The first of these is agriculture. Decades of conflict made us massive net importers of foodstuffs, but we intend to become more self sufficient. A large irrigation project is about to be started with 70 billion cubic metres of water reserve. We have fertile land, but little domestic know-how. We do already have a nascent food processing industry that creates strong demand for agricultural produce.
The industrial sector is also very important for us. We need to develop industry in all areas, particularly electricity and construction materials. We have already indentified industrial zones in our cities, and allocated millions of square metres of land. Successfulinvestments of more than 1 billion dollars are already taking place, many with international partners.
One fact that may come as a surprise to some of you who have never visited Kurdistan is our boomingdomestic tourism. We attract many visitors from the rest of Iraq, thanks to our cooler climate and excellent security situation. In five years, the number of visitors to Kurdistan has shot up by 240%. With this need for many more hotel beds, our hospitality sector is developing rapidly. The Rotana Hotel is enjoying booming business since it opened at the end of 2010, and this year Hilton Double Tree and Marriott Suites announced their plans for Kurdistan. We are also creating two mega-tourism projects for the lakes of Dokan and Duhok.
Our fourth priority sector is banking. Our existing banking operations are, frankly, unsophisticated, and need to be developed. As well as loans, banks also have very good long-term prospects in housing finance, as 90,000 housing units are being built. Twenty-five thousand of these are social and affordable homes, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has allocated 500million dollars to them.
Iraqi private banks and several Lebanese and Turkish banks have opened branches in Kurdistan, but apart from HSBC’s ownership of Dar Esselam Bank, Western banks have been absent so far. We hope to see the British banks bringing their renowned retail and corporate services and know-how to the Kurdistan Region and the rest of Iraq.