Human Trafficking in Kuwait
Kuwait is the fifth-wealthiest Arab country. Its capital, Kuwait City, has a jagged skyline of soaring high-rises and luxurious residential areas. Within its $110.35 billion GDP per capita society and prosperous façade, however, there exists an underworld of poverty, struggle and human trafficking in Kuwait.

The Vulnerabilities of Workers

Up to 90% of all Kuwaiti households employ a domestic worker. Many of them are migrants who are processed in agencies through the kafala or “sponsorship” system. The kafala system makes domestic workers more vulnerable to human trafficking in Kuwait, as, at times, employers choose to exclude agencies and sell workers among themselves. The employers advertise on common social media and online platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Haraj.

An organization of migrant workers called Sandigan Kuwait is on the front lines in the battle for both domestic and non-domestic workers’ rights. The Borgen Project spoke with Mary Ann Abunda, head volunteer and founding chairperson of Sandigan Kuwait and the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Worker Association, as well as Chito Neri, vice founding chairperson of the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Workers Association.

Human Trafficking Victims in Kuwait

Abunda and Neri emphasize that one of the main obstacles for both migrant workers and Sandigan Kuwait is the normalcy of human trafficking in Kuwaiti society. Some employers believe that because they pay an agency for a domestic worker, they own that person.

It is common for employers in Kuwait to confiscate their domestic workers’ passports and deny them the ability to leave the house unaccompanied. Employers also prevent workers from contacting their families and subject them to physical and verbal abuse. Workers are also denied days off and are grossly underpaid. Furthermore, sometimes workers are not paid at all. All of this is illegal under Ministerial Decree No. 68 of 2015 Regarding Domestic Workers, but the country rarely enforces the law.

Abunda and Neri told The Borgen Project that the Kuwaiti government provides citizens with food, water, medicine and thousands of Kuwaiti dinars for seemingly every major life event on a monthly basis. Though employers are to allocate a portion of those provisions to their workers, many never give it to them. Despite blatant evidence that poverty exists in Kuwait among migrant workers, the reported rate is 0%.

Sandigan Kuwait and Migrant Workers’ Rights

Sandigan Kuwait fights for migrant workers’ rights through assessment of cases against their exploitative employers as well as through counseling programs to help them heal. “Most of them are victims of human trafficking and human smuggling. So they are already victims before even coming here in Kuwait,” Abunda said, speaking about African migrants in particular.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an added strain on any possible progress in gaining rights for migrant workers. In March 2020, Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior instituted the “Leave Safely” amnesty campaign. Though he intended it to be corrective, the campaign exacerbated aspects of the crisis and made things more difficult for Sandigan Kuwait.

“How can you have an amnesty during a lockdown? During a pandemic? And it was very chaotic,” said Abunda. Neri agreed, explaining that migrants had to leave Kuwait within a month yet airports remained closed. The mad rush of people prevented the Kuwaiti government and Sandigan Kuwait from identifying potential human trafficking or unpaid salary cases before the workers left the country.

The Organization’s Successes

Sandigan Kuwait volunteers worked tirelessly to help migrant workers at the height of the pandemic. They distributed 25,000 food bags to those in need during Kuwait’s lockdown period in 2020. The organization’s other accomplishments include rescuing 65 Filipinos from sex trafficking in 2016.

It was also one of the first organizations in the Middle East to celebrate International Domestic Workers Day. Around that time, the organization was able to give awards to employers who have treated migrant workers well. The situation has slowly improved over the years. The U.S. Department of State classified Kuwait as a Tier 2 country in the 2019 “Trafficking in Persons Report” and the country has since maintained its position by gradually implementing suggestions.

Initiatives to Combat Trafficking and Exploitation

The Kuwaiti government has made some advancements in protecting migrants’ rights. It passed a decree against human trafficking in Kuwait in 2013 and the domestic workers’ law in 2015. The Permanent National Committee for the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prevention of Trafficking emerged in 2018.

In January 2021, Kuwait’s Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) launched a collaborative program with two international organizations and the Supreme Council for Planning and Development. Called Tamkeen, the program aims to digitize PAM’s labor files so as to make them more easily trackable and eliminate loopholes in the records that previously enabled employers to circumvent the labor law. With continued governmental, organizational and international support, the frequency of human trafficking in Kuwait is likely to lessen in the coming years.

