Baghdad Green Zone
Baghdad Green Zone - ©James Gordon

Neighbourhood rehabilitation: community participation - pilot concept

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Icons use case study main actors

Main actors

Local Government, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy, other

Icons use case study project area

Project area

Neighborhood or district

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 1999/01

The project is based on community participation as a way to improve municipal service delivery in four low-income neighbourhoods

Iraqi local government did not provide basic needs for good living conditions, such as housing, water supply, sanitation, or solid waste collection. Therefore, a pilot project with the concept of community participation developed in four low-income neighbourhoods in Baghdad which suffered from extreme dilapidation in residential surroundings, infrastructure, and services.

UNOHCI and UNDP facilitated the project with help from newly established service cooperatives and additional funding for trained residents in self-management and local leadership, to improve and maintain the quality of services provided.

In each municipality an information and awareness section was established to institutionalise this concept within the municipalities. The project also facilitated in some respects as income-generating tools for cooperatives; job opportunities were allocated to residents in the target areas.

EU ECHO Humanitarian Aid Office provided further funds for the project. With this support, water, and sanitation services that served the target neighbourhoods and adjoining areas were able to be rehabilitated. Additionally the capacity of Baghdad Municipality to upgrade and improve the environmental living conditions was increased, addressing the urgent living condition needs in the targeted communities. Additionally it was possible to reduce health hazards, in some cases using new supplies as part of the Oil-for-Food programme.

Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Baghdad, Iraq

Size and population development
2011: 6,036,000; 1990: 4,092,000; 2025: 9,141,000; 2010-2015: +2,62%/year

Main functions
Capital City

Main industries / business
textil, wood, food, oil

Political structure
the Baghdad Provincial Council with a mayor (governer)

Administrative structure
9 districts divided up into 89 neighbourhoods

Baghdad’s local governments were not able to assure domestic needs such as housing, water supply, sanitation, or solid waste collection in the streets. After more than ten years of economic sanctions, former modern and sophisticated towns were in a sad state. (The project documented here started prior to the US invasion in Spring 2003.)

Streets with large potholes took up liquid waste from overflowing septic tanks, in the absence of collection arrangements uncollected garbage and rubble accumulated in open spaces. Electricity, water supply, and sewage systems were unable to cope with demand due to incomplete modernisation. These services were suspended by the municipalities.

Thus, the project objectives and strategies were based on the premise that, in spite of severe constraints, much can be done to improve living conditions in human settlements in Iraq, through the support of NGOs and inhabitants in the degenerating neighbourhoods. The municipal authorities focused on support for these technical tasks, since the local communities were unable to stop and correct the dilapidation.

The elementary idea was to support community participation by using neighbourhood rehabilitation. To form a lasting partnership, communities and municipal bodies were brought together through joint workshops and meetings.

First, cooperatives by the communities in coordination with the cooperative federation were established. Then, a task force for neighbourhood rehabilitation on the part of the municipality developed. These strategic moves created cooperation in terms of sustainability in the communities.

In December 1999 Baghdad Municipality appointed a coordinating team and with the help of local NGOs, volunteers in the target areas were selected among residents. In this way establishment of service cooperation started. To enable implementation of block-by-block activities, neighbourhood task groups were formed.

Establishment of a focal point in the Baghdad Municipality took place in January 2000.  Inadequate local municipal equipment, from the point of view of the executive team and municipal engineers, was identified. This supported community activities and other necessary steps for planning the part of the community at block level. To understand the social situation in the target community, door-to-door surveys were carried out, in addition in order to spread community participation spirit.

In the eyes of the residents, Baghdad Municipality was responsible for poor urban living conditions, breakdown and lack of services, non-maintenance in fields such as water supply, sanitation, and solid waste collection. Baghdad Municipality was not able to service target areas because of only few functioning vehicles, plant, machinery, and equipment.

This situation was tackled with intensive training or counselling. Preparing for these consultations and workshops with both parties required time and careful planning.

Most important for the site teams were psychological suitability, patience, and ability to speak with, listen, and deal with local communities. Likewise, changing attitudes within municipal staff carried out by project management personnel required leadership, diplomacy, perseverance, patience, and negotiation skills.

To make community participation happen, the executive team had to bring the partners together. First, they had to be sensitised, orientated, and trained to an appropriate level. The entire effort could have been ruined by a lack of sensitivity or a wrong approach. The project also had to train municipal staff in facing local communities.

The local community presented also huge challenges. Transmitting the spirit of community participation to the large population of the neighbourhoods with 2,200 households and more than 22,000 people was one of the major tasks. It was a long process to convince the inhabitants about the benefits of community participation. The facts that residents were angry about local government and Baghdad Municipality thought of residents as arrogant and ungrateful was not helpful towards making both sides open to the idea of teaming up.

Through joint meetings and activities in cleaning up the environment, mutual trust among municipal staff and residents was built. Local communities realised that they could identify their problems and priorities and communicate with the municipalities for help. Their willingness to participate in improving their neighbourhoods was increased, obviously for all concerned. Local communities identified problems which were then solved by the municipality involved. This step enabled expectations of better cooperation to arise and developed understanding on dealing with local communities.

