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Amid Nile dam tensions, Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on

Amid Nile dam tensions, Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on

Hager Harabech elaborates in Phys.Org how Amid Nile dam tensions, Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on.

13 January 2021

Amid Nile dam tensions, Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on
Egypt's Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser: the building of the dam was spearheaded in the early 1950s by charismatic pan-Arabist pr
Egypt’s Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser: the building of the dam was spearheaded in the early 1950s by charismatic pan-Arabist president Gamal Abdel Nasser

Half a century since Egypt’s ground-breaking Aswan dam was inaugurated with much fanfare, harnessing the Nile for hydropower and irrigation, the giant barrier is still criticised for its human and environmental toll.

It is also a stark reminder—amid high tensions today as Addis Ababa fills its colossal Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) upstream—of just how volatile politics over the life-giving, but finite, Nile water resources can be.

The Aswan High Dam was spearheaded in the early 1950s by charismatic pan-Arabist president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Egypt, where the river provides some 97 percent of water for more than 100 million people, is the final section of the Nile’s 6,650-kilometre (4,130-mile), 10-nation journey to the Mediterranean.

For millennia, the North African country was at the mercy of the seasonal rise and fall of the river, dependent on the rainfall in nations far upstream.

But the 111-metre-high and 3.6-kilometre-wide Aswan High Dam, dwarfing the far smaller Aswan Low Dam built under British rule in 1902, crucially gave Cairo power to regulate the flow.

Water power

It was a “very important hydro-political act”, said geographer and author Habib Ayeb, a Nile expert who has taught at universities in Cairo and Paris.

Amid Nile dam tensions, Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on
An Egyptian 'felucca' sailing boat on the Nile at Aswan; before the dam was built, Egypt was for millennia at the mercy of the s
An Egyptian ‘felucca’ sailing boat on the Nile at Aswan; before the dam was built, Egypt was for millennia at the mercy of the seasonal rise and fall of the river

The dam was inaugurated on January 15, 1971, three months after Nasser’s death, by his successor Anwar al-Sadat.

For the first time, “an Egyptian president decided to manage the Nile within Egypt”, to develop agriculture and the economy in the country, Ayeb added.

For Egypt, an otherwise desert nation where 97 percent of the population lives along the green and fertile Nile banks, the dam revolutionised its relationship with the land.

“The dam offered a reprieve to Egyptians by giving them enough water… and protecting them from the hazards of floods, which could be absolutely catastrophic,” said Ayeb.

It also brought electricity to much of the country, a move Nasser said was key to developing the nation.

Abdel Hakim Hassanein, who overlooks the river from his home close to the dam, some 700 kilometres south of Cairo, praised its construction.

“We didn’t have electricity before, we used oil lamps,” the 68-year-old said, adding that work at the dem remains a key source of local jobs.

Ethiopia, the second most populous nation in Africa, today uses similar arguments, saying its 145-metre (475-foot) GERD Blue Nile barrier—set to be Africa’s largest hydro-electric dam—is vital to provide power for its 110 million people.

But Egypt, with the Arab world’s largest population, sees the GERD as an existential threat.

Amid Nile dam tensions, Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on
The Aswan dam created the vast Lake Nasser, which flooded the homeland of Egypt's Nubian people, forcing tens of thousands of le
The Aswan dam created the vast Lake Nasser, which flooded the homeland of Egypt’s Nubian people, forcing tens of thousands of leave
‘Belly of the desert’

In the 1960s, many Egyptians also saw the Aswan dam as a threat to their lives—in a different way.

The lake behind the dam flooded the homeland of Egypt’s Nubian people, forcing tens of thousands to leave.

“For the Nubians, the High Dam is a symbol of oppression,” said rights activist Fawzi Gayer. “It wiped out a civilisation.”

Gayer was born just after his family was relocated to a dusty town its Nubian residents call Abu Simbel “Displacement”.

“We’re talking about a community with a Nilotic identity that breathes the Nile… and we have been thrown into the belly of the desert,” said Gayer.

“The elderly died of shock.”

The Nubians’ long-running demand for a “right of return” was included in the 2014 constitution, but their lands have been swallowed by the 355-kilometre-long Lake Nasser, which stretches south into Sudan.

Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on
The Ramses II Temple at the archeological site of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt; the three-millenia old temples were moved in a g
The Ramses II Temple at the archeological site of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt; the three-millenia old temples were moved in a giant rescue mission before they were drowned by rising waters in Lake Nasser

It was not only people who had to move; the waters threatened to drown the three-millenium-old Pharaonic temples at Abu Simbel, kickstarting a massive UNESCO-led rescue mission that took eight years.

The ancient complex, including giant stone carved statues, was dismantled and moved to a new location, in one of the world’s biggest archaeological rescue operations.

There were environmental consequences too.

The creation of the giant lake also upset the river’s delicate ecosystem, holding back the fertile silt deposits, causing erosion and increasing use of chemical fertilisers.

‘Political bomb’

For Ayeb, the dam also “proved to be a political bomb”.

In building Aswan, Egypt and Sudan agreed a Nile water sharing deal, but did not include any other upstream nations, including Ethiopia.

“It created the foundations for the break-up of the Nile basin as a framework for a common good,” said Ayeb.

Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on
The colossal statues of a seated Ramses II at the entrance of Abu Simbel archaeological site, rescued from the waters of the res
The colossal statues of a seated Ramses II at the entrance of Abu Simbel archaeological site, rescued from the waters of the reservoir behind the Aswan Dam

Today, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Khartoum are mired in long-running fractious talks over the filling and operation of the GERD dam.

But, according to Ayeb, the critical challenge for Egypt is the management of the water it gets at present.

“Even if Ethiopia stopped its dam, there wouldn’t be enough water,” he said, arguing Egypt should halt desert irrigation—where nearly half the water is lost by evaporation—and stop agricultural exports.

Ayeb believes Cairo needs a new water and agricultural policy entirely.

“Egypt must change everything,” he said.

Explore further in Looming crisis of the much decreased fresh-water supply to Egypt’s Nile delta

6 trends that will influence construction this year

6 trends that will influence construction this year

Welcome to the year that follows the most turbulent year that all countries and sectors of their socio-economic went through. Here is the 2021 outlook: 6 trends that will influence construction this year.

Several factors – some positive, some less so – are poised to shape the industry this year.

By Joe Bousquin

4 January 2021

6 trends that will influence construction this year
Retrieved from Jeremy Gilbert/Flickr.

Here’s some perspective to ring in the new year: “2020 bad, 2021 good.”

That’s the takeaway from construction observers looking ahead at the turn of the year, even as the bleakness of the pandemic surge and record deaths in the U.S. continue to weigh on their minds.

“My expectation is that the U.S. economy will shrink between 4% and 5% in 2020,” said Anirban Basu, chief economist at the Associated Builders and Contractors during a year-end webinar, where he also made the good-bad prognostication quoted above. “But we’re going to come back hard in 2021.”

There are reasons for hope, such as a second coronavirus vaccine being authorized for emergency use and shipped in recent weeks and the $900 billion relief package recently signed by President Trump. But the drivers of optimism among those who track construction are also more specific to the space, while encompassing fundamental shifts in markets and processes that will lead to more broad-based development activity in 2021.

Just listen to Tom Stringer, managing director for site selection and business incentives at professional services firm BDO, whose job is to find suitable development sites for corporate clients who want to build new facilities and offices.

“Site selection tends to be a leading indicator in the economy that businesses are starting to think about capital investments, and our phones have been ringing,” Stringer said. “So if your readers are the folks on the contracting side, well, they’re about to get busy, too.”

Stringer isn’t alone. According to a post-election survey of engineering and construction executives conducted by Deloitte, 68% of respondents characterized the business outlook for the industry as somewhat or very positive.

“We do see pent-up demand sitting out there as we end out 2020 and come into 2021,” said Michelle Meisels, Deloitte’s engineering and construction practice leader.  

That widespread optimism among construction executives is grounded in the reality of several factors – some positive, some less so – that are poised to shape construction in 2021. Here are six of the top factors that will influence the industry in the new year:

Subs on the skids

The coming months and beyond could be particularly hard on subcontractors, and the contractors who will need them once projects pick up again.

“The market is just getting much more competitive for subcontractors, and therefore, sadly, some will go out of business, especially the smaller guys,” Meisels said. “General contractors may need to self-perform a lot of work they would normally sub out, and build those capabilities in house.”

That’s the road Michael Bordes, president of New York City general contractor AA Jedson Company, is already on.