Looking to the Future

Abunda and Neri have large-scale aspirations for Sandigan Kuwait’s future projects. These details, however, are not publicized for the safety of both the organization and the people it helps. Through the commitment of Sandigan Kuwait, hope is on the horizon as the rights of vulnerable people are protected and human trafficking in Kuwait is reduced.

Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in KuwaitLocated on the western edge of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait is a small Arab state comparable to the size of New Jersey. Nevertheless, Kuwait holds the sixth-largest oil reserve in the world. This has helped its citizens become among the wealthiest in the world. Kuwait has consistently ranked among the Arab world’s best for food security. However, its reliance on food imports, as well as having underdeveloped agriculture and fishing industries, could hinder its future. Here are five facts about food security in Kuwait.

Top 5 Facts About Food Security in Kuwait

  1. According to the Economist’s 2019 Global Food Security Index, Kuwait received a score of 74.8 out of 100 and ranked 27 out of 113 countries for food security. As a result, Kuwait only trails Qatar (ranked 13) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (ranked 21) in the region. Kuwait is most notably fifth in the world for food “affordability” and boasts a high “sufficiency of supply.” Both factors significantly contribute toward preventing hunger.
  2. Despite its high ranking on the Global Food Security Index, Kuwait imports more than 96% of its food. Given that Kuwait only has 1.4 million citizens, more than 700,000 foreign nationals and migrant workers benefit from a subsidy program. In November 2019 alone, subsidy expenditures reached upward of $23.5 million. Kuwait’s food subsidy initiative has ultimately improved the nutrition of Kuwaiti children and created widespread food security in Kuwait.
  3. Expatriates in Kuwait who do not receive subsidized food are at great risk of food insecurity. The average non-Kuwaiti worker in 2018 earned about 299 KD, while the average Kuwaiti citizen earned 1,415 KD. In the event of another surge of COVID-19, this wage gap could be especially catastrophic for the 2 million foreign nationals in Kuwait who do not receive food subsidies. For some, their salary might not even cover all of their basic human needs.
  4. A major reason for Kuwait’s reliance on imported food is its weak agriculture industry, which has traditionally consisted of fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, onions and melons. Ultimately, agriculture contributes less than 0.5% to the country’s GDP. Further development of agriculture seems unlikely considering an average annual rainfall of about four inches and 8.6% arable land. An underdeveloped agriculture sector would be an existential threat to most countries. Conversely, Kuwait’s small population, great wealth and diversified imported food supply chain allow it to circumvent such risks.
  5. Kuwait’s fisheries have experienced reduced production. Kuwait’s fisheries can provide only 33-49% of total fish demand in Kuwait and their production has dropped by more than 20% in recent decades. Anything that negatively impacts Kuwait’s fishing industry could make Kuwait more dependent on other countries for their fish supply. If water temperatures increase as experts predict, the average price of fish would likely rise with the departure of locally-sourced fish. This could increase poverty nationwide. Therefore, programs like the DNA Project are crucial to safeguarding Kuwait’s food security in the future. The DNA Project intends to collect DNA from local and migrating fish in order to manage stock more effectively.

Kuwait Works with FAO

Although fighting domestic poverty has long been a priority for Kuwait, the growing presence in foreign policy is exciting. Kuwait’s current work with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to combat hunger in Syria is just one example of this transition. In May 2019, Kuwait donated $3 million to the FAO, securing 200 kilograms of enhanced wheat seeds for 20,000 Syrian farmers and their families. Consequently, Kuwait has helped to bolster both agricultural production and food security in Syria. Kuwait’s involvement in eliminating poverty in Syria builds on its partnership with the FAO in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, where it has achieved similar success in improving food security.

As collaboration develops between nations to eliminate poverty, the ability to achieve other humanitarian goals will significantly increase as well.

Alex Berman
Photo: Pexels

Kuwait Poverty RateKuwait is a small country in the Middle East. Although healthcare rarely makes headlines in articles discussing the Middle East, Kuwait’s healthcare system helps its citizens in many ways. Still, some shortcomings remain. Here is what you need to know about healthcare in Kuwait.

