Middle East
Oil-rich Amara left high and dry
Southeastern Iraqi city steeped in abject poverty despite vast oil resources.
Last Modified: 24 Dec 2008 19:24 GMT

With its vast oil resources, Maysan should be one of the richest provinces in Iraq. But it is actually one of the poorest, as the profits simply aren't filtering down to the people.

Al Jazeera's Mosab Jasim visited the provincial capital Amara, where some residents still live in abject poverty - six years after the oil revenue started coming in.

In the village of Al Kahla near the south eastern city of Amara, homes are made of reeds and mud, children don't have access to a proper education system, health care is virtually non existent, electricity is in short supply and there's no indoor plumbing.

But this could have been one of the wealthiest places in Iraq.

The oil fields in the region produce 15 to 20 per cent of the country's oil, Jamil Shahit, an Amara oil ministry official, says.

"Amara is one of the biggest oil rich provinces in Iraq. But we are not using the entire production capacity in Amara," he says.

"And that's because we don't have enough equipment or experienced staff."

So much oil reserves, yet so much poverty. Many people in Amara can not make ends meet and they tell us they wonder why their lives have to be so hard.

Poverty and corruption

Ninety per cent of the people here live below the poverty line - that means they live on just a little over one US dollar a day.

"It's very sad to say Amara, though a very oil rich region, is very poor in services and infrastructure because until now, there hasn't been a single big project which has helped this city," Fadhil al-Eqabi, a local economic expert, says.

"There is no shortage of money here. The problem is mismanagement and lack of experience."

Corruption is blamed as another of the key reasons for a lack of progress in development and infrastructure.

In September, Iraq was listed by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, coming in just ahead of Myanmar and Somalia.

"The Americans ought to be proud of this statistic ... they are to be blamed," Issam Al Chalabi, a former Iraqi oil minister, told Al Jazeera.

"Even during the Baath regime, and during the sanctions, corruption had never reached such levels.

"So far, the export of oil is not being accounted through proper metering systems, of which they have talked about for the last six years."

Chalabi says oil revenues are being used to set up militias, buy weapons and to pay US contractors to provide security.

Promises not kept

For many years, Amara residents have waited to enjoy some of the benefits from the oil fields they walk or drive past everyday - oil fields that produce over 180,000 barrels a day, and have the potential to produce much more.

But since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein's Baathist government, residents say the situation has only become worse.

"Nothing has changed since the fall of the regime, and the poor services here were provided by Saddam's government and not the current one," Mohammad Abdullah, an Amara local, tells Al Jazeera.

"We keep hearing promises that our city will be developed but nothing is happening yet."

Abdul Karim al-Saedi, a tribal leader in Amara, complains about lack of electricity or running water.

"We are hearing about thousands of barrels being produced a day, but we've never seen any of its benefits. We don't know where the oil money is going," he says.

Al Jazeera
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