He said during the pandemic, he’s had to pivot from the restaurants and gyms he built previously to focus on affordable housing projects that were still considered essential. But he’s also flipping the script and limiting his risk from subs by handling more work in house.

“We’re self-performing most of the construction tasks ourselves because the subcontractors that are out there are having a very hard time,” said Bordes, noting that affording insurance is one issue subs are struggling with. “The people we’re dealing with may not be transparent about saying we’re having trouble with assurances or we’re short on labor. If you keep it on your payroll, you at least have 95% control.”

Staying safe

Meanwhile, Bordes said he’s focused on keeping his workers safe and healthy by combating complacency and continually reinforcing mitigation strategies, which has become more challenging as the pandemic has worn on. And while he hopes his workers will sign up to get the vaccine, he says he’s not planning to force them to do so if they have reservations about taking it. 

“We know masks work. We know sanitizing on a regular basis, washing your hands and not touching your face works to not get this disease,” Bordes said. “But while we would suggest to employees that it’s important to get the vaccine, we don’t feel we can force them. Some are still cautious about what the side effects might be in the future.”

While the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, as well as a panel of construction lawyers, recently determined that employers could require workers to be vaccinated with certain exceptions, the implications of forcing workers who object to get inoculated over potential safety concerns is sure to be a challenge for contractors in 2021. 

Hiring for the surge to come

With subs being squeezed, contractors will also surely be challenged to hire enough workers, even in house, when the pent-up demand of mothballed projects are put back into the marketplace once the pandemic is brought under control. At the same time, observers say companies aren’t doing so yet, since many new projects still aren’t coming to market, given the explosion of coronavirus cases going into 2021.

“The story there is that projects are still getting pushed to the right, so companies are not hiring unless they have a job to put someone on,” said Patrick Jones, who leads the architecture, engineering and construction division at Raleigh, North Carolina-based recruiting firm Orion Talent. “They’re not just out there building bench strength.”

He says while experienced superintendents and estimators are still in high demand, companies don’t necessarily want to hire individuals they would have to train and invest in while jobs are still scarce. “We see that hiring for what I would call the entry level roles has slowed,” Jones said.

At the same time, nonresidential construction has only regained 58% of the jobs it lost since the beginning of the pandemicaccording to Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. In November, he noted, the industry’s unemployment rate was 7.3%, not seasonally adjusted, with 732,000 former construction workers idled. 

On its surface, that may indicate contractors will have

an easier time hiring coming out of the pandemic. But that’s still not likely to be the case, according to Basu.

During his economic forecast in December, Basu asked his audience of more than 1,000 participants how many intended to increase staffing in the coming year, with more than half responding affirmatively. That’s in line with the ABC’s Construction Confidence Index from November, which indicated a majority of firms intended to increase staffing in the next six months.

Given the demand for projects, along with many firms trying to hire workers whenever jobs are finally released in 2021, contractors may experience labor challenges all over again.

“I would predict that many of you will continue to suffer difficulty finding truly motivated and skilled workers,” Basu told his contractor audience. “One thing that has happened in past recessions is that many construction workers who lost their jobs left the construction industry altogether.”

Infrastructure on the agenda

On the bright side, there should be some increased infrastructure and building projects on the horizon.

This is especially true with President-elect Joe Biden pushing his Build Back Better initiative, which is envisioned as a broad spending program that could benefit contractors on multiple fronts.

“He’s looking for a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure bill that includes a broad definition of infrastructure, whether it’s surface transportation, aviation, waterfront, Army Corps, civil works, flood control mitigation projects, clean drinking water, renewable energy projects, K-12 public school construction or broadband,” said Jimmy Christianson, vice president of government relations at AGC. “There’s a lot in there.”

Meisels also sees opportunity for contractors under that kind of program in 2021.

“Infrastructure and public utility projects could possibly see a sharp rebound,” Meisels said. “If the administration comes through and directs funds toward that, you’d see projects that are driven by this government spending.”

Office, manufacturing, distribution projects ahead

Part of that jump-start may already be happening on the private side. Take the activity Stringer, the site selection executive, has been seeing lately.

His clients are calling and expressing interest in expanding offices in tertiary markets away from where their headquarters are in densely populated cities. But they’re also looking to build manufacturing and distribution facilities, to help alleviate some of the vulnerabilities the pandemic brought to light in the just-in-time supply chain. 