5 Facts About Healthcare in Kuwait

  1. Heart disease and stroke are the top causes of death in Kuwait. In both 2007 and 2017, heart disease and stroke ranked as the first and second most common causes of death. In 2016, cardiovascular diseases were responsible for 41% of deaths, and cancer was responsible for 15%.
  2. Kuwait offers free but low-quality healthcare. All Kuwaitis are entitled to free healthcare and medical treatment at government facilities. However, some services, such as X-rays and specialized tests, are not free. These services usually come at significant additional cost and many are not offered at government facilities. As a result, patients need to go to the private sector or, in extreme cases, go to North America and Europe. Wait times for healthcare in Kuwait can be extreme. The wait time is so long for the public sector that those seeking immediate medical attention often go to the private sector. To make matters worse, Kuwaiti hospitals are drastically under-supplied for their growing population. As of 2016, Kuwait had two hospital beds per 1,000. The Ministry of Health launched projects expanding hospitals and adding critical supplies like beds, operating rooms, and clinics. The Kuwaiti government plans to meet its goals by 2030.
  3. Children’s health in Kuwait meets many goals. About eight infants die per every 1,000 live births. Of these children, about 91 percent receive three doses of the DTP vaccine, fighting diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, and 94 percent receive two doses of the measles vaccine. As the children grow older, they still have very good odds of surviving and staying healthy. The under-five mortality rate for females is 7 deaths per 1,000 children; for males, it is 9 deaths per 1,000 births. Children enjoy adequate education, sanitation clean water.
  4. Life expectancy in Kuwait is 75.31 years. This number is greater than the life expectancy in India, Russia and Mexico and it is comparable to those of China and the United States. Kuwait’s life expectancy is so high in part because of economic prosperity fueled by its petroleum industry. High economic status is closely linked to high life expectancy — since many people in Kuwait benefit from the petroleum industry, more Kuwaiti citizens enjoy a happy, long life.
  5. Kuwait’s citizens struggle with obesity. Around 33% of males and 44% of females over the age of 18 are obese. The same study also shows that 26% of males and 20% of females aged 10-19 are obese. These numbers are troubling as it shows that over 75% of the adults and over 45% of the children in Kuwait are obese. To make matters worse, the WHO projects the numbers will rise in the coming years. As of 2016, “according to the Global Burden of Disease Study, Kuwait is the fourth most obese country in the world.”

Kuwait is still considered a developing country despite its many advancements in medicine, science and technology. Access to public healthcare that covers an average amount of medical expenses should be applauded. Much remains to fix wait times and medical supplies, but this will build on the inspiring work already completed.

– Kate Estevez
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in Kuwait
Kuwait, or the State of Kuwait, is a country between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. After obtaining its independence from Britain in 1961, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in Aug. 1990. In Feb. 1991, a U.S.-led U.N. coalition liberated Kuwait in four days. After their liberation from Iraq, Kuwait’s many tribal groups staged protests demanding their political rights. The oppositionists, mainly composed of Sunni Islamists, tribal populists and liberals, won nearly half of the seats in the national assembly in the 2016 election. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Kuwait.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Kuwait

  1. There are no permanent rivers or lakes in Kuwait. While there aren’t any permanent water sources in Kuwait, there are Wadis, also known as desert basins. These basins fill with water during winter rains, which occur from Dec. to March. However the low amount of rainfall, which is about 121mm per year, and the high evaporation rate of water in Kuwait’s climate make rainfall an unreliable source of water.
  2. In 2015, Kuwait was on the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) list of countries with the highest water risk by 2040. Countries such as Bahrain, Palestine, Qatar, UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon were on the same list. The WRI pointed to the Middle-East’s already limited water supply and climate change as criteria for their country rankings.
  3. In Kuwait, 99 percent of people have access to improved drinking water. Kuwait also has a well-developed water infrastructure. However, the country’s rapidly growing population since 2000 is putting a toll on Kuwait’s water supply. Even as early as 1946, Kuwait was importing 80,000 gallons of fresh water per day.
  4. Kuwait’s over-reliance on groundwater led to its reliance on desalinization for drinking water. Even during the early 20th century, the shallow wells that collected rainwater were drying out. According to the 2019 U.N. report, these desalination plants produce around 93 percent of Kuwait’s drinking water.
  5. Desalination is expensive. While some might think that desalination plants are the answer to Kuwait’s water supply problem, the cost of operating desalination plants can’t be ignored. Per cubic meter, desalinated water can cost up to $1.04. Adding on to this the price of energy, which accounts for three-fourths of the cost, and transportation, it is easy to see how expensive desalination is.
  6. In 2017 and 2018, the WHO recognized the excellent water quality in Kuwait. This recognition is a testament to the Kuwait government’s commitment to water quality in its country. However, the Director of Water Resources Development Center emphasized the importance of landlords, who are responsible for the quality of water for their buildings, in keeping water storage tanks free of bacterial infection.
  7. The Water Resources Development Center (WRDC) uses real-time GIS (Geographic Information System) to monitor water quality and sanitation in Kuwait. While desalination plants produce clean water, multiple factors such as damaged water pipes or an aging water infrastructure can lead to water contamination. The GIS allows WRDC to collect and process water data from numerous sensors throughout Kuwait in real-time.
  8. The CIA estimated in 2015 that 100 percent of the Kuwait population has access to improved sanitation facilities. This reflects the Kuwait government’s commitment to public health and sanitation. In 2013, for example, Kuwait invested $5.28 billion in its water sector. Water treatment plants received the highest investment of $3.4 billion.
  9. Kuwait is expanding its sewage treatment facilities. In 2018, a German-Kuwait consortium closed a $1.6 billion contract to expand Kuwait’s Umm Al Hayman (UAH) sewage treatment plant. When the facility’s expansion finishes, experts estimate that the new plant will process 700,000 cubic meters of sewage per day, compared to the original capacity of 500,000 cubic meters.
  10. Kuwait is working on more efficient usage of water. In 2011, the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) stated that Kuwait had the highest water consumption in the world. UNDP’s 2019 report indicates that efficient usage of water in Kuwait rose from zero percent in 2012 to 15.1 percent in 2016. MOEW (Ministry of Electricity and Water) achieved this by conducting community awareness-raising activities or building water tanks and wells to ensure long-term water conservation.

