Saturday, August 15, 2009

WWB: poverty and homelessness

WHAT WAR BRINGS: vast increases in poverty and homelessness

War and occupation makes the poor much poorer, and often leaves the formerly well-off in a destitute condition. Jobs often disappear in war torn countries, and people often become refuges and flee for their lives, leaving their jobs, schools, savings, belongings and homes behind. Sometimes they have to pay protection or ransom money that drains their bank accounts of all that they had.

I suppose there are millions of stories in Iraq and Afghanistan on how the poor or middle class ended up in desperate poverty, but it is a story as old as war and occupation itself. Poverty and homelessness is just one more aspect of what happens when a war is started up, or when a foreign military power occupies another land. Of course, in both countries, but particularly in Afghanistan, there was poverty before the wars and occupations even started.

But after almost eight years in Afghanistan, and over six years in Iraq, one would think that the US authorities would have made some degree of improvement in living conditions in these countries if they gave a damn, or if they actually wanted to have peace and stability in the region. One would think wrong, apparently.

Here is one example from a NYT article titled “Fate of missing Iraqis haunts those left behind”. This was published in May 2009, and gives an example of the level of poverty that some Iraqi people are dealing with at this time.

The family of Ms. Diham, whose 13-year-old son disappeared while buying vegetables, has been squatting at a former army base in Baghdad's Amiriya neighborhood. They survive by recycling aluminum cans scavenged from a large garbage dump a few dozen yards away. The glass on their windows has been knocked out by explosions from car bombs, and there is no proper front door, only a strip of white cloth. One of the rooms is filled with piles of empty cans waiting to be bagged. Among the family's few possessions are two white mules and a television set.

In another story called “Displaced Iraqis lead fractured lives” both the poverty and the hopelessness is highlighted. This is from May 2009.

Mohammad Jaffar cast his eyes toward a barren patch of land he calls home. "There is no life here," Jaffar said. "No life."

Jaffar and 400 other Iraqi Arabs have lived here in a squalid camp, along a road that seems to lead nowhere, since they were driven from their homes in the sectarian bloodshed that plunged the country into chaos in 2006 and 2007.

The camp illustrates some of the problems Iraq faces as it attempts to build the institutions of a modern state: Although there is a semblance of peace, the country remains riddled with fault lines of sect and ethnicity, and saddled with competing authorities. Jaffar and his neighbors live at the intersection of those realities. They cannot return home, and they cannot rebuild their lives, a situation that threatens to make a temporary solution permanent.

This camp is located near the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, where the Baghdad government does not seem able to help, and where the Kurdish officials do not seem willing to help. The Iraqis fled to this camp with nothing, running to save their lives. There is no financial assistance for them. There is no electricity or water or latrines. They feel they have been abandoned, since no one is taking an interest in them or helping them.

"This is what the war did to us," said Intissar Saadou, whose tent is next to Jaffar's.

A study released in May 2009 by an Iraqi government agency said that 25% of Iraqis are now living in poverty.

Study: Nearly 25 percent of Iraqis live in poverty

Nearly one in four Iraqis lives below the poverty line, according to a study released Wednesday by an Iraqi government agency.

The Central Statistics Authority ….. spokesman Abdul-Zahra Hendawi said 23 percent of the country's 27 million people live in poverty, most of them in the rural areas.

... Hendawi said the study blames failing infrastructure, corruption and high unemployment for the spread of poverty, which was defined as living on $2.50 or less per person, per day. He said the food ration system has played a role in minimizing poverty. "We expected a higher percentage of poverty, but apparently the ration system is helping the poor to cope with the situation," he told The Associated Press.

This statistic was repeated in an article published in The Independent (UK) about corruption in Iraq.

Although it is an important oil producer, many Iraqis are on the edge of starvation; 20-25 per cent of Iraq's 27 million people live below the poverty line on less than $66 (£41) a month.

McClatchy’s had a report in July 2009 titled “In Baghdad, the poor have no choice but to beg” about current conditions in the capital city of Iraq.

Zainab, 7, dodged moving cars as she stuck out her hand for help. After a couple of hours, she'd collected 3,000 dinars, less than $4. She walked back to where she lives.

That's a trash-filled warehouse only a few yards from Abu Nowas, the busy street in the Karrada district where she was begging. Then Habeeb Abdulsada, her father, let her watch cartoons on TV with two of his other children in the blue tent he'd pitched inside the warehouse, which reeked of rotten fruit and vegetables.

……. For the Abdulsada family, Zainab is their meal ticket. Neighbors sometimes bring food for them, but the 7-year-old's innocent face "makes people sympathize with her and give her money," her father said.

Beggars on the streets of Baghdad are widespread, and are as common as checkpoints and blast walls (some of those walls are coming down, by the way). Reportedly, unemployment is at 18%, but unofficial estimates places the unemployment as high as 30%. The family mentioned above sleep at night out on the grass in the median of the street. US and Iraqi officials go by every day, as do US troops. They don’t stop to help, with the rare exception of the US troops – who have given them food on occasion.

Many Iraqi families cannot get their food rations because they are displaced. But there are more problems than just the internally displaced.

Over 20 percent of Iraqis live below the poverty line

Iraq's food rationing system, known as the Public Distribution System, was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago. However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.

The poverty in Iraq is driving an illegal trade in kidney and other organs in Baghdad. Donating organs is legal, selling them is not. Most of the money from the organ trade does not go to the donator, but to the dealers. Most of the buyers are Iraqis, but there is a growing market that is attracting other people in the Middle East.

Poverty drives Iraq organ trade

Karim Hussein made the long journey from Amara, a province in the south of Iraq, to Baghdad because he was desperate for the $3,000 he would get from the sale of a kidney there. "I have taken a loan to build my house," he told Al Jazeera.

