UN Expands Cash-for-Work Programme in Iraq

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is targeting unemployment in some of the areas most affected by violence and insecurity in Iraq through expanding its cash-for-work programme to reach more than 11,000 vulnerable people and help them meet their daily food needs.

The scheme provides beneficiaries with short-term employment in agricultural infrastructure projects with the long-term aim of ensuring they don’t go short of food.

“Cash-for-work projects work really effectively in places where food is available in the market yet people cannot afford it -- as is the case in Iraq,” said WFP Country Director Edward Kallon. “This project not only gives beneficiaries a job but it secures future food production by focusing on the agricultural sector.”

The UN food agency is implementing the scheme in Diyala and Baghdad governorates where many people have returned from overseas or from elsewhere inside the country to find their properties looted and jobs lost.

WFP piloted the scheme earlier this year as part of the “Diyala Initiative,” which included measures to help with the resettlement of internally displaced people (IDPs), returnees and other vulnerable groups.

“Thank God for this chance -- now I can buy food for my family; I bought them meat for the first time in months,” said Haytham Abd Kathem, one of the 500 workers on the Diyala pilot project.

With the support of US$5 million from the United States government, this project is now being expanded so that others like Haytham can provide for their families.

Participants will be paid the Iraqi dinar equivalent of US$10 per day for a three-month period, with supervisors paid the equivalent of US$13 per day. The pay rates have been set below the average daily wage of US$13-17 for labourers, so that it benefits only the most vulnerable members of the community who might not otherwise be able to find work.

WFP is will be paying beneficiaries in cash in the beginning while exploring the possibilities of using electronic technology, such as smart cards, to facilitate payments and minimise risk.

Cash-for-work activities are selected based on the community’s priorities and could include the clearing and rehabilitation of sewage and irrigation canals, tree planting, rehabilitation of farmland and improving sanitation.

While Iraq is potentially a rich country with large oil deposits, decades of war and instability have led to a deterioration in infrastructure and social services, as a result of which many people have been left poor and vulnerable. A 2008 survey estimated that 930,000 Iraqis were food insecure, with a further 6.4 million vulnerable to food security without the Public Distribution System.

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