Friday, January 2, 2009

Maysan Province Remains Underdeveloped


At the end of December 2008, a spokesman for Maysan announced that of 241 projects planned for the province, only 41 had been completed. Those that were finished covered water, roads, sewage, communication, health, education, and local administration. Maysan is in extreme need of development as it is one of the poorest in the country, this despite the fact that it is rich in oil resources.

Maysan suffers from extreme poverty and a lack of services. According to the United Nations World Food Program, in all six of Maysan’s districts 50-94% of the population lives in absolute poverty. The World Food Program divided Iraq up into five economic groups. In the districts of Amara, al-Kahla, Qalat Saleh, and al-Maimouna 79-94% of the population lived in the poorest of the five. In the remaining two districts of Ali al-Gharbi and al-Meja al-Kabi 50-75% were in that group. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) reported that 64% of the population was below the poverty line. It found that the province had some of the lowest levels of services such as electricity, schools, and medical care in the country. It reported that the situation was so bad that it was “population-repelling.” The U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team there found that the economy actually declined from the end of November 2007 to the end of February 2008, and gave it the lowest rating of any of Iraq’s eighteen provinces.

The lack of development can be seen in the employment numbers. 43% of the province works for the government. Despite American efforts to privatize the country since the invasion, much of the country still relies upon the state, which provides the steadiest source of income. After that 29% are self-employed and 25% work in farming. Cheap imports, a lack of tariffs, and a cut in subsidies has wracked both of these sectors of the economy.

Maysan finds itself in this predicament despite the fact that it has a large amount of oil and the provincial government spends a fair share of its capital budget. According to an Oil Ministry official, the province has 15-20% of the country’s oil reserves, and produces around 180,000 barrels a day. It could be producing more, but a lack of equipment, experience, and corruption, which are rampant throughout all sections of the country, and all levels of government, is preventing it. The provincial council, which is controlled by the Sadrists, has also done a good job spending its reconstruction money compared to the rest of Iraq. In 2007 it spent $39 million of its $76 million capital budget, 51%. That was the third most in the country behind Kurdistan and Najaf. In the October 2008 SIGIR report Maysan was again at the top having spent 41% of its capital monies up to that date. That was the fifth most in the country. Despite these high percentages, the money appears not to have been spent well as only a small fraction of the projects were actually completed this year. The competency of the bureaucrats there has to be questioned if they spend that much money, but garner so few results. More importantly, neither oil nor reconstruction appears to have had an affect upon the general population. This is true of the entire country.

The province’s announcement of completing only 17% of its planned projects is only the latest bad news for Maysan. Oil reserves and relatively high spending of its budget have not helped the province get out of poverty. The jobs available outside of the government are limited in what they can offer because Iraq’s economy has been hobbled since the invasion. Maysan provides an extreme example of the problems the entire country faces. Despite having the third largest oil reserves in the world and a massive reconstruction program led by the United States, Iraq still finds itself relatively poor compared to most of its Arab neighbors. Little of the money spent or the oil produced has benefited the average Iraqi. Whether the country can ever overcome these problems is an open question.

SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “41 out of 241 projects implemented in Missan,” 12/30/08

Al Jazeera, “Oil-rich Amara left high and dry,” 12/24/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/08
- “Quarterly report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/08

World Food Programme, “Comprehensive Food Security & Vulnerability Analysis: Iraq,” November 2008

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