“The supply chain issues that were rampant during the start of the crisis really presented significant business opportunities for the unsexy old ways of things like inventory and building warehouses,” Stringer said. “Hopefully, we’ll never be without toilet paper again.”

Indeed, the explosion of e-commerce has caused a boom in the sector. “The most obvious change of the year has been robust development of warehouse and distribution facilities to meet the sudden rise in e-commerce,” said Robert Smietana, CEO at Chicago-based industrial developer and consultant HSA Commercial Real Estate.

For example, CRG, the real estate development and investment arm of Chicago-based Clayco, plans to identify industrial development and acquisition opportunities in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio. 

“It’s no secret that e-commerce has been a tailwind to industrial real estate over the last cycle,” said Kevin Scott, vice president of investments and developments for CRG. “But e-commerce users still represent just a fragment of the overall industrial user base. Specialized uses such as cold storage and data centers continue to grow, and we are excited about opportunities there.”

Renewed focus on the environment

Data center construction is one of two top-growth industries for Jones, the construction recruiter, to find specialty contractors. The other? Utility-scale solar.

“Big players in utility-scale solar have been on a growth pattern, and are really kind of hitting their stride in this next year,” Jones said.  “Obviously, the new administration would be beneficial to that as well.”

For example, Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Moss Construction highlights several of the utility-scale solar installations it has worked on in recent years in its portfolio, and promotes on its website that it is “helping our nation move towards a cleaner energy future.”

That growth has come as renewable energy is becoming cheaper than any new electricity capacity based on fossil fuels, according to sister publication Utility Dive. 

But that opportunity for contractors also illustrates the widening awareness of a broader range of companies focusing on the environment.

For example, contractor giants AECOM and Fluor said on recent conference calls they were experiencing increased interest in their environmental services practices from clients, while Jacobs announced it achieved its net zero carbon goal for its operations and business travel in 2020, with aspirations to be carbon negative by 2030. Balfour Beatty and Lendlease also recently announced carbon-cutting initiatives

“The construction industry is under tremendous pressure to improve their energy use,” said Meisels. “But I also think that construction companies that build capabilities to support green building standards and sustainable efforts by their clients are going to be positioned to thrive. You can’t not address this if you want to be a leader in this space.”

MENA Construction Output Growth Forecast

MENA Construction Output Growth Forecast

The Region is wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery is predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report as per Dominic Ellis of Construction Global who elaborates on the MENA construction output growth forecast sees 4.5% drop.


18 December 2020

Region wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report says

The construction output growth forecast for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for 2020 predicts a contraction of 4.5 percent this year, before a recovery with growth of 1.9 percent in 2021, and 4.1 percent in 2022, according to GlobalData.

The region is wrestling with two distinct but related issues: climate change, and the slowdown in oil demand.

The data and analytics company reports that the 2020 contraction reflects the severe impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as other restrictions on construction activity. Much will depend on its ability to embrace digital transformation. 

Yasmine Ghozzi, economist at GlobalData, said: “The construction sector will face headwinds in 2021 with a slow recovery, but the pace of recovery will be uneven across countries in the region. Throughout 2020, and running to 2021, spending on real estate megaprojects, especially in the GCC, is likely to take a backseat as a result of budget revisions. 

“However, large-scale projects in the oil, gas, power and water sectors have gained traction against the downturn in market conditions this year, and this is likely to continue. As a result, some local contractors are pursuing development in these sectors to replace the loss of real estate work. 

“There is also a push towards decoupling power and water production across the region to reduce energy consumption continuing to provide the impetus for Independent Water Projects (IWP) implementation and in the future, there will be a lot of contract awards in that respect as the region pushes its renewable energy programme, particularly solar photovoltaic and wind.” 

Saudi Arabia

GlobalData has slightly revised up its forecast for Saudi Arabia’s construction output to -1.9 percent from -2.8 percent and expects a recovery for the sector of 3.3 percent in 2021. This revision reflects an improvement in economic performance and the Kingdom ending a nationwide curfew at the end of September, lifting restrictions on businesses after three months of stringent curbs and a notable decrease in infection rate. 

Recovery is also underlined by the crown prince’s announcement in mid-November that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is to invest £29.5 billion (5% of GDP per annum) in the economy in 2021-22. 

Nearly half of the construction of the five minarets of the Grand Mosque in Makkah is now complete. 

