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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: New social programme assists the poor and vulnerable

BAGHDAD, 31 March 2005 (IRIN) - A new programme to assist the poorest and most disadvantaged members of Iraqi society was launched recently by the Minister of Public Works and Social Affairs, Leila Abdul Lattif.

The project employs a team of six psychologists who travel the streets of the capital under police guard, searching for the destitute, orphans, the elderly and disabled homeless. Most have no means of support other than begging. They are offered refuge at a centre called "The Mercy House".

Here, a variety of support services are offered by professional and volunteer workers, including doctors and psychologists.

Each person who accepts assistance is given an individual psychological assessment and their difficulties are analysed. An individual programme is then worked out to help them cope with whatever issues have resulted in them being on the streets.

"I believe that it's the best programme that the Iraqi government has ever developed. In this centre you really can explore the minds of your patient and in the meantime feel happy that you are giving the possibility for each one to have a better future," Dr Ibraheem Kassem, a Mercy House volunteer, told IRIN in Baghdad.

The use of children by parents to sell goods on the streets is considered to be abuse, the volunteer added. A child who arrives at the Mercy House suffering in such a way may be taken from the family and cared for in a children's home until the parents show they intend to stop using the child in this manner, he explained.

Some families may now receive monthly payments in order to improve their living conditions, taking children off the streets and removing the necessity for them to send their children out to work. The primary solution for the young is to get them back into education which most have missed out on.

Those helped may be offered jobs in governmental buildings, but others who are simply too old to work may be taken to specialist centres for healthcare.

Ahmed Salah, senior officer from the public works ministry, told IRIN that the scheme has been highly successful so far and the aim is to help take many more off the streets of Baghdad as the programme develops.

"We have also been asking for the help of mosques in the capital and from the police, to assist us in finding those who have been working like a Mafia and using these poor people. They don't care if they victimise women, children or the elderly, they use them to sell on the streets, threatening them with death if they don't co-operate," Salah said.

The Mercy House occupants’ gratitude for the opportunity they have been given shows on their faces. There is a feeling of optimism and growing prosperity around the place.

"I didn't have a choice before and was begging at traffic lights on the streets of the capital. But today they have given me another chance and I won't lose it. I want to be back in society and see people looking at me with respect," 72-year-old Abbas Hussein, told IRIN. He was taken off the streets and is now living at the Mercy House.

Almost US $250,000 is being invested in this and a variety of related smaller projects for the disabled, according to the ministry officials. Other money is coming from revenues raised from the rental of houses owned by the ministry.

One of the smaller projects gives the opportunity for people to open their own business. The ministry will lend them the initial capital to set themselves up and once they have an income they will be expected to start paying the loan back according to their means.

Salah said recent studies show that Iraq has 1.5 million disabled people, most of them living without any form of financial support.

As a result they have become isolated from the rest of society.
"Many of them are professionals who can do worthwhile work for society and make a contribution. They just need someone to make them welcome and give them an opportunity," Salah said.

The ministry has also opened discussions with various NGOs seeking donations of essential equipment for the disabled. This includes items such as artificial arms and legs, specially designed chairs and equipment to assist with hearing and speech problems.

They are also looking for help to establish domestic production facilities within Iraq to manufacture equipment specifically designed for the disabled.

The first project the ministry is tackling is the improvement of disabled access to government buildings. This will entail the construction of ramps and handrails to allow easier passage for all. There are also plans for legislation that will make it compulsory to improve disabled access to both public and private buildings and all public transport facilities.

Yehia Muhammad has recently been fitted with a new artificial leg as part of the ministry initiative.

"I lost one of my legs and an arm 20 years ago in the war and since then all the doors for work have been closed to me. God bless this project which will revitalise the lives of thousands of Iraqis like me," he told IRIN.

Themes: (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Other

[ENDS]

 

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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