Five million inhabitants. One million displaced Iraqis and 200,000 Syrian refugees. Seven hundred thousand people below the poverty line, living on less than $90 per month (that’s 14 percent; it was 4 percent in 2013). The unemployment rate jumped from 4.8 percent to 14 in six years. Half a million barrels of crude oil per day. Eighteen percent of GDP is from oil. And $1 billion of oil revenues disappeared into thin air. An $18 billion deficit.
That is the story of Iraqi Kurdistan in numbers. Then there are the lives. There’s Akhbar, an economics graduate, who arrived in Erbil in search of work and is still unemployed. There’s Mahmoun, a receptionist at a two-star hotel, who in a war among the poor blames refugees who work for half the price. And there are the teachers, on strike for months, who finally were forced to reopen the schools for the good of the students.
Against this backdrop of growing social tensions are the Kurdistan Regional Government buildings, the construction sites and the high-rise towers that form the skyline of this city modeled on the Gulf petro-state. The modern development clashes with traditional markets where elderly vendors lay a piece of cardboard on the ground and sell belts, lighters, candy.