Hello from Dohuk!

Construction expert Frank-Uwe Abresch reports on his everyday life in northern Iraq.

Hello from Dohuk!

I’ve been living and working in northern Iraq since mid-2016. Right now, over six million people need humanitarian assistance here. They are either refugees or affected in some way by the huge flows of people who have been displaced. Drinking water is scarce, especially in the hot, dry summers. I’m leading a project to build a large water distribution network on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The network will provide enough water for local communities and refugee camps. The actual construction work is done by local building firms.

A crisis-hit region

I trained as an engineer in utility supplies and energy systems. Apart from a short break, I’ve been working for GIZ since 2005. Before that, I was in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and South Sudan. For me, there is no real difference when you work in a crisis-hit region such as Iraq. You do the planning, start building and deal with problems as they arise – usually straight away. That’s how it is everywhere. To give you an example, we’re building a water treatment system that involves laying an 18-kilometre pipeline. While we were digging, we got a bit of a surprise. We came across an area that contained archaeological remains: a water network with drawings that showed the Assyrian king Sennacherib from around 700 BCE. You just can’t ignore things like that any more than you could in Germany. But that unpredictability is exactly what I like about my job.

Of course, lots of things are different when you are in a crisis region. For example, we have to check whether there are any explosive devices at the site every time before we start digging or building. Apart from that, I can move around freely. I drive a normal car and within Dohuk I can take any road that’s available. GIZ’s risk management office keeps a careful eye on the security situation.

Patience and flexibility

Sure, Iraq isn’t a family-friendly location for assignments. At the moment I have a long-distance relationship with my wife. I fly home to Berlin every two months at least. In Dohuk, I live in shared accommodation. In my free time, I listen to music a lot and read. There are lots of restaurants, so I don’t often cook for myself. I’d say you need a great deal of patience and flexibility to do a job like this in a place like this. You have to plan more carefully and at the same time be flexible enough to find alternative solutions at short notice if it becomes necessary.

All the best,

Frank-Uwe Abresch

published in akzente 1/19