BAGHDAD - Iraq is verging on a catastrophic shortage of housing for its people, a senior housing ministry official said.
"The need for housing has developed from a shortage, to a problem, to a crisis, and probably now it is a catastrophe," Saad Al-Zubaidi, a counselor to the interim minister of construction and housing, told AFP in an interview.
Neglect of the housing sector under Saddam Hussein has been compounded recently by damage during the US-led war that toppled the former regime in April, and subsequent rent hikes by landlords, Zubaidi said.
"A lot of landlords have asked to sharply increase the rent, and if they (the tenants) can't afford it they just kick them out," he said.
Intisar (L) stands at the entrance to their room with her 3-year-old daughter Tabarnak, inside a building that used to house military prisoners of the Saddam Hussein regime. Iraq is verging on a catastrophic shortage of housing for its people, a senior housing ministry official said. (AFP/Roberto Schmidt)
The evictees then move into empty government buildings.
"They are in the thousands, and it's becoming a humanitarian issue of not being able to kick them out, and not being able to keep them in," said the London-educated architect and planner.
AFP found several families on Sunday living in squalid conditions at a former Iraqi Air Force office building.
"Eight people live in this room," said Sadake Hamad, a toothless old woman who did not know her age.
The room with a blue tile floor measured about three meters by four (nine feet by 13), or the size of a small bathroom. It's only comfort was a thin, worn mat along one wall.
At night, the family makes room to sleep by moving their cooking utensils outside.
The family said they became squatters just after the war when their landlord increased the rent on their Baghdad home.
Zubaidi said close to half of Iraq's population of about 26 million are considered to be living below the poverty line and cannot afford decent housing.
"It is the responsibility of the state to find accommodation for them if they are citizens of this country," he said.
Zubaidi's ministry has begun site preparation for three major housing complexes and has plans to build one million houses by 2010.
© 2003 AFP