The UAE

GlobalData still maintains its forecast for construction output growth in the UAE of -4.8 percent, with a rebound in 2021 of 3.1 percent and a promising medium-term outlook. 

Ghozzi adds: “The recent approval of a new Dubai Building Code is a positive development for the UAE. The new code outlines a revised set of construction rules and standards and seeks to reduce construction costs by streamlining building rules.” 

The UAE is proceeding with plans to expand its production capacity with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) announcing its five-year investment plan worth £90.1 billion.

Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman

GlobalData has not changed its estimated growth rates for Qatar and Kuwait in 2020, at -4.5 percent and -9.5 percent, respectively. However, it has further cut the growth forecast for Oman to -10.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -8.1 percent, as the construction industry struggles with the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19, low oil prices and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades. 

Ghozzi adds: “The new fiscal plan launched by the Omani Government to wean itself off its dependence on crude revenues through a series of projects and tax reforms is a good step which will aid the construction sector recovery in the medium term”.

Egypt

GlobalData expects construction in Egypt to grow at 7.7 percent in 2020, slowing from 9.5 percent in 2019 – given a short-term slow down due to the pandemic – and 8.9 percent in 2021. The industry is also expected to continue to maintain a positive trend throughout the forecast period. 

Ghozzi continues: “Egypt has become the first sovereign nation in the MENA region to issue green bonds with a £553.9 million issuance. Bonds’ earnings will be used to fund projects that meet Egypt’s commitment to the UN goals for sustainable development.”

Egypt’s comprehensive development plan provides varied opportunities for construction companies, such as the national project to develop the countryside which targets 1,000 villages nationwide. 

Israel

GlobalData expects Israel’s construction industry to contract by 8.9 percent in 2020, reflecting the significant fallout from the pandemic, with growth expected to resume at a modest pace in 2021. 

Ghozzi said containing a second wave of the virus, while trying to revive the economy and approve budgets for 2020 and 2021, are the government’s top priorities. “However, difficult decisions will be postponed, with the deadline to pass the 2020 budget being pushed to the end of 2020,” he said.

Arab Maghreb

In the Arab Maghreb, GlobalData maintained its forecasts for construction growth in 2020 for Morocco and Algeria to -5.5, and -3.4 percent, respectively. 

Ghozzi adds: “Amid a second wave of COVID-19 with restrictions placed on public mobility along with increasing public sector doubt about economic prospects and social tensions continuing to cause shutdowns at oil and phosphate-manufacturing facilities, GlobalData has further cut its forecast for Tunisia to -13.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -12.5 percent. 

“Recovery in the sector is expected to be very slow and expectation of an early legislative election is likely in 2021 but is unlikely to reduce political volatility.”

Glass Solar Bricks Coming Soon

Glass Solar Bricks Coming Soon

GALLANT GOLD MEDIA produced Glass Solar Bricks Coming Soon in a Washington in a (GGM) Analysis by Noreen Wise is somehow illuminating news in this dark and long-lasting carbonised age. It would make quite good sense to make some use of it in the MENA region.

Glass Solar Bricks Coming Soon

There’s been some exciting climate news released during the tragic covid crisis, glass solar bricks will soon be here. According to Reuters, the new glass bricks will not only be able to produce sustainable energy, they will also serve as thermal insulation and allow sunlight in. Very advanced compared to the current solar panels that line roofs, farmers fields and desert land.

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 1.26.13 AM.png

Glass solar bricks won’t be able to replace solar panels, but new buildings will be constructed using futuristic bricks that will power the entire building. Now that’s brilliant, and a lot to cheer about when things seem so bleak right now. According to Bloomberg Green, solar installations have taken a nose dive while everyone is stuck at home trying to cope with their lives being turned upside down.

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 1.27.15 AM.png

The disruption may very well be a blessing for many many families and businesses, however. Solar power is an investment. We always want the most advanced technology when we put down our money. But, with solar power progressing in leaps and bounds, the advancements are happening much quicker than the 5-20 year solar loan payment schedules. I’m sure we’ve all had at least dreadful phone experience, where a few months after we upgrade, Apple releases it’s next iPhone iteration, letting all the air out of our tires as we’re forced to wait two years with our new old phones.

