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

Help People in KuwaitKuwait is not a country that often comes to mind when considering foreign aid. The oil-rich nation may seem self-sufficient; however, Kuwaitis face hurdles in their daily lives and are in need of assistance. Colossal prices for everyday goods, human rights violations and water conditions are just a few of the problems people encounter in Kuwait on a daily basis.

Although the nation is renowned for its high salaries, the correlating high cost of living is often left out. Basic necessities such as rent, food and health care have had drastic price increases. The Kuwaiti Times reports that “90 percent of the population is not as rich as the prime minister says.” The reporter continues to insinuate that the incumbent administration is oblivious to the reality of life in Kuwait.

To help people in Kuwait, combating human rights violations is essential. The Kafala system binds migrant workers to their employers, functioning as a modern day system of slavery. Workers are often vulnerable to forced labor in subpar conditions and abuse. Employers often threaten to deport migrant workers if they do not comply with their demands.

Between January and April of 2016, 14,400 workers faced deportation. Misdemeanors such as traffic violations or talking back can result in harsh punishments from their employers. The European Union has launched a project called PAVE to assist and shield these workers from exploitation. Donating to or volunteering for this organization are both ways to help people in Kuwait.

Although Kuwait is a food secure nation, it stands at ninth place for high water risk by 2040. Unparalleled evaporation rates deplete the soil of its moisture, resulting in a nominal percentage of water flowing into the aquifers. Without any natural rivers or lakes, this proves to be deleterious to the Kuwaiti population.

Contributions to the construction of water treatment plants or waste water systems are both ways to assist the country in their water deficit.

Once we puncture the façade of images of the wealthy Kuwaiti population, we realize that Kuwait cannot be overlooked when deliberating foreign aid.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr

Education in Kuwait
Kuwait has an extensive public and private education system. The state provides free education through the secondary level. Almost 500,000 students are enrolled in Kuwait schools, which is equivalent to 30 percent of the population. Both public and private schools are regulated by the Ministry of Education.

Education in Kuwait has been provided to all Kuwaiti citizens, children of Ministry of Education employees and residents of Kuwait since before 1960. The Bidoon, a stateless group which lives within Kuwait, also has access to Kuwait’s free education.

Kuwait has compulsory enrollment for children aged six to 14. There are many free public and private preschools for children aged four to six. Following preschool, students enter elementary school and then intermediate school. These follow set curriculums with little variation. Students learn English starting in second grade.

If students wish to continue their education they can go to secondary school for four years. These programs are free but not compulsory. After four years, students take a national exam.

Kuwait has one state university and several vocational schools. These universities were mainly created for Kuwait citizens, but a few spots are reserved for non-Kuwait citizens. The Ministry of Higher Education is in the process of allowing some private universities to open within the country.

Approximately 40 percent of students are enrolled in private schools. Many of these are international schools and are sponsored by foreign donors. The state funds many subsidies for students to attend private schools. Many families seek a private education because they question the adequacy of state schools, they feel the English language is a useful skill or they desire a more advanced curriculum.

The Private Education Department accredits all private schools in the country. It regulates various elements of the facilities and controls the fees for the schools. International schools have a great deal of leeway to design their curriculums, and they often mimic their international counterparts. However, all private schools must incorporate elements of the local culture and language into the curriculum.

The Ministry of Education also ensures free education for students with special needs. Students with slight learning disabilities are often incorporated into the classroom and given Individualized Education Plans. There are three schools for students with more severe special needs.

The World Bank has partnered with the Kuwait Ministry of Education and National Center for Education Development to make reforms to the state education system. The five-year program, which began in 2015, hopes to improve the quality of the teachers and the learning experience. They are seeking to improve the curriculum, school leadership and develop national education standards for education in Kuwait.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Unsplash

Water Quality in Kuwait
Despite sitting just off the coast of the Persian Gulf, most of Kuwait’s water resources come from groundwater. Although limited rainfall and hot summers in the desert country threaten water reserves in underground aquifers, by using a sophisticated desalinization process, water quality in Kuwait is one of the best.

With Kuwait’s main water supply coming from groundwater, it puts the country at an extremely high water risk: the country only experiences about 121mm of rainfall each year, and only a small percentage of that reaches aquifers. Because of this, the country relies heavily on its desalinated seawater and treated municipal wastewater.

Due to the high risk of contamination and harmful bacteria that harbors in wastewater, between 2005 and 2014, the Kuwaiti government invested approximately $5.2 billion in the water sector. Kuwait allocated around $3.4 billion to water treatments to guarantee adequate water quality in Kuwait.

