Baghdad: A Metropolis city struggles with population surges and traffic woes

Baghdad: A Metropolis city struggles with population surges and traffic woes

Shafaq News / Baghdad grapples with a population situation that can be described as "suffocating" in every sense.

A predicament that is not a product of the moment but rather stems from a retroactive impact of longstanding economic and demographic crises that have shadowed the Iraqi capital for roughly two decades or more and have led to a significant shift in the living arrangements of Baghdadis, accustomed to spacious homes, now forced into cramped living spaces.

Meanwhile, the streets are congested daily with millions of vehicles. Although the current government has proposed solutions to address traffic and housing crises, experts note that these measures are not without environmental implications.

The Iraqi capital ranked 52nd globally in population density out of 500 cities in the American CEOWORLD magazine. It followed Cairo as the 2nd most densely populated Arab capital, with a population of approximately 21.75 million.

Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, ranked 3rd among Arab cities with a population of 6.16 million, followed by Alexandria, Egypt, with 5.48 million, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with 4.78 million residents.

Globally, Tokyo, Japan, topped the list as the most populated city with 37.27 million, followed by News Delhi of India, 32.07, and Shanghai, China, 28.52 million residents.

"Furthermore, the World Population Review revealed that Baghdad's population density reached about 85,140 people per square mile in the same year." This coincides with Baghdad's residents' common practice of subdividing large homes into smaller ones, with families obtaining 50-60 square meters per household.

Moreover, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning spokesperson, Abdul Zahra Al-Hindawi, clarified that in 2022, Baghdad's population reached 8.75 million, compared to Mosul's four million and Basra's three million. Following this data, Iraq's population may reach 80 million by 2050.

According to statistics prepared by the Central Statistical Organization of the Planning Ministry for 2015-2030, Iraq's population in 2024 reached 44.414.800. Notably, it is projected to reach 45.520.500 in 2025, 46.639.900 in 2026, 47,771.600 in 2027, 48.914.100 in 2028, 50.061.500 in 2029, and 51.211.700 in 2030.

According to Baghdad mayor Ammar Musa, the expected Baghdad population in 2030 will be around 11.375.000. Given the current reality of the capital, "it appears that Baghdad will not be able to accommodate this surge."

"Baghdad's day differs from its night," Al-Hindawi said, explaining that "Baghdad is at the forefront of the densely populated cities, with more than nine million residents. This figure increases during the day - including visitors from other governorates - to exceed 10 million residents."

Notably, the last population census in Iraq was conducted in 1997, and over the past 15 years, political forces have not agreed on conducting a new one. The census is considered crucial for distributing wealth in the country, drawing up development plans, evaluating their results, and devising the correct plans for reconstruction.

The Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani's government has taken measures to address the issue of population growth, especially in Baghdad, formulating solutions to alleviate the congestion the capital is experiencing.

These solutions include launching the first phase of projects to ease traffic congestion by constructing bridges, overpasses, and tunnels in Baghdad. These projects are expected to be completed this year, as announced by Al-Sudani under the banner of "the year of achievements."

Additionally, the government has initiated several residential cities to combat population density and inadequate housing for Iraqis. Among the most prominent are Al-Jawahiri City in Baghdad, Al-Ghazlani in Nineveh, Al-Janain Al-Jadida in Babel, and Dhafaf in Karbala.

The latest development was signing a contract for Ali Al-Wardi City under the sponsorship of Al-Sudani. The contract was signed on January 31, 2024, between the Minister of Reconstruction and Housing, Bangen Abdullah Rekani, and Ora (Orascom) Company, owned by the Egyptian businessman Najib Sawiris. This project, consisting of 120,000 housing units, will be implemented in the Nahrawan area, southeast of Baghdad.

According to government estimates, Baghdad sees a daily presence of four million cars. Still, its streets are only suitable for 400,000 vehicles, which means the current increase in Baghdad's streets alone is estimated to be ten times the current capacity.

Experts describe that Baghdad could potentially accommodate around seven million cars daily. The Iraqi government hopes that the new projects within its initial package will reduce the intensity of traffic congestion.

As part of the five-year plans to address this crisis, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Planning stated on March 4, 2023, that "there are measures to accommodate these population increases."

The Supreme Council approved the National Population Policy Document for Population under the chairmanship of the prime minister. This document includes long-term visions to provide life necessities, utilize population growth, and transform it into developmental drivers.

The spokesperson further elaborated that "these policies revolve around improving the sectors of health, education, and housing, supporting vulnerable groups in society, establishing partnerships between the public and private sectors, and focusing on developing studies and research on population issues, with priority given to these issues within development plans."

The plans outlined in the document will be implemented through the five-year development plans. The ministry is now preparing the five-year development plans for the next five years, considering the reality of population increase, economic issues, and development, to take appropriate actions and policies to address population issues.

Baghdad's Mayor, Ammar Musa, reiterated on October 14, 2023, "Addressing population density in Baghdad, according to the city's development plan, involves creating new cities outside the borders of Baghdad." He explained that "establishing new cities will benefit Baghdad as they will create cities adjacent to Baghdad and reduce the population congestion within the capital."

Mayor Musa affirmed, "We are proceeding vigorously under the patronage of PM Al-Sudani to create projects that serve Baghdad and alleviate population congestion within the city."

Furthermore, Falah Al-Amiri, the director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Security project in southern Iraq, emphasized on March 4, 2023, that "the increase in population growth rate poses a greater threat to the environment than pollutants of various types and forms. The relation between rising pollution levels and increasing population growth rate is reciprocal."

He explained that "the problem associated with the increase in the population growth rate and environmental pollution lies in the fact that the services sector, health sector, and housing expansion are almost non-existent or very slow. There is a numerical and compounded sequence of population growth rates with the absence of growth or stagnation in the expansion and development of these sectors, which is the root of the problem."

Al-Amiri pointed out that "the volume of services and institutions remains unchanged without change proportionate to the population growth rate. This leads to the clear emergence of solid pollutants, and sometimes, pollutants like air or soil pollutants only become apparent within specialized fields. This sequential equation drains resources and leads to rapid depletion, such as road services, bridges, health, education, and water resources."

He further noted, "We find clear auditory, visual, and noise pollution due to the overcrowding of populations in the same administrative units, which have not expanded or been developed and have remained as they are. This indicates a disaster that may gradually lead to economic and environmental collapse if those concerned and decision-makers do not address it."

On January 14, 2024, Baghdad Projects, a specialized website supporting urban projects in the capital, Baghdad, stated, "Baghdad is on the verge of executing its largest massacre against its ancient trees in its modern history, distinguishing the riverbanks from the Jadriya side."

The website added, "This will happen due to what is promoted as a solution to the traffic congestion problem," explaining that "the concerned authorities have overlooked the fact that the fundamental solution lies in implementing a modern public transport system capable of accommodating the daily transportation needs of millions of citizens without the need for personal vehicles."

The website indicated that "relieving traffic congestion can be achieved by providing alternatives, such as a modern metro system including bus lanes, tram lines, and a metro network." It also criticized the "new bridge project in Abu Nuwas, which will destroy the remaining green cover in Abu Nuwas Street and the riverbank in Jadriya, as well as the parks of Aaras Island, and will increase pollution by encouraging citizens to use more private cars for transportation instead of encouraging the opposite after providing alternatives," describing traffic congestion solutions as "superficial and patchy and will not solve traffic congestion."

Environmental concerns loom as the government launches ambitious projects to ease congestion and construct new residential hubs. Can Baghdad balance immediate needs and sustainable growth, ensuring a thriving future for its residents amid the challenges of overpopulation and strained resources?

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