Iraq's Poor Continue to Work Despite Curfew, Health Risks
Large segments of Iraqis have been living under difficult conditions for years as a result of unemployment and lack of job opportunities. These factors have pushed many of them to participate in the demonstrations that took place in Iraq, especially the last one that erupted in October of last year and was suspended a few days ago due to the coronavirus.
Despite the potential health risks and the curfew that was imposed by the Iraqi authorities to confront the risk of the virus spreading, the majority of popular markets, especially in poor neighborhoods in Baghdad and other governorates, have witnessed regular traffic. Most merchants and shoppers have ignored the medical advice as to how to avoid the risks of the deadly virus.
Many witnesses confirm to Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of popular markets in poor East Baghdad neighborhoods are still full of people and authorities have been unable to shut them down and impose a curfew on them.
While the Iraqi government finds itself incapable of providing support to those segments of society in overcoming the current crisis, the Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Jihad Azour, warmed against the effects of the virus on the economy of many countries in the Middle East. Azour told Reuters that the challenge will be terrifying, especially for fragile and fragmented countries such as Iraq, Sudan, and Yemen.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Planning, Abdul-Zahra al-Hindawi, admitted that the conditions facing these impoverished segments in Iraq are dire. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “percentage of poverty in Iraq has reached 20% of the entire population, around 7 million people, and the majority of them are in southern governorates”.
Hindawi agrees that the cases of extreme poverty have pushed some to defy the curfew. The difficult conditions under which these segments live have pushed social, civil, and religious actors to launch a comprehensive food aid campaign in the last few days for poor families.
There have also been popular calls and demands that parties and political blocs make an initiative in providing aid fighting the virus in Iraq. In this respect, Leader of the National Wisdom Movement in Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, indicated that his party is willing to support the Ministry of Health in fighting the coronavirus.
In his letter to Iraq's Minister of Health Jaafar Allawi, Hakim said: “To contribute to the efforts of the loyal and selfless people in your ministry and other ministries that are working to deter the risk of this pandemic that is creeping in on our homeland and our people, we would like to put all of our capacities and halls at your disposal in all Iraqi governorates”.