These 10 facts about sanitation in Kuwait highlight the success the nation has had in maintaining and providing sanitary water. However, Kuwait must now turn its attention toward securing stable sources of water. With the ever-looming threat of climate change, the UNDP recommends that Kuwait focus on sustainable development.

– YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Kuwait
Kuwait does not immediately come to mind when one thinks of poverty. It may seem that statistics like life expectancy point to a high standard of living, but life is different for expatriates and noncitizens who make up the majority of the country’s inhabitants. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Kuwait, including a couple that appears a little too good to be true.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Kuwait

  1. The average life expectancy in Kuwait is about 75. This puts Kuwait above average for an Arab country, yet this figure likely does not take into account many foreign workers for reasons that number six in this list will explain. In comparison, the average life expectancy in Egypt is 72, 70 in both Iraq and Syria and 74 in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Additionally, all of these countries have faced some form of geopolitical unrest.
  2. Kuwait began the development of its petroleum industry in the 1930s. The industry is largely responsible for the country’s wealth and high standard of living today. It is likely also partly responsible for its high life expectancy. High socioeconomic status is a key determinant of high life expectancies, and Kuwaiti citizens, on average, enjoy both.
  3. The biggest increase in life expectancy was in the 1960s. Life expectancy in Kuwait grew rapidly with the coinciding economic development during the decade. Since then, it has followed a trajectory similar to other developed nations such as the U.S. and Australia.
  4. The difference in life expectancy between men and women is not significant. Unlike in the United States where the gap between men and women is five years, the gap is only about two years in Kuwait, and it is unclear why this might be the case. Kuwait’s neighbor Bahrain has a similarly small life expectancy gap.
  5. The third leading cause of death is influenza and pneumonia. In fact, the rates of influenza and pneumonia are high in comparison to most countries. In the U.S., these are only the eighth leading killers. Kuwait’s ministry of health has made efforts to combat influenza. In fact, flu vaccines more than tripled from 50,000 to 160,000 in 2019.
  6. Kuwait has one of the lowest death rates in the world, ranking 224th out of 226 countries. Only its neighbors Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have lower death rates. The low death rates reflect these countries’ world-class health care systems, but incidentally, all three of these countries have ex-pat populations that greatly outnumber their citizens. These countries do not have paths to citizenship in almost all cases, so once a foreigner is no longer able to work due to illness or old age, they must return home. Consequently, those who die in these countries are natives or foreigners who pass away from sudden and unexpected causes. This fact makes it difficult to accurately estimate the average life expectancy of foreigners difficult.
  7. Health care is poor for Kuwaiti people without citizenship. Foreign workers are not the only people who face discrimination in Kuwait. The Bidoons are a Kuwaiti born population that the government considers illegal. They may purchase health care plans, but government hospitals restrict certain procedures, treatments and medications. In addition, medical facilities may refuse them care outright if they lack proper documentation.
  8. Unemployment is around 2 percent. One should note, however, that others frequently relegate the Bidoon population to the informal job market. When the Bidoon’s have employment through the government, their contracts offer little job security and benefits.
  9. Some reports determine that the poverty rate is 0 percent. Having one of the lowest death rates and reportedly no individuals living in poverty may paint a picture of life in Kuwait that is not wholly accurate, however. Out of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Kuwait, this fact appears to be the most suspect. The questionable validity of the cited figure notwithstanding, many treat expatriates like second class citizens, greatly reducing their quality of life. The challenges they face include harsh working conditions, fears of harassment and practices like nonpayment or delayed payment. The good news is that some are making progress. Recent 2016 legislation allows some migrant workers to transfer their visa sponsorship to other employers after three years, potentially providing an incentive for companies to maintain acceptable working conditions.
  10. The government is investing $104 billion in health care infrastructure. This is in part to combat high rates of obesity, diabetes and cancer in the country. The investment should theoretically lead to longer lives as access to health care is one of the main determinants of life expectancy.

