 3,000 houses -- with ACN providing support for the renovation of 784 homes. The latest aid package is a stopgap measure until more charities, governments and NGOs back the NRC scheme. Father Halemba said: "It will be possible to achieve the greater objective -- namely, to restore 6,000 houses -- only if we provide concrete aid together with other players and only if this region is not left to its own devices. 

"This would enable at least each second displaced person of the Christian minority to return. "Otherwise, we have to fear a reversal of the currently still tangible homecoming process." Father Halemba added that to keep people from emigrating from the area, further steps needed to be taken to ensure long-term security. 

Since 2014, when Daesh seized the Nineveh Plains, Aid to the Church in Need has provided more than US$40 million (£28 million) for Iraq's Christians. ACN provided nearly half of all emergency aid -- food, medicine, shelter and schooling -- for displaced families supported by the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil. 

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has stated that his country needs more than US$97 billion (£70 billion) to fix crumbling infrastructure. There were more than 1 million Christians living in Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. Numbers have declined to between 200,000 and 250,000 today. 

By John Newton and Murcadha O Flaherty

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Iraq ‘Clearance Mission’ Seen as ‘Tipping Point’ Between Past Conflict and a Normal Future

In Fallujah, as many as 1,800 vehicles and 100 pedestrians per hour can cross the re-opened ‘new bridge’ linking Baghdad with Al-Anbar Province. The fibre optic cable connecting more than 3,000 customers with Baghdad has been restored. The Jadidah fuel station, which had been closed for three years, now pumps an average of more than 31,000 litres for 300 vehicles per day. 

In Mosul, the Al Qaysoor Water Treatment Plant has resumed providing clean and safe water to more than 300,000 customers across 34 service areas. The High Court can access deeds to validate land claims of residents returning to Ninewa Province. Valuable medical equipment, removed for safekeeping, awaits rehabilitation of a hospital in Mosul. 

None of this progress would have been possible without infrastructure first being cleared of the explosive threats posed by debris of past conflicts and devices left by retreating ISIL forces, thus allowing the Government of Iraq, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Community to carry out the necessary rehabilitation work. 

“We had almost lost all hope,” said Mr. Ali, manager of the Jadidah fuel station, speaking for its 20 employees. “We expected that the station would be blown up,” and it might well have been. United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)-directed teams safely removed 34 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) weighing a total of 435 kg from the station premises. “You (UNMAS) gave us our jobs back,” he said. 

“We eliminate threats along roads, under bridges, from power and water plants, from schools, from critical infrastructure, so that those displaced by conflict can return to their homes, begin again to work, to educate their children, to contribute to society, to live a normal life,” said Pehr Lodhammar, UNMAS Senior Programme Manager, prior to the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq. 

Lodhammar says conference outcomes will help UNMAS to set priorities working in collaboration with the Government and other agencies supporting Iraq’s reconstruction. All infrastructure is important, but the sequencing of clearance missions itself is complex and the UNMAS top priority, Lodhammar says. “What comes first on our list in turn affects all other rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts ‘downstream’,” he says. “So, we always begin with a joint-assessment to establish our priorities.” 

He cites the current UNMAS work to clear Fallujah’s power grid serving two areas outside of the city. As of December 2017, UNMAS-directed teams had searched nearly 34 km² along power lines and cleared 580 explosive devices. When the UNMAS work finishes, repair crews can begin restoring power to as many as 60,000 people and seven schools. 

UNMAS-directed partners working at the community level, village level, even the ‘well level’ make a difference on a daily basis, Lodhammar says. 

In Al Bokald, villagers spoke of the ground as their enemy. “We could not walk for fear that something would explode in our faces,” said one. Today, with explosive devices cleared, 20 families again have access to a well and water for their own needs and to grow their crops. 

The story confirms for Lodhammar the need, primacy and urgency of the clearance mission as shared by all agencies engaged in Iraq’s reconstruction. “We have to do our job, safely, quickly and well so others can do theirs.” In 2018, the mine action sector requires 216 million USD to respond to the rehabilitation efforts of retaken areas and critical needs in access to basic and municipal services, education and health of returning civilians. 

