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