 These 10 facts about life expectancy in Kuwait show that the quality of life is good for the country’s citizens. The still strong oil industry and recent efforts to improve health care infrastructure can only improve the situation. Unfortunately, many noncitizens do not have the rights that are responsible for the long lives that Kuwaiti’s can expect to live. Social and economic equality, not total wealth, are the primary issues facing Kuwait’s less well off today.

– Caleb Carr
Photo: Flickr

Oil and Poverty
Oil has been a massive drive for inequality in the modern world, especially The Organization of the Petroleum Countries (OPEC) member states. Oil and poverty intertwine, especially in OPEC nations. OPEC, at its core, is a union of oil-producing countries that work together to make decisions on how much oil countries extract and export around the world. While OPEC strength has diminished in the world with increased oil supply coming in from Canada and The United States, OPEC nations still have stranglehold grips on their economies and governments. OPEC found its beginning in the 1960s with five countries, including Kuwait, Venezuela, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Reliance on Oil Revenue

One thing that all the founding OPEC nation members have in common is a poor Freedom House Index score. Kuwait currently has the highest score with Freedom House giving it an overall score of partly free while the other four have a score determining them not free. With five distinct countries with different styles of government and cultures with one being across the globe, the one common thread is the large oil reserves that each of these countries relies on. For instance, a report by finds that “oil comprises nearly half of Kuwait’s GDP, around 95 percent of exports and approximately 90 percent of government revenue.”

The fact that government revenue comes mostly from Kuwait’s nationalized oil industry and the Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC) shows an alarming trend. With the country relying mainly on oil revenue, the government taxes the population less, meaning that the government can ignore the requests for policy reform for less risk. If everyone in the United States decided to protest government activity, the federal government would have a serious fiscal issue on its hands, but if Kuwait’s population decided to stop paying taxes, the overall fiscal attitude of Kuwait would only change minimally.

Kuwait’s failure to support its people reflects in the numbers. According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Factbook, the total unemployment rate in Kuwait is 15.4 percent, with women being 30 percent unemployed and men being 9.4 percent unemployed. The CIA also cites that current health expenditures are only 4 percent of the economy, and there are only two beds per 1,000 people. These three simple metrics show a blatant disregard towards social issues such as women’s rights and political/economic issues such as health care and infrastructure.


In some ways, the problem of oil and poverty and OPEC is self-repairing. As large and easy oil reserves start to dry out, the cost of obtaining more oil will increase to the point where it is no longer economically feasible to extract it. There is much debate as to when this will occur, but for many western countries, green energy has already become cheaper than traditional fossil fuels. This trend reflects in its GDP growth rate, which the CIA has concluded to be negative 3.3 percent and has been negative since 2015. With 90 percent of the countries’ GDP tied up in oil and the growth rate being negative, one can infer that as the world’s oil supplies dry up and people’s preferences shift towards green energy, Kuwait will eventually have to find another way to support itself.

Fighting the fight against OPEC and oil and poverty is easier than one might think. Since OPEC operates as a union based on exports, supporting NGOs and governmental policies towards green energy in any capacity either directly on indirectly damages OPEC. A great NGO to support is Green America which has the mission statement, “Our mission is to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.” With Green America’s goals of social equity and sustainability, it is the perfect NGO to counter oppressive regimes that profit from killing the planet.

