Iraqi schools provide a stark example of the problem. Less than half of the $204 million earmarked for education programs has been spent.
Baghdad has asked for more time to spend about $16 million that's left from grants issued in October 2004 to rebuild schools. The Bank has signaled it may extend the June 30 deadline for the grant by another year.
With the roughly $44 million that's been spent so far, Iraq's education ministry has built 37 new schools nationwide and upgraded 133 old ones. Thirteen more schools are under construction and are expected to be completed by June 2013. Another 30 schools were built in Iraq's southern marshlands between 2006 and 2009 under a different World Bank program that cost $5.2 million.
All the 37 new schools were finished over the last 18 months, said senior Education Ministry official Saad Ibrahim Abdul Rahim, who is the agency's head liaison to the World Bank. He blamed the yearslong delay on bureaucratic snarls, a slow cash-flow to contractors and a lack of available land in populated areas upon which to build.
But last year, the ministry won approval from the prime minister's cabinet to build schools on land that belonged to other government agencies, and progress was made.
More than 6 million students attend Iraq's 15,000 public schools. Rahim said at least 5,000 more schools are needed to ease severe overcrowding.
Another $100 million was given to Iraq as an emergency education loan to ease crowding and update the curriculum in Iraq's schools. The project began in November 2005. Since then, the government has spent only $11 million and has three times asked for the loan to be extended in order to keep the money. It currently expires in June 2013.
There was initial optimism when the World Bank reconstruction program in Iraq began in 2004, but that vanished as the country spiraled into a cycle of violence with sectarian fighting and an insurgency that killed tens of thousands of people.
"After the collapse of the Saddam regime, there was a strong feeling that Iraq was going to grow and build a lot of projects," Rahim said. "But a year later there was a lot of sectarian conflict, and a lot of problems that caused a huge delay to all of the projects, in all of the ministries, for the reconstruction of Iraq."
Rahim was confident the deadlines would be met as violence ebbs and Iraq edges toward stability.
The Education Ministry spent $6.9 million of the loan funding last year — more than six times of what it spent in 2010. By comparison, the ministry spent $19,800 from the loan fund in 2008.
"We are on track now and the project is going ahead, and there are no huge challenges or any big obstacles to slow or detail it," Rahim said.
Overall, Iraq had spent nearly $839 million of the $1.3 billion in World Bank grants and loans as of March 31, the latest data available. That money has helped create cell phone networks, improve drinking water for 600,000 people, rebuild and restock hospital emergency rooms, and train dozens of doctors and nurses across Iraq, according to the World Bank.
It has also paid for several studies to strengthen Iraq's government, reduce poverty and provide forecasts for the oil and gas industry through 2030 — and any spinoff businesses that can create jobs and generate money.
And it has put 80 million textbooks in the hands of students whose numbers are growing every day. Half of Iraq's population is under 18, according to the United Nations, forcing schools to teach classes in morning and afternoon shifts to accommodate all the students.
In Iraq's northeast Diyala province alone, 381,000 students are enrolled in schools, said local education director Jaafar Moween al-Zarkushy.
Of 870 schools in Diyala, 65 were destroyed in sectarian fighting since 2003, al-Zarkushy said. Another 110 schools are about to collapse, and 17 more have been deemed inadequate because they are made out of mud.