(Al Jazeera) – Battered by violence, Christians face a confluence of environmental and economic hardships in post-conflict Nineveh Plains.
When Father Ammar Yako, a Syriac Catholic priest in the majority-Assyrian Christian town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, returned to his church in 2016 he found its floors covered in rubble and its artwork pillaged.
After two years of control by the armed group ISIL (ISIS), Qaraqosh, including the Great Immaculate Church where Yako preaches, had been subjected to looting and urban warfare before it was recaptured by Iraqi security forces and allied militias.
Five years later with his church rebuilt, Yako’s congregation received a visit from none other than Pope Francis. But two months on from the pontiff’s historic trip, Yako foresees a grim future for his community as it battles a tense security situation and a host of more immediate concerns.
“From 2006 until 2014, when IS entered, there was an economic and commercial recovery in Qaraqosh,” Yako said. “The economic situation now in general is not good. The damaged area’s capital funds – there are no such thing. The economy is static in the city.”
After fleeing the ISIL onslaught, many Christians who returned to their millennia-old towns in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plains have found themselves unable to make a living amid a depressed post-war economic environment. Like elsewhere in Iraq, the agricultural sector in Nineveh has been affected in recent years by climate change, a lack of reliable access to water, and state corruption and mismanagement.