To ensure that the distillation plants, constructed in 2013, would create enough clean water for the entire country, Khalid Al Barrak, the head of KISR’s Water Science Department, advised the country to monitor and cut down its level of water consumption. Barrak stated that “such a consumption level was irrational and that it was eroding the government’s efforts to prevent the ominous waste of the invaluable resource.”

Barrak’s claims could help protect not only the water quality in Kuwait, but also help preserve the limited natural freshwater resources available in a country, which was recently reported as the highest water consumer in the world. Additionally, cutting down consumption could save the country about $28 million annually.

By cutting down consumption and continuing the construction of desalination projects, the water quality in Kuwait will continue to see improvements and will provide more resources to people who live in the more arid desert areas of Kuwait.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Flickr

Mohammad Al-Jabri, Minister of Municipal Affairs, announced that Kuwait is in full support of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as it seeks the elimination of international hunger and poverty.

According to Kuwait Times, Jabri made this announcement in Rome during the 40th Session FAO Conference on July 3, 2017. Jabri solidified Kuwait’s efforts to cooperate with FAO by signing an agreement for the agricultural development, which will help enhance Kuwait’s food and nutrition security while developing human and natural resources to eliminate hunger in Kuwait.

Additionally, a representative of Kuwait announced Kuwait’s preliminary approval of two projects including the DNA project for agriculture and the project of agricultural waste recycling. The increasingly high temperatures of Kuwait’s regional waters and immense environmental pollution put the country, specifically fisheries, in danger of climate change, which has a notoriously negative impact on hunger in Kuwait.

Climate change imposes a number of threats on the people of Kuwait. Without proper modern technology to combat the rising temperatures, a large portion of the country’s food supply is being compromised. Additionally, potable water is diminishing at rapid rates due to the lack of proper technology necessary to clean local water.

The amount of potable water is diminishing as the water supply is getting smaller and smaller in a country that is getting hotter and hotter. With this destructive climate change comes the lack of water needed to cultivate crops. Thus, leaders of Kuwait are teaming with FAO in an attempt to save the scarce water supply via water harvesting, drip irrigation and wastewater treatment.

Rising temperatures make land that was once fertile incapable of producing the food that the people of Kuwait rely on. Only approximately 0.3 percent of the country is utilized for crop production. According to FAO, the land that is used for the cultivation of crops is frequently unreliable as it is very poor in the organic nutritional matter, so there are limited opportunities to alleviate hunger in Kuwait.

The Center of Kuwait is one of the few areas that possess rich, sandy soil that allows for the transfer of air and water, making crop production much more possible. However, this small area of the country is unable to produce enough food for the entire population of Kuwait. With the desert-like climate of Kuwait that is constantly increasing in temperature, this already limited farmable area is rapidly diminishing.

A country constantly battling poverty and hunger, Kuwait is pursuing joint Arab action to help people in Kuwait. By tackling economic, humanitarian, educational and media objectives, leaders of Kuwait are uniting to protect Arab societies and interests. And at the forefront of these is, as it long has been, hunger.

With massive economic issues, an outbreak of diseases, poverty and famine, Kuwait is struggling to fight the inevitable consequences of living in a world of immense poverty and hunger. Jabri and the rest of Kuwait are hopeful that by partnering with FAO, these issues can be stopped in their tracks and eventually hunger in Kuwait will be reversed entirely.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Between Saudi Arabia and Iraq lies the country of Kuwait. Kuwait has the sixth highest GDP per capita in the world and has a thriving industrial economy. With the country being in such a great position to help, what is it doing to tackle global poverty in emerging markets?

On July 1, Kuwait reaffirmed its support for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which encourages globalization, cooperation among nations and environmental sustainability. Acting director-general of Kuwait’s Public Authority for Industry (PAI) Abdulkarim Taqui addressed the 45th session of the UNIDO’s Industrial Development Board (IDB).

According to the Arab Times, Taqui’s address included asking UNIDO to do more in stopping the negative outcomes resulting from liberating the international trade and “dumping.” Dumping in international trade is when a country’s businesses lower the sales price of its exports to gain an unfair market share in the consuming country. Taqui proposes to create systems that can make sure pricing stays fair in both the exported country and country of origin to combat dumping in international trade.

Dumping seems to be a severe problem according to Taqui, as he goes on to say “The UNIDO must set a host of projects and programs that are likely to develop practical and realistic solutions to remedy such practices that have been causing colossal damage to the industrial sector in many countries.”