In December 2001, a municipal section for information and awareness was established. Educational campaigns through posters and TV spots were planned and developed by a public relations consultant who followed up the progress during all stages of implementation. Additionally a solid waste consultant was provided by the Municipality to determine the problems in waste disposal, draft recommendations for improvement, and look at recycling as a source of income. Due to environmental hazards this was not implemented, even if it proved to be potentially very lucrative.

From the local government side, Baghdad Municipality was the main partner to the communities. The local municipal bodies at site locations joined later during works implementation, supplying materials, manpower, and equipment.

Finally in January 2002, handbooks for municipal staff were organised, as well as a tri-partite review and evaluation of the project.

Due to the huge input required, external funds and spare parts were requested. UNDP (UN Development Programme), OIP (Oil-for-food-Programme), and EU ECHO agreed to finance a pilot initiative from humanitarian contributions for Iraq. By recruiting a local executive team of engineers, technical and human resources were able to be mobilised.

Technical advice and knowledge in community participation was provided by UN HABITAT and other UN projects were approached for other humanitarian activities within the target areas.

During the process neighbourhood task groups were formed for achieving block-by-block activities.

Identification of scarce local municipality equipment and organisation of necessary supplies in general were contributed by the executive team and municipal engineers. Educational campaigns through posters and TV spots were planned and developed by a public relations consultant who followed up the progress during all stages of implementation.

Additionally a solid waste consultant was provided by Baghdad Municipality to determine the problems in waste disposal, draft recommendations for improvement, and look at recycling as a source of income. This proved to be potentially very lucrative but because of environmental hazards it was not implemented.

The community participation as a municipal service and a maintenance tool works.

The areas where the pilot project took place are definitely cleaner than other surrounding neighbourhoods. For example: sewage overflow is no longer a major problem, local cooperative societies take care of their facilities, and children can play on clean playgrounds. Public environmental health has also improved.

All these facts have led to other neighbourhoods now asking to join the project.

To solve immediate problems engineering rehabilitation works were achieved, either by the Baghdad municipality or through additional funds. These were allocated to support Baghdad Municipality in the process of installing electro-mechanical equipment to increase access to potable water, and decrease sewage flooding within the target areas and the neighbouring areas.

The project encouraged the establishment of community-based-organisations, civil society organisations, and other forms of non-governmental entities. They cooperated to reduce poverty and improve living conditions in the target areas.

The project also reviewed and adjusted its framework to respond to the special needs of people living in poverty or on low incomes. It also offered income generation opportunities to tackle unemployment and ameliorate sustainable livelihoods.

The impact of the project, showing satisfactory results, was measured through surveys carried out in the target areas, addressing resident satisfaction, community development, responsiveness in local municipalities towards residents, and in residents towards local municipalities, last but not least the visible evidence of improved environment such as, absence of solid waste heaps; access to adequate drinking water; no sewage overflow.

There were two major conflicts to face. Local communities’ trust had to be won. Communities had to be convinced that they have better chances to get Baghdad Municipality attention to their problems if they participate in keeping their residential surroundings clean and green.

At the same time, Baghdad Municipality had to be convinced that community participation will reduce their work and make it more rewarding. They also had to be convinced, that resources directed to local communities who respond would then be better and more economically used.

These conflicts and challenges were overcome. Other problems remain to be solved. They are Baghdad Municipality’s limited human and material resources in conditions of sanctions and the consequences of the invasion and difficulties dealing with the variety of authorities and public institutions in general. Furthermore, the right approach has yet to be found in Baghdad Municipality for means of empowering the new municipal focal unit to be able to react to local communities' requests. One subsidiary / knock-on problem is also possible impatience in residents (who are unaware of some of these problems) in the event of delays in improving their living environment conditions.

In order to improve living conditions in comprehensive ways, community participation is a necessary tool. It needs to be institutionalised and supported by arranged continuous training from the municipalities to have sustainable success.

The project opened up new horizons for direct collaboration with local communities.

Residents responded very well to any improvement in the services (i.e. garbage collection and sewer maintenance) and the surrounding environment. Even if some residents were not able to participate due to their living conditions, in the future they might do so thanks to the cooperative services society.

The inhabitants learned that they have the power to change their environment themselves, if they have the will and organisational abilities. They also found that the key to better service access is dialogue and a partnership with municipalities. On the other hand, local communities understood that they can no longer rely on Baghdad Municipality to fulfil the major role of providing services, due to poor condition of equipment, shortage of manpower, and limited maintenance budgets.

Additional funds to support Baghdad Municipality install the equipment for water and sanitation services improved public health environments and furthermore enhanced effectiveness in the community participation concept.

The most encouraging outcome is that local communities and local municipalities learned to communicate and to work together. The future of community participation projects in Iraq and elsewhere depends on influencing political will. The new approach can ensure planning for optimum use of limited municipal equipment as a complementary contribution to neighbourhood self-help efforts.

The initial scheme is planned to be replicated in other Baghdad neighbourhoods and could be repeated in other towns nationwide. The concept of community participation was unknown in Iraq before this measure and seemed to take root in residential neighbourhoods after the approach and its benefits had been understood among the residents.

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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