UNHCR builds new homes for Iraqis left homeless in attack

Making a Difference, 26 October 2009

© UNHCR Photo
Before and After: Workmen (left) renovate a damaged building in Taza; the finished house, painted blue, seen from the same viewpoint (right).

TAZA, Iraq, October 26 (UNHCR) Barely three months after a massive explosion ripped through Taza, killing around 90 people, most of the scores of destroyed homes have been rebuilt and business is thriving once more in the northern Iraq town's main market, which was heavily damaged.

The bombing was the worst attack in Iraq since March 2008, and the majority of victims were from the dominant Turkmen community. But, with the help of UNHCR and its partners, the town in Kirkuk governorate is recovering remarkably quickly from the outrage.

Immediately after the blast, UNHCR field staff visited Taza to assess the damage and to distribute emergency aid to the survivors. The team found that about 160 houses, mostly made from mud bricks, had been totally destroyed and some 400 damaged. As a result, around 3,500 people were left without shelter.

The refugee agency immediately swung into action, funding the reconstruction of 150 collapsed homes and the renovation of 73 shops and two other buildings in Shorja Market. The work was carried out by an Iraqi implementing partner as part of UNHCR's emergency shelter programme which has helped rehabilitate some 10,000 conflict-damaged buildings for refugees and internally displaced Iraqis and aims to double this figure in 2010.

"The aim is to mitigate displacement, encourage returns and build confidence in disputed areas," said one UNHCR official, adding that the programme focused on the most vulnerable families. Where possible, the agency uses materials procured locally and hires local labour to carry out the work.

The shops in Shorja Market were handed back to their owners in a simple ceremony attended by UNHCR staff and local officials on September 30.

Thirty-year-old Mohamed Ali was among an estimated 400 people injured by the bomb blast. The family breadwinner was evacuated for medical treatment in Turkey, where he spent his time fretting about his relatives. He was not convinced when they said an outside organization UNHCR was helping to rebuild their house.

When he finally returned home in mid-August, he was astounded to see the new one-storey house. "Had it not been for my elderly father sitting in front, I would have thought I was in the wrong street," he said, adding: "I have to send a thank-you letter to UNHCR."

Taza's Mayor Talib, who attended the hand-over ceremony last month, was also grateful for UNHCR's help. "Your intervention helped people who lost one or more of their family members," he told Daniel Endres, UNHCR's representative in Iraq.

Endres, who toured the rebuilt and renovated buildings, pledged that the refugee agency would continue "to assist those affected by the blast and help them settle back in their homes."

As of the start of September, UNHCR had helped more than 2,950 families (18,700 people) with shelter intervention, including members of local communities, internally displaced people and returnees from overseas or elsewhere in Iraq.

By Younis Ahmed in Taza and Maha Sidky in Baghdad, Iraq