In the Reconstruction and Development Framework (RDF) presented at the Kuwait Conference, the Government of Iraq will prioritize the clearance of explosive hazards to enable the reconstruction of Iraq and support of accountable governance, reconciliation and peace building, social and human development and economic development.

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In Iraq, violence and conflict leaves children in need

Violence may have subsided in Iraq, but it has upended the lives of millions across the country, leaving one in four children in poverty and pushing families to extreme measures to survive. 

Without investment to restore basic infrastructure and services for children, the hard-won gains to end conflict in Iraq are in jeopardy, according to a UNICEF and UN-Habitat assessment, Committing to Change – Securing the Future. 

The conflict turned Iraq’s major cities into war zones with significant damage to civilian infrastructure, including homes, schools, hospitals and recreation spaces. Since 2014, the United Nations has verified 150 attacks on education facilities and 50 attacks on health centres and personnel. 

Half of all schools in Iraq now require repairs and more than 3 million children have had their education interrupted. “Children are Iraq’s future,” said, Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

“The Kuwait Conference for Iraq this week is an opportunity for world leaders to show that we are willing to invest in children - and through investing in children, that we are willing to invest in rebuilding a stable Iraq.” 

As displaced families return, many find that their homes require major repairs, exacerbating pre-conflict housing shortages in the country. In the city of Mosul, over 21,400 homes have been damaged or destroyed. 

The poorest families have no other choice but to live in the ruins of their homes, in potentially hazardous conditions for children. Some have taken their children out of school and put them to work. Many children were forced to fight an adults’ war. 

"Children are hardest hit in times of conflict, and Iraq urban crisis recovery and reconstruction should be prioritized, adequately supported and quickly implemented, with special attention to vulnerable people, including children,” said Zena Ali Ahmad the Director of Arab Region of UN-Habitat. 

At the Kuwait Conference for Reconstruction in Iraq, UNICEF and UN-Habitat are appealing for firm commitments to restore basic infrastructure and services for children, including in education, psycho-social support, health and water, sanitation and hygiene, and housing.

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Investments in health can contribute to peace dividends

In response to the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls on the international community to further invest in Iraq's devastated health sector. 

In Anbar, Ninewa, Salah Al Din, and Kirkuk, 14 hospitals and more than 170 health facilities were damaged or destroyed in the three-year conflict. Water and power systems that health facilities depend on to function also need urgent repair. 

Beyond physical damage, the crisis caused unimaginable mental distress for millions of people, left tens of thousands of Iraqis with severe physical injuries, disrupted the routine vaccination of millions of children, decreased reproductive health services to girls and women of child-bearing age, halted the supply of essential medicines and medical equipment, and interrupted the medical education for hundreds of thousands of aspiring medical workers. 

"More than 2.4 million Iraqis are still displaced and need direct health care, and more than 3.3 million Iraqis who have returned home have gone back to areas where the health system needs to be almost entirely rebuilt," said Altaf Musani, WHO Representative in Iraq. 

"Across the country, millions of Iraqis are in the process of rebuilding their shattered lives and WHO is keen on supporting the governmental health authorities to provide them with appropriate and dignified health care services." 

WHO has worked with health partners to support the Government of Iraq in providing emergency health services and strengthening the health care system to ensure vulnerable persons have access to quality health care.

In 2017, partners including various departments of health provided over 6 million medical consultations across Iraq. This was made possible by establishing and supporting at least 29 static health clinics in displacement camps and outreach through more than 64 mobile medical clinics. 

Notably, life-saving emergency health services were provided to more than 24,000 people through five field hospitals close to the front-lines in Mosul, Hawija and Al-Qaim. To protect current humanitarian gains as well as reduce vulnerabilities, further investments in health are urgently needed. 

Support to rebuild health systems, provision of life saving medicines and upgrading medical technologies will ensure a responsive health care system. WHO and health partners are appealing for firm commitments to Iraq's health care system which will enable peaceful, dignified and safe returns as well as revitalisation of new accessible areas.

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