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Iraq Takes a Step Toward Ending Its Resource Curse

Words by Leon Kaye
Resource Curse

It does not take much online sleuthing to sort out why Iraq, among many other nations rich in hydrocarbons, has long struggled with its very own resource curse. The country’s ongoing symptoms include an education system that had once ranked highest in the Arab world but has since collapsed; a youth unemployment rate estimated at 25 percent or even higher depending on the source; and participation of women in the workforce that is among the lowest on the planet.

“While oil wealth allowed Iraq to obtain upper-middle-income status, in many ways its institutions and socioeconomic outcomes resemble those of a low-income, fragile country,” the Brookings Institution concluded in a report a year ago. “Growth is driven by oil production — and related investment — but not productivity.”

An agreement inked last week with Abu Dhabi’s Masdar could help nudge Iraq toward more sustainable and equitable growth.

Masdar, a renewable energy company based in the United Arab Emirates, recently announced it has committed to develop five solar photovoltaic (PV) projects across Iraq. If all goes to plan, together they would provide the nation of 40 million with 1 gigawatt of clean power. Last week’s signing comes a few months after Masdar said it would work with two Iraqi government agencies to fund projects that could add another 1 gigawatt of power to the country’s grid.

Two gigawatts of clean power in a country that derives 97 percent of its energy needs from oil and gas hardly means that a sea change is underway in overcoming this resource curse and transforming how Iraq’s economy performs for all its people. Nevertheless, a 2020 study led by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found correlations between investments in renewable energy and a positive shift in employment opportunities for both women and younger workers in nations worldwide.

Most of Iraq’s fledgling renewables sector currently runs on hydropower. But the most recent IRENA profile of the country’s energy sector ranks Iraq has having one of the world’s highest potential for solar power generation.

Masdar’s commitment to building new solar projects in Iraq will add to what is already Masdar’s significant footprint across the globe. While the company has had a hand in deploying clean power in established economies such as the U.S. and U.K., it has also funded projects in regions that often struggle to score investments, as they have their own resource curse: the lack of any in the first place. Such solar and wind power installations are located in Armenia, the Balkans, Indian Ocean, South Pacific and West Africamore than 30 nations in total.

Image credit: samer w via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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