Spencer Julian
Photo: Wikipedia


Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Kuwait
Kuwait is a small country in Asia that has an undeniable amount of wealth. Many of the citizens of Kuwait still live in extreme poverty, however. Kuwait’s wealth through natural oil reserves often masks the country’s poverty issues. Oil is the most important industry within the country and Kuwait’s top percentage of citizens possess most of the wealth. The nation only employs about 70 percent of its citizens leaving one in four people without incomes to support their families, a half a million people living in rental houses and over 100,000 people looking for a home. While conditions are difficult for citizens that do not profit from natural oil, Kuwait also has a negative reputation for being a challenging country to live in for expats. These top 9 facts about living conditions in Kuwait acknowledge both internal and external issues facing the country.

Top 9 Facts About Living Conditions in Kuwait

  1. Kuwait’s public transportation primarily includes buses and taxis. Kuwait has a very poor safety record on the roads with one of the highest accident rates in the Middle East. A government solution has proposed a plan to install GCC-railway terminals so that citizens and tourists can get around safely.
  2. Kuwaitis receive high medical care and are entitled to free medical treatment at government facilities. Kuwaitis always get priority over expats, which can make the cost and wait time for tourists a nightmare. A governmental implementation that segregates local and expat patients and foreign medical staff ensures that Kuwait’s citizens receive the highest and fastest level of care first.
  3. The overall environment of Kuwait is extremely unclean. The country has a significant litter problem as citizens tend to throw garbage in the streets. It is common for citizens and expats to drive around with piles of trash on the side of the road. The government is working with nonprofit organizations such as Operation HOPE in forming groups to clean litter on the roads weekly.
  4. The cost of living poses a challenge for the Kuwait people. Housing, education and clothing are too expensive for citizens not working in the natural oil industry. With only 70 percent of the country employed, half a million can only afford rental homes while 100,000 people are homeless.
  5. Women in Kuwait are making progress but there is still a long way to go. Women have been trailblazers in turning the country around following the Kuwait Parliament Act signed in 2005, granting women full suffrage. Kuwait still lacks laws against domestic abuse and husbands can prohibit their wives from working, though.
  6. Kuwait has an issue with extremely high temperatures, especially during the summer season. The average temperature from June through August is 101 degrees. The country has many months’ worth of dry periods making agriculture extremely difficult in producing a profit. The winter months are cooler but still face an average of 70 degrees.
  7. Operation HOPE in Kuwait is one of many nonprofit organizations working toward bettering the country. HOPE stands for Helping Others Practically and Everyday without discrimination or disrespect to anyone. Members of the organization do many things from cleaning the streets to making blankets for prisoners. The organization also provides food, toiletries and bedrolls to those in need.
  8. Non-citizens that came from tribal families and settled in the community over 50 years ago face the most serious economic problems. No citizenship means segregation by the government which makes earning a living extremely challenging. People can apply for citizenship, yet the process is long and challenging.
  9. Although the natural oil industry is the backbone for wealth in Kuwait, oil prices worldwide have dipped 60 percent since 2014 challenging the country to buckle down on spending and begin finding alternative ways to make revenue. This solution can lead to unemployed citizens finding work in whatever the government is going to deem profitable.

These top 9 facts about the living conditions in Kuwait expose some issues that the country faces for citizens, non-citizens and expats settling into the country. The top 9 facts about the living conditions in Kuwait also acknowledges that the Middle Eastern nation has promise and viable solutions to issues facing the country. If the government can continue to implement and think of new and effective measures, Kuwait should continue to prosper into a successful nation.

– Aaron Templin
Photo: Flickr

Kuwait's Stateless Population

Growing up, Mona Kareem was not a victim of childhood torment because of her nationality—but, rather, her absence of nationality. She is a member of Kuwait‘s stateless population. From an extremely young age, Kareem knew she did not quite belong. Her fellow students, and even her teachers in Kuwaiti’s free, public schools seemed to treat her more as an apparition than an individual.

One could imagine why Kareem accepted an academic scholarship in 2011 to study in the United States at SUNY Binghamton. Though this decision came with a measure of arduous ambiguity concerning how and when she may see her family again—the act of leaving her ‘home’ country of Kuwait did not weigh heavily of Kareem, given that this ‘home’ refuses to recognize her existence. She is just one of many that fall under Kuwait’s stateless population.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Kuwait is an extremely wealthy country with little measurable poverty. Bordering the Persian Gulf, lodged between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, this tiny country—slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey—holds more than 6 percent of the globe’s crude oil reserves. This asset accounts for more than 50 percent of its GDP, and 92 percent of its export revenue.

