Thi-Qar, IRAQ: Salam's craft of boat-making is not merely a livelihood; it's a vibrant art form passed down through the generations by his Sumerian ancestors. It requires design, construction, and a dash of inventive creativity.
Residing in Chibayish district of Thi-Qar Governorate in southern Iraq, Salam lives a humble life. A loving husband and father to five children, his fascination with boat construction was sparked in his early years. As a child, he followed his father like a devoted apprentice, absorbing every step of the boat-building process in the family workshop, from finding the right piece, right down to the finishing steps.
Salam cherishes these memories, recalling the delight of watching boats taking shape in his hands and the proud, radiant smile that filled his father's face with each completed project.
“With my father's passing in 2007,” Salam shares with us, “I inherited the workshop, relying on my experience in the boat-building industry. I decided to bring new life into the business with fresh designs and innovative styles to attract a wider customer base”. However, over the past decade, Iraq has been adversely affected by the impact of climate change: droughts, water scarcity and land degradation have been especially hard in southern Iraq, where Salam lives.
Iraq is the fifth most affected country by climate change. Between 2016-2022, over 73,000 people have been displaced in central and south Iraq due to climate change, with a tenfold increase in 2022 alone, compared to 2021. Many are moving to cities in search of new lives and better jobs.
"Climate change in Iraq led to reduced demand for fishing boats,” continues Salam. “My business has shrunk. My boats were used by those who fish in the lakes. Now, fewer people depend on the river. It gets better from time to time when water level rises.”
Yet, Salam carried on with dedication and persistence, never contemplating abandoning his craft or venturing into a new profession. Over the years, Salam upgraded his business with IOM’s Enterprise Development Fund that supports small and medium enterprises in southern Iraq.
A financial grant enabled him to install a solar energy system, purchase new equipment and machinery. He also trained and hired three additional staff. This expansion helped increase production, enhanced efficiency and reduced operational costs.
"Expanding and upgrading the workshop was essential but financially daunting,” Salam recalls. “IOM’s support was crucial; we barely managed to finish two boats a week with an old machine and three workers. Power instability was a major problem. Now, with six workers, we successfully complete four boats per week.”
Salam is now considering new plans to market his boats beyond Iraq's borders, with a particular focus on the Gulf countries. “The influx of customer inquiries we're witnessing is indeed promising. It's a substantial accomplishment for us," shares Salam.
The Enterprise Development Fund of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) aims to restore basic economic infrastructure by providing capital to small and medium enterprises in primary and secondary economic sectors that suffer from high demand for manpower, with the aim of enabling these companies to resume expansion operations. By targeting key sectors and providing financing, the EDF encourages the rapid recovery and job creation necessary for the recovery of local economies.
Read in Arabic.