There’s nothing wrong with the current solar panels. They’re very effective, enabling families to save money, and in many cases make a significant amount of money, all while lowering carbon emissions. But just as we saw with computers, smart phones, cameras… all technology really, the newer versions are always lighter, stronger, faster.

Best not to stress about dismal 2020 solar installations in the short term, we’ll definitely make up for it in the long term.

Iraqis slowly rebuild Mosul

Iraqis slowly rebuild Mosul

This is a story of a city that as per Iraqi novelist Inaam Kachachi’s description – Mosul the austere, Mosul the convivial, Mosul the contradictory, Mosul the wounded, bleeding to death. So here is Iraqis slowly rebuild Mosul, with little aid from government per Samya Kullab.

Iraqis slowly rebuild Mosul
Mounds of rubble, remnants of the battle to retake the city three years ago from the Islamic State group, remain in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. Local officials say Baghdad’s cash-strapped government, struggling with a dire economic crisis fueled by low oil prices and the coronavirus, doesn’t have the funds to launch serious reconstruction efforts. (AP photo/Samya Kullab)
Iraqis slowly rebuild Mosul
A damaged house remains un-repaired three years after Iraqi forces defeated the Islamic State group, in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq Nov. 29, 2020. Mosul remains for many the symbol of the Islamic State group’s reign of terror, the place from where it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. It’s also where IS made its last stand before the city was freed three years later, after a costly battle that killed thousands and left Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in ruins. (AP Photo/Samya Kullab)
A commercial center re-opened recently with some government assistance to restore. electricity and water services, enabling merchants to return, three years after Iraqi forces defeated Islamic State militants, in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq Nov. 29, 2020. Mosul remains for many the symbol of the Islamic State group’s reign of terror, the place from where it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. (AP Photo/Samya Kullab)
Musicians play love songs as a small crowd sings along and claps, inside what was an old hostel for traders centuries ago and is now a refurbished commercial center, in Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. Mosul remains for many the symbol of the Islamic State group’s reign of terror, the place from where it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. Under the IS scenes like these were forbidden. (AP Photo/Samya Kullab)
Iraqis slowly rebuild Mosul
Anan Yasoun, one of the few residents to return to the heavily damaged Old City, stands outside her rebuilt home, in Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. From afar, Yasoun’s yellow-slab home is an island surrounded by rubble in the historic old part of the Iraqi city of Mosul, for many still a symbol of the Islamic State group’s reign of terror and the place from where it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. It’s also where IS made its last stand before the city was freed three years later, after a costly battle that killed thousands and left Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in ruins. (AP photo/Samya Kullab)
Iraqis slowly rebuild Mosul
Damaged buildings are surrounded by mounds of rubble three years after Iraqi forces defeated the Islamic State group there, Nov. 29, 2020. Mosul remains for many the symbol of the Islamic State group’s reign of terror, the place from where it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. It’s also where IS made its last stand before the city was freed three years later, after a costly battle that killed thousands and left Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in ruins. (AP Photo/Samya Kullab)
Mounds of rubble still line the streets and buildings are pock-marked with bullet holes three years after Iraqi forces defeated the Islamic State group, in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq Nov. 29, 2020. Mosul remains for many the symbol of the IS group’s reign of terror, the place from where it proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. It’s also where IS made its last stand before the city was freed three years later, after a costly battle that killed thousands and left Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in ruins. (AP Photo/Samya Kullab)
Ammar Mouwfaq, 70, stands inside his soap shop in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. Mouwfaq inherited the business in 1955 and for decades his family have imported olive soap from Aleppo, Syria, a trade that has dated back hundreds of years. That came to a stop when the Islamic State took control of the area in 2014. (AP photo/Samya Kullab)

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Anan Yasoun rebuilt her home with yellow cement slabs amid the rubble of Mosul, a brightly colored manifestation of resilience in a city that for many remains synonymous with the Islamic State group’s reign of terror.

In the three years since Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, liberated Mosul from the militants, Yasoun painstakingly saved money that her husband earned from carting vegetables in the city. They had just enough to restore the walls of their destroyed home; money for the floors was a gift from her dying father, the roof a loan that is still outstanding.

Yasoun didn’t even mind the bright yellow exterior — paint donated by a relative. “I just wanted a house,” said the 40-year-old mother of two.

The mounds of debris around her bear witness to the violence Iraq’s second-largest city has endured. From Mosul, IS had proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. Three years later, Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition liberated the city in a grueling battle that killed thousands and left Mosul in ruins.