Sitting on such an expansive source of wealth allows Kuwait to take care of its citizens. Earlier this year, Business Insider placed Kuwait sixth on their ranking of richest countries based on GDP per capita. With a population of just above 4 million, the country brings in the equivalent of an annual $71,263 per person.

Each resident has access to free healthcare, education up to (and including) the university level, and monetary allowances from the government for major life occasions. If a Kuwaiti was to be married, for example, they would receive $19,000 American dollars for their doing so—half acting as an interest free loan, and the other half as a complimentary gift toward their future.

In 2004, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Princess Zain Al Sabah on her nationally-viewed show, confirming the extravagant lifestyle embraced by her and the majority of her ‘friends.’ She went on to explain that this lifestyle is accessible not only to royalty, but the ‘common,’ everyday citizens of Kuwait.

However, the contention with Kuwaiti’s government does not lay with the Kuwaiti common, nor the royal ‘friends’—but those that perhaps aren’t recognized as ‘friends’ at all. Unfortunately, there is a large proportion of individuals living in Kuwait that do not qualify for the benefits the Princess emphasized. In fact, they do not qualify as citizens; according to the Kuwaiti government, they do not exist. This is Kuwait’s stateless population.

Kareem and her family are known to the Kuwaiti people as ‘Bedoons,’ translating to mean ‘without’ in Arabic. They are descendants of Bedouin tribes, nomadic groups who have raised cattle and tended to crop across the Middle East and Arabian peninsula for centuries.

Traditionally, the Bedouin tribes have led self-sufficient lives, migrating at the turn of the season and rejecting modernity. Of course, tradition changes with the time, and descendants of this nomadic lifestyle have begun to seek more than perpetual exodus to fulfill their lives.

In the late 1950’s, before declaring sovereignty 1961, Kuwait’s government declared that all citizens must formally register before the country is recognized. To qualify for nationality one must meet the following requirements: one must have had settled in Kuwait prior to 1920 and maintained residence in the region; one must be a person in or outside Kuwait whose father is a Kuwaiti national; or one that can prove to have been born in Kuwait, even if their parents are unknown.

At the time of registry, however, a large proportion of Kuwaiti inhabitants lived in rural regions, lacking both the necessary paperwork and literary skills necessary to understand the weighty context of this request. Consequently, around 300,000 Kuwaiti people, including the ancestors of Kareem, did not become citizens.

Today, this would equate to one-third of the native population living in Kuwait. Those that had forgone the process of citizenship were left ‘without’ nationality. Thus, the majority of descendants remain without nationality—otherwise known as Kuwaiti’s ‘Bedoons.’

For several years post-independence, Kuwait’s stateless population continued to live unchallenged by their lack of nationality. Most kept to their tribal traditions, living outside of urban areas and seeking government assistance only on rare, emergency occasions. If public education was sought for a child, the Kuwaiti government allowed schooling for the Bidoon—despite their statelessness.

It was only after heightened tensions in the Middle-East in the late eighties that xenophobia began to emerge as a weapon against the Bidoon people. After a large portion of Kuwait’s people fled during the Iraqi invasion in 1991, only about half of the Bedoons were allowed re-entry.

Of course, Kuwait’s stateless population returned to a different world. Suspicions of Iraqi alignment ran rampant throughout the nation. Consequently, the Bidoon’s lack of formal nationality often receiving the brunt of this hostility.

To this day, over 100,000 Bedoons live without recognition in the only country they have ever called home. Most dwell in rural areas, exposed to unsuitable living conditions. Regardless of their ability to trace back their native roots, they are repeatedly denied citizenship and are unable to qualify for basic government subsidies on healthcare, education and housing/food allowances. On top of this, there still exists an equal number of stateless individuals in neighboring countries, perceived as refugees and denied access to their home altogether.

In a nation that can afford not only to meet the needs of their citizens, but encourage wealthy and prosperous lives—it is unfortunate that such a great number of its native people are living in a way that threatens their basic security.

In order for the world to understand the demographic of the Kuwaiti people and the true ‘wealth’ of this small nation, the government must first open its doors to Kuwait’s stateless population.

