Iraq’s youth bulge threatens to sag its weakened economy

RIYADH: Iraq has one of the youngest populations in the world, with seven million people between the ages of 14 and 29, but the country cannot put them to work.

The country faces a strong youth bulge, which successive administrations have failed to harness to boost its weak economy.

More than 60% of Iraq’s population is under the age of 25, and the youth population is expected to grow from seven to ten million between 2015 and 2030, according to a Save The Children report.

“This means the government urgently needs to create jobs at an impossible rate, especially in the private sector,” Massaab Alousi, an Iraqi analyst, said in an interview with Arab News.

He added: “This leaves young people unprepared to compete for jobs at regional or international level, as they lack the necessary skills that the private
businesses want.

The Iraqi government faces enormous challenges in preparing the country for its growing population on a range of fronts, such as food security, economic diversification and infrastructure development, commentators note.

Feeding the country is already a major issue, despite its large expanses of agricultural land.

Between 2014 and 2017, farm incomes nearly halved, from about $15 billion to about $7.6 billion, due to Iraq and its allies’ war against Daesh, according to a report by the American research organization Atlantic Council. The value of agriculture to Iraq’s economy as a percentage of gross domestic product fell from around 20% before 2003 to 3.3% in 2019, according to the think tank. “There has also been a decline in fertile land, we have more than 3 million dunums, or acres, of agricultural land that has been neglected and which could produce food for the people of Iraq,” said Hussein Thagab, a Iraqi journalist specializing in economic issues. , in an interview with Arab News.

This situation has left 4.1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the country, according to UN reports.

Years of fighting in the country have left it awash with gunfire and numerous armed militias, making it difficult for Iraq’s weak state to
develop a credible reconstruction plan.

Iraq’s economy is heavily dependent on oil, which accounts for 96% of Iraqi exports, 92% of government revenue and 43% of GDP in 2019, according to Alousy.

The fact that Iraq’s rentier economy is oil-based is unhealthy and unconstructive, Thagab noted. A rentier economy is an economy organized around income-generating assets, where aggregate incomes are dominated by rentiers and those who control them.

Thagab said: “Iraq has failed to organize itself, diversify its exports and exploit its many resources such as gas, minerals and oil fields which have not yet been exploited.

“The legal system does not facilitate re-export, which hampers Iraq’s ability to be a transfer platform for the region.”

The Iraqi government has also been unable to prepare its people for the digital revolution that has swept the world over the past two decades, adding to unemployment. “The most threatening aspect of the youth bulge is the high unemployment rate, which is 36% for this part of society,” Alousi added. According to Unicef, nearly 3.2 million Iraqi children of school age are out of school.

The situation is chronic in conflict-affected governorates such as Salah Al-Din and Diyala, where over 90% of children are out of school.

“As Iraq’s population grows while its conditions deteriorate, the gap between society’s demands and the government’s ability to meet them is widening,” Alousy noted.

A growing population also puts additional pressure on Iraq’s dilapidated Iraqi infrastructure.

Over the past four decades, war, internal conflict and international economic sanctions have devastated the country’s infrastructure. The health sector suffered not only during periods
conflict but also due to lack of funding during periods of relative stability.

It is estimated that Baghdad alone needs 70 new hospitals to cope with the expected increase in the capital’s population. The number of additional hospitals needed will be much higher in other less developed regions, experts note.

The roads are a little better. With the exception of the airport road, Baghdad’s highways look much like they did 20 years ago under President Saddam Hussein, residents point out.

“The government should put in place a short-term plan for massive reconstruction that would employ many young people,” Alousy said.

A growing population is increasing pressure on an already strained Iraqi economy, which has many young people but is unable to provide them with the skills needed to find work.

Thagab added, “We lack training centers that can enable our young people to learn new technologies and increase their skills. Young people cannot be ignored, there should be plans to prepare them for future employment.

Instead, public sector hiring has become an inefficient way for the government to tackle the problem while failing to properly support the growth of private businesses, Thagab noted.

He said: “The government has failed to promote laws that would make the private sector more efficient.”

Alousy said the first steps Iraqi governments must take are to tackle the country’s endemic corruption and disband its militias.

He added, “This would allow for more private investment in the country, the implementation of necessary reforms and long-term planning.”

Comments are closed.