This instance isn’t the first time that Kuwait and the UNIDO have teamed up together. The Public Authority for Industry and the UNIDO have started a project that will increase the export competitiveness of small Kuwaiti companies (SMEs) from the chemicals, rubber and plastic sectors. This project will hopefully counter dumping in international trade.

Taqui stresses that Kuwait will continue to cooperate with the United Nations and encourages other nations to not pull out of the UNIDO. He says that organizations like the UNIDO are necessary in maintaining a balanced world economy, and social stability.

When it comes to solving complex issues related to lifting people out of squalor, Kuwait seems to be on top of its game, without even taking center stage in the fight against global poverty.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr

Several of the 10 richest countries in the world are also leaders in foreign aid and charitable donations to organizations that fight poverty both at home and abroad.

According to Global Finance Magazine, which utilized data provided by the International Monetary Fund, the 10 richest countries in the world by GDP per capita are Qatar, Luxembourg, Macao, Singapore, Brunei, Kuwait, Ireland, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and San Marino.

Number five on the list with a per capita GDP of $71,263, Kuwait has a history of offering humanitarian aid to developing countries, particularly in the Arab world. The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has provided a total of $18.5 billion in loans to 104 countries in support for education, health services and agricultural development since the fund’s establishment in 1961. Part of the fund is also put aside to assist Kuwait’s citizens in finding housing.

Kuwait is also known for providing humanitarian relief in the wake of natural disasters and violent conflict. The country recently provided $500 million to Yemen and pledged another $500 million to Syria. In 2015, Kuwait’s contribution to foreign aid was 2.1 percent of its GDP, more than twice the U.N. Official Development Assistance target.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Ranked ninth on the list with a per capita GDP of $67,696, in 2013 the UAE was recognized as the top humanitarian donor of the year, having contributed nearly six billion dollars in aid to over 140 countries to provide food, shelter and education to vulnerable populations, particularly in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories. Dubai, the UAE’s largest city, is also the location of the International Humanitarian City, which houses more than 50 commercial companies and nongovernmental organizations instrumental in the delivery of aid to areas of the world in need.

Ireland is the seventh richest country in the world and has a GDP of $69,374. In 2013, 49 of the top Irish companies donated over 24 million euro to local groups and organizations that focus on issues such as homelessness, education and disability services. The country increased its foreign aid budget, offering 640 million euro for developmental assistance in 2016, a seven percent increase from the previous year. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan defined the fight against poverty and hunger worldwide as being “at the core of Irish foreign policy.”

Just behind Ireland with a GDP of $69,296, Norway allocates large amounts of aid money toward global education and health. It spent the third-highest percentage of gross national income on foreign aid in 2016 out of all the countries in the U.N., placing it just behind the UAE. Norway has recently proposed to double its support for renewable energy and is working with Kenya through the Oil for Development program to help Kenya protect its natural resources while gaining a foothold in the petroleum sector.

These nations, four of the 10 richest countries in the world, give back for a variety of reasons. The UAE claims that the humanitarian element is the single deciding factor in its policy on foreign aid, citing an Islamic belief that it is an obligation to help the less fortunate. Others see foreign aid as a means to strengthen its own political, diplomatic and economic positions. According to Dr. Hessah Al-Ojayan, assistant professor of finance at Kuwait University, Kuwait uses foreign aid to achieve “smaller ‘wins’ in the day-to-day global political arena.” Similarly, Norway’s partnership with Kenya, which the government has called “an engine of economic growth in Africa” and “increasingly important for Norwegian interests,” has the potential to be mutually beneficial.

Several of the 10 richest countries in the world have also made it to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) World Giving Index top 20. The rankings are determined by three criteria: the percentage of people surveyed from that country who say that they have helped a stranger, donated money or volunteered time. These statistics show that not only the governments of these countries, but also the citizens themselves, are generous to the less fortunate. Ireland ranks ninth on the list, followed by the UAE at 10th, Norway at 14th and Kuwait at 19th.

Emilia Otte

Photo: Flickr

Kuwait is located on the Arabian Gulf and sits between Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to the World Travel Guide, Kuwait has a number of tourist attractions, even though its location might hinder it from topping the list for many travelers. Kuwait sits on a beautiful coastline and has many impressive buildings and eateries. As with any other destination, travelers should take the necessary precautions to avoid contracting the top diseases in Kuwait.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all travelers to Kuwait get vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Both diseases can be contracted through contaminated food or water, and thus it is important for travelers to be careful when choosing where to eat. Luckily, the World Travel Guide lists many restaurants known for both safety and fine dining, including Pepper Steak House and Ayam Zaman Restaurant. The CDC recommends using available resources such as this guide to determine where it is safe to eat to avoid contracting the top diseases in Kuwait as a traveler. The CDC also warns that travelers staying with family or friends or in more rural areas are at a greater risk of catching typhoid.