Briana Fernald

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Kuwait

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the region, many of the citizens of Kuwait live in squalor and poverty, while their countrymen revel in the wealth of the nation. While Kuwaiti government officials deny the existence of extreme poverty in their country, and accurate data on the extent of its poverty is hard to come by, accounts coming from within the country help indicate what the causes of poverty in Kuwait are.

Kuwait has a GDP per capita of over $70,000, indicating that the roughly four million inhabitants should have plenty of wealth to support themselves, even in countries with costs of living much higher than Kuwait’s. Kuwait is also one of the most charitable countries in the Middle East and the world as a whole, according to the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index, with millions of dollars committed to charitable causes every year. Given these two factors, it would not be unreasonable to presume that the standard of living in Kuwait must be quite good.

However, most of this wealth appears to be consolidated in the top several percent of Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwait is a nation whose wealth is built on the back of its natural oil reserves, which comprises nearly the entirety of Kuwait’s industry. The large dips in oil prices over the past decade have begun to pressure the Kuwaiti economy, as 2015 marked its first budget deficit in decades.

There is undeniable wealth present in the country, which manifests itself in areas such as Kuwait’s excellent public infrastructure; nearly the entire country lives in an urban area and has easy access to clean water, sanitation and medicine. Yet the nation only employs just over 75 percent of its citizens, which leaves nearly one in four workers without an income to support their families. Though unemployment is just one of the causes of poverty in Kuwait, other causes are pointed to by Kuwaiti citizens themselves.

Writing in a column for the Kuwaiti Times, Thaar Al-Rasheedi talks about the divide between the wealthy and the poor, which he believes to include some 90 percent of Kuwaiti citizens. He points to the over a half million Kuwaiti who live in rented houses, and another 100,000 people who have applied for a house from the government but have yet to receive their housing. The reason for this, Al-Rasheedi points out, are the exorbitant prices on everything in Kuwait. “Salaries are high but, on the other hand, there is hardly a citizen who still has a single dinar by the 15th of each month,” Al-Rasheedi writes.

He goes on to note that many Kuwaiti are forced into “intentional poverty” for half of every month to be able to afford enough food to survive until their next paycheck. Meanwhile, the oil tycoons live comfortably off their millions and tell the rest of the world that there are no poor people in Kuwait.

Though the poor of Kuwait seem to be largely glossed over, at least by the Kuwaiti government, citizens of the nation feel it is a very real issue, and the causes of poverty in Kuwait stem largely from the extreme top-heaviness of wealth distribution in the nation.

Erik Halberg

Photo: Flickr

Why Is Kuwait Poor?Kuwait, a small country located in the Middle East, is a country that tends to be stereotypically characterized as stricken with poverty. A common question that is asked is, why is Kuwait poor?

But this stereotype is not necessarily true. Kuwait is indeed small, but its oil reserves have made it one of the richer countries in the region. In terms of purchasing power, Kuwait’s GDP is ranked 55th in the world by the CIA World Factbook.

Due to Kuwait’s small population size, this success directly correlates to its people’s standard of living. As of 2016, Kuwait’s GDP per capita ranked 11th in the world at $71,900. This figure is much higher than many major economies such as the United States, which ranked 20th at $57,400.

Based on these figures alone, Kuwait appears not to be a poor country, but one of the most prosperous in the world. So, why is Kuwait poor? On the international stage, it is not. When one looks further, however, key figures may legitimize that question.

What is interesting about Kuwait is that the country’s poverty rate is extremely difficult to find. Neither the World Bank, the CIA World Factbook nor UNICEF have access to it, which raises a lot of questions. Why do these trusted international organizations not have this information? Is this information being withheld, and if so, for what reason?

Based on other metrics, it is hard to see Kuwait as a stereotypical poor country. The figures mentioned above related to GDP show that the nation as a whole is seeing economic success, and an unemployment rate of 3 percent suggests that its poverty rate must be low.

Still, the lack of specific data in this area is unsettling. If Kuwait is as prosperous as it seems to be, there should be no issue in providing data relevant to its poverty rate and income distribution. In order for the world to know for certain, the international community needs this data.

So, why is Kuwait poor? It technically is not poor, but that is not necessarily the right question to be asking. By asking questions regarding Kuwait’s poverty rate, its income distribution, and the general livelihoods of its people, we can better analyze the country’s successes, its shortcomings and its opportunities for growth long into the future.

John Mirandette

Photo: Flickr