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IRAQ: Budget cuts threaten IDP housing projects

BAGHDAD, 6 January 2009 (IRIN) - Lack of government funds could force the Ministry of Displacement and Migration to postpone until 2010 some housing projects designed to ease internal displacement, an official told IRIN on 4 January.

"We asked for 40 billion Iraqi dinars [US$34.2 million] for the ministry's [2009] investment budget but we were told that only eight billion [$6.85 million] could be allocated. This could prevent us from achieving our goals for this year," said Ali Shaalan, head of the Ministry's planning directorate.

"A top priority is to buy land for housing projects. We have already finished feasibility studies and designs for some of them, and we laid the cornerstone of one of them last March in the southern province of Mayssan," Shaalan told IRIN. Mayssan is about 350km south of Baghdad.

Shaalan said other projects, such as one planned in Basra Province, could be postponed until 2010 "if there are insufficient allocations this year".

In November 2008 the government cut $13 billion from its draft budget in light of falling oil prices (now down to around $47 a barrel from a summer peak of $147). The government may have to revise its budget for a third time, as the second draft was based on an assumed oil price of $62 a barrel.

Ambitious plans

In February 2008 the ministry unveiled ambitious plans to build an unspecified number of residential compounds nationwide. Each compound would have 50 buildings and each building six apartments - allowing some 300 families to buy a unit.

Schools, markets, mosques, electricity and water plants, health centres, police stations and other facilities were to have been built on each compound, but these plans are now on hold.

Shaalan said the ministry had a five-year plan, which it still hoped to implement, in which some 514 billion dinars (US$439.32 million) would be invested. Mayssan compound will cost $5 million and will be built on 8.09 hectares. The Mayssan project has started, but it is now not sure when it will be completed.

He said no project was designed to change the demography of a province. Accommodation would be provided to both those who became internally displaced persons (IDPs) after 2003 and to expatriates willing to return.