Such resilience is apparent elsewhere in the city, at a time when Baghdad’s cash-strapped government fails to fund reconstruction efforts and IS is becoming more active across the disputed territories of northern Iraq.

Life is slowly coming back to Mosul these days: merchants are busy in their shops, local musicians again serenade small, enthralled crowds. At night, the city lights gleam as restaurant patrons spill out onto the streets.

The U.N. has estimated that over 8,000 Mosul homes were destroyed in intense airstrikes to root out IS. The nine-month operation left at least 9,000 dead, according to an AP investigation.

Memories of the group’s brutality still haunt locals, who remember a time when the city squares were used for the public beheading of those who dared violate the militants’ rules.

The Old City on the west bank of the Tigris River, once the jewel of Mosul, remains in ruins even as newer parts of the city have seen a cautious recovery. The revival, the residents say, is mostly their own doing.

“I didn’t see a single dollar from the government,” said Ahmed Sarhan, who runs a family coffee business.

Antique coffee pots, called dallahs, line the entrance to his shop, which has been trading coffee for 120 years. An aging mortar and pestle, used by Sarhan’s forefathers to grind beans, sits in his office as evidence of his family’s storied past.

“After the liberation, it was complete chaos. No one had any money. The economy was zero,” he said. His business raked in a measly 50,000 Iraqi dinars a day, or around $40. Now, he makes closer to about $2,500.

But even as Sarhan and other merchants are starting to see profits — despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic — ordinary laborers are struggling. Sarhan employs 28 workers, each getting about $8 a day.

“It is nothing … they will never be able to rebuild their homes,” he says.

Since the ouster of IS in 2017, the task of rebuilding Mosul has been painfully slow. Delays have been caused by lack of coherent governance at the provincial level; the governor of Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, has been replaced three times since liberation.

With no central authority to coordinate, a tangled web of entities overseeing reconstruction work — from the local, provincial and federal government to international organizations and aid groups — has added to the chaos.

The government has made progress on larger infrastructure projects and restored basic services to the city, but much remains unfinished.

Funds earmarked for reconstruction by the World Bank were diverted to help the federal government fight the coronavirus as state coffers dwindled with plunging oil prices. Meanwhile, at least 16,000 Mosul residents appealed for government cash assistance to rebuild their homes.

Only 2,000 received financial assistance, said Zuhair al-Araji, the mayor of Mosul district.

“There’s no money,” he said. “They have to rebuild on their own.”

Mosul residents eye government policies with suspicion and suspect local officials are too corrupt to help them.

“Whatever funds are provided, they will steal it,” said Ammar Mouwfaq, who spent all his savings to re-open his soap shop in the city last year.

A photo of his father hangs inside the shop, which he took over in the 1970s. Neat stacks of the region’s famous olive oil soap, imported from the Syrian city of Aleppo, tower above him.

“What you see now, I did alone,” he added.

On one thoroughfare the ruins of cinemas bombed by IS — the militant group’s strict interpretation of Islam banned such forms of entertainment — are a stark contrast to the shops and restaurants abuzz with customers.

The Old City, with its labyrinth of narrow streets dating back to the Middle Ages, now serves as an eerie museum of IS horrors. Misshapen iron rods jut out of what’s left of houses they were designed to fortify. Smashed pieces of alabaster stone and masonry, once extolled by historians for architectural significance, lie among the debris. Signs of a former life — a pair of women’s shoes, a notebook covered in hearts, shells from exploded ammunition — are untouched.

“Demolition is forbidden” reads a graffiti written on a slab of wall surrounded by rubble, a testament to Mosul’s unwavering dark humor.

The Mosul Museum, where IS militants filmed themselves smashing priceless antiquities to dust, partially re-opened in January. But apart from occasional contemporary art exhibits such as that of Iraqi sculptor Omer Qais last month, there is nothing to see.

On the other side of town, Sarhan, the coffee trader, invites anyone who cares to see his collection of antique swords, plates and bowls he painstakingly hunted down. In the 12th century, Mosul was an important hub for trade; a century later, its intricate metalwork rose to prominence.

“This is our history,” said Sarhan, holding up a rusting bronze plate, engraved with 1202, the year it was made.

“If I don’t protect it, who will?”