The Social Tranquility and Security are at Rising Jeopardy

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) - 24th September 2004

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights stated that half of Bahraini citizens are suffering from poverty and poor living standards. This figure was based on official statistics and studies on number of unemployed Bahrainis, beneficiaries of social aid who are unable to work, and employees with low income.

In its report, released today, BCHR stated that based on official figures and studies there are 20,000 unemployed Bahrainis, while the oppositions estimate the number to be more than 30,000. If the average of these figures is taken, in addition to their dependents who are affected by the unemployment, the number will exceed 80,000 people. It worth mentioning that the unemployed and their dependents are not receiving any social security aids in contradiction with the Constitution.

The report also revealed that the number of households who are unable to work and those who receive financial assistance from Ministry of Labour and charitable contribution from charity funds associations exceeds 20,000 families, which are around 80,000 people whom each receive BD18 per months. While, the poverty level (Poverty Income Threshold) for a household, according to official studies and statements, is BD309 per month.

The report revealed that according to official figure, quarter of employed Bahrainis live below the poverty level of BD309 per month. That brings the total of Bahrainis suffering from poverty and poor living conditions to around 200,000 people (half of total Bahrainis).

The report that was released yesterday during the ‘Poverty and Economic Rights’ seminar tackled also the problem of housing in Bahrain. A large portion of the society lacks decent housing. Unemployed citizens and those who are receiving financial assistance cannot receive housing loans granted by the Government. Whereas, around 44,000 families with a low income are waiting in the waiting list for Government subsidised housing for up to 12 years or more. The official statistics shows that there are 6,000 ruined houses and that there is a project for rebuilding or maintaining 45,000 houses but in a period of 8 years.

The report stated that the poverty rate is increasing in Bahrain at the same time as the average income is increasing. This shows the large differences between classes of income and living standards. A survey conducted by Bahrain Monetary Agency found that while the poverty rate is increasing, there are 5,200 wealthy people in Bahrain. The survey showed that the average wealth of each of them reaches US$4.2 millions, which is above the international average of wealthy people of US$3.8 millions. The same survey indicated that the private wealth in Bahrain worth around US$20 to 30 billions.

Bahrain is proud of being one of most liberal countries in terms of its economy and in attracting foreign investments and of its tax-free society (no tax on income and sales); however, there are 23 types of high fees imposed by the Government on people in return of its services.

The report pointed out that the poverty and miserable conditions of citizens are caused by unequal distribution of wealth, waste of public money, financial & administrative corruption, poor planning, and dumping the market with low wage foreign workers who constitute 60% of the labour force. The report also pointed out that the continuation and dominations of a small group of influential powerful people on the national economy, both in private and public sectors, are considered as a barrier to real reforms.

The above influential powerful people have taken over large land areas in Bahrain, especially the reclaimed lands and the ones that will be reclaimed in the future. The decree that was passed by the Government to allow foreign investors to own lands in Bahrain caused sharp increased of lands’ prices. This will lead to accumulate more wealth for landlords, and will make it more difficult for middle class to have a piece of land. In addition to the above, the price of building materials have dramatically gone up in the last few years which makes it more difficult for a citizen to build a house.

The report also tackled the social and security impact of poverty in Bahrain. Statistics shows that the crime rate, especially robbery, have escalated. Divorce rate and number of people choosing to be single have also increased. Additionally, number of working women and children participating in the working force with bad working conditions have increased.

BCHR warned that increasing number of citizens classified as poor and the deteriorating of living standards will definitely reflect on the political and social tranquility of the country, especially when official reports indicate that the unemployed people will boost from 20,000 to 80,000 people in the next decade and that the average salary will drop by 19%. There will also be an increase of citizens seeking Government housing to 80,000 people.

BCHR made many recommendations in its report; among them are: implementation of the Constitution’s article that grants social security and benefits for unemployed and people who are unable to work; deciding rate for minimum wage; reforming both Administrative and Legislative branches of the Government; and establishing active supervision over administrative and financial activities in the Government for fighting against the corruption.

In this seminar, BCHR is lunging a two year campaign with the aim of awakening civil societies and related institutions and individuals to press for passing appropriate policies and reforms to solve the poverty problems in Bahrain.