"I thought I would be able to get work in order to be able to pay my debts back, but the daily amount I am getting is not enough to feed my family, I have eight children."

And there is no help for the many Iraqi detainees that are released by the American military. They get $25 in cash and a new set of clothes. There are about 90,000 detainees released in the last six years, with many more due to be released or turned over to the Iraqi authorities in the next year.

Iraqis Freed by US face few jobs and little hope

They have received a grim welcome. Many return to families crippled by debt from months without a breadwinner. Insurgents see them as potential recruits — or American agents. Old friends, neighbors and even relatives refuse to greet them in public, suspicious of their backgrounds or worried that a few minutes of socializing could mean guilt by association when the authorities, as Iraqi officials often intimate, come to round them back up.

All of these factors are aggravated when the men can find no legitimate work, because of mistrust and a brutal job market. In a town where there are other, bloodier ways to earn cash, this makes for a dangerous brew.

……. “He’s an engineer and can’t get a job anywhere,” Mr. Gannaoui said, pointing at one of the four men in the room with him, who all were nodding. “It’s like they’re ordering them to go and do bad things.”

Some Iraqi reporters working for McClatchy’s discussed homelessness in Iraq this past May. There was clearly homelessness before the US invasion. After the US military showed up, a lot of Iraqis expected things to change. Some started building homes on government land.


With the absence of the authority of law people went far with their dreams and they built houses on the lands that belong to the state. They thought the new comers would understand their needs to have shelters. They thought at least the government would find them the substitute of the illegal shelters that they built. Now those people have evacuation orders because their illegal houses deform the appearance of the cities. And the new complexes are built to give to those who are not in need.

The McClatchy reporter goes on to claim that the current government is following the policies of the former regime of giving to their followers and leaving the rest destitute. And this is creating real bitterness among the Iraqi population.

And in Afghanistan – things are worse. Poverty was much more entrenched, even while there is less reporting done on the subject. A French news service said that three things are going to impact on the upcoming Afghanistan election – security, corruption and poverty.

The big issues - security, corruption and poverty

Poverty: A promise to tackle poverty features in all the candidates’ programmes. And no wonder. More than ten million Afghans, 37 per cent of the population, live in severe poverty, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Unemployment stands at 40 per cent.

And Admiral Mullen had this to say about poverty in Afghanistan:

"What I do see and have seen over the last two or three trips is something that I call a 'culture of poverty' and it isn't just that we've under-resourced it - we've under-resourced it for a significant period of time," Adm. Mullen said.

Of course, that does not mean that we have not sent over billions of dollars to address the issues facing the Afghan people. It just means those dollars never reached them. Oxfam is urging Americans to write our congress critters asking for reform of the US foreign assistance strategies in Afghanistan. More information here.

A recent Daily Kos diary by Ralph Lopez talks about conditions in Afghanistan and how JOBS are really needed.

Jobs for Afghans Last Blog from Kabul

The soft underbelly of this occupation is the angry men in the squares looking for work, who are ripe to take the Taliban's $8 a day wage because that's who is hiring. It's insane. The Taliban is making gains all over the countryside because of economics, not because anyone likes them. In fact, they are thoroughly disliked.

He is 100% correct. Without jobs, there is no hope. And with hungry children at home crying at night, a man will do almost anything to stop that crying. It is vastly stupid not to have started up a jobs program the very day the US military went into Afghanistan and Iraq, but then our government is not exactly known for its ability to figure out the basics.

Here is a comment he made in another one of his Daily Kos diaries about poverty in Afghanistan.

We have occupied this country for going on 9 years now [actually, it would be 8 years – dancewater] and still many people are living as if the bombing had stopped yesterday. Most Afghans do not have enough to eat, and in the remote provinces there is slow starvation. One out of five infants dies before the age of five of malnutrition or lack of access to clean drinking water.

And today, he made another appeal for a jobs program in Afghanistan.

Poverty and drought is also showing a negative impact on education, as per this report from December 2008.

Drought, poverty lead children to abandon school

Drought, poverty and lack of food have adversely affected the life of many children in Chemtal and elsewhere, forcing some to work instead of going to school. It is hard to estimate the number of children who have abandoned school to collect water and/or help feed their families, but local officials have reported a considerable drop in school attendance.
…. "We hardly find any food to eat. Our children often go hungry," said a resident of Chemtal District, explaining that all his four children had lost weight and regularly fell ill.

With the clear poverty and chronic homelessness that are evident in war zones, one would think that the world (and the US in particular) would make an attempt to help the victims of these wars. One would think wrong.

Countries at war get little aid for mothers, children

Countries that are at war such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq get only US$1.30 a person a year in aid to help prevent mothers dying from childbirth and children dying before they are five, a study has found.

…… In an article in PLoS Medicine, researchers in Britain said they trawled through databases kept by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and United Nations and found that a total of US$20.8 billion was given each year between 2003 and 2006 to 18 countries that were affected by war.

….. In comparison, developing nations which were not at war - such as Bangladesh, Malawi and Cambodia - were getting an average of US$2.50 a person a year.

Photo: People clamour for food in Baghdad - around 25 per cent of Iraqis live below the poverty line. From The Indepentent (UK): Iraq faces the mother of all corruption scandals

Photo: Residents wait for the distribution of relief goods by the Red Crescent organization to a poor neighbourhood in Baghdad's Abu Dsheer district in this September 8, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen/Files

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: vast increases in poverty and homelessness.


What shall we say when history asks how such crimes came to be committed in the name of America? Will we say that we stood silently by, shrugging our shoulders, filling our bellies, closing our eyes? Or will we be able to say: We saw. We dissented. We resisted. We condemned. ~ Chris Floyd

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