Another pervasive disease in Kuwait is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). MERS is a respiratory virus unlike any other known viruses, according to the CDC. It causes a fever, cough, shortness of breath and, in some cases, can be fatal. The first case was reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, and it is quickly becoming one of the top diseases in Kuwait. A fatal case of MERS was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2015. The WHO issued a warning which states that individuals who have diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease or are immunocompromised have the greatest risk of contracting a MERS infection. The report cautions those at risk against contact with animals, especially camel,s and recommend good hygiene practices, along with avoiding the consumption of raw milk and undercooked meats.

In 2015, the WHO did not recommend any travel restrictions for Kuwait, as there is no evidence that indicates MERS can be transferred through person-to-person contact. However, in May 2016, the CDC issued a level two alert after cases of MERS were seen in several countries around the Arabian Gulf. These cases occurred in travelers and also in people they had been in close contact with. The CDC does not discourage travel to these areas, but they recommend that travelers consult with a doctor to determine risk factors and if additional precautions are necessary.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About the Gulf War
This January marks the 26th anniversary of the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, a conflict that displaced millions and would go on to set the pace of Middle Eastern dynamics in the twenty-first century. Here are 10 important things to know about the Gulf War.

    1. The conflict began on August 2, 1990, when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of neighboring Kuwait by bombing their capital of Kuwait City and deploying 100,000 soldiers into the country. While Hussein demanded access to the country’s oil reserves, he also claimed to be supporting a popular revolution against Kuwait’s monarchy.
    2. The invasion was widely met with international criticism, drawing comments and sanctions from U.S. President George H.W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Hours after the invasion, the U.N. met in an emergency session, calling for Iraq’s immediate withdrawal from Kuwait, and imposing a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq.
    3. Standing opposed to Saddam Hussein was the Allied Coalition, consisting of 39 countries and 670,000 troops, over 60 percent of them from the U.S. Their initiative, Operation Desert Storm, began in January 1991, marking the beginning of international involvement.
    4. Much of the Allied Coalition’s concern centered on their fear that Iraq might invade Saudi Arabia in an attempt to take control of their oil reserves – had Hussein garnered control of these fields, he would have controlled the majority of the world’s oil supply.
    5. The U.S. Department of Defense estimated that the Gulf War cost more than $61 billion. The United States suffered 383 fatalities, while more than 10,000 Iraqis lost their lives in the fighting. Operation Desert Storm included the largest armored assault since World War II, as well as a battlefield that was the most well-prepared in the history of warfare.
    6. Estimates on the number of civilians killed during the conflict vary widely. During the war, Iraq downplayed this figure to maintain morale and dismiss the effectiveness of the Allied Coalition’s offensives. It is now generally agreed that roughly 3,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives as a result of the war.
    7. Although a ceasefire was declared by President Bush on February 28, 1991, the economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. at the time of the invasion remained in place. A study released in 1995 indicated that as many 576,000 children may have died since the end of the war, with malnutrition running high and poised to increase.
    8. Just weeks after the ceasefire, in March 1991, uprisings against the Iraqi government erupted among Shi’a rebels in the south and northern Kurdish regions. The conflict was marked by extreme violence and mass executions of civilians, with victims burned alive, tortured, raped and murdered, often buried in mass graves – thousands more were “disappeared” after Saddam Hussein’s forces retook control of the country.
    9. By April 1991, the uprisings had been suppressed and Saddam Hussein remained in control of Iraq. At this time, almost a million refugees had spilled across the border into Iran, and 500,000 had fled north to Turkey. UNHCF mounted a massive airlift of humanitarian aid and supplies to Iran, but the need far exceeded provisions. In September, the organization launched a $35 million initiative to supply roofs for the homes of 350,000 displaced Iraqis.
    10. It is estimated that as many as five million people from 30 different countries were displaced as a result of the Gulf War. Countries throughout the world, as of June 1991, had donated an estimated $1.35 billion in aid to support the refugees of one of the largest migrations in human history.

    Although brief, the Persian Gulf War in 1991 impacted the lives of millions throughout the region and cost billions in aid. The conflict went on to set the stage for Middle Eastern relations in the new millennium, acting as a precursor to the War in Iraq that began in 2003.

    Emily Marshall

    Photo: Flickr