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Eight Facts about Turkey’s Kurds

The Kurds are a Muslim-majority ethnic group located mainly in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. With a total global population of around 30 million, they are the largest ethnic group without a state. Since the rise of the Islamic State, the Kurds have been crucial in the fight against ISIS and have been a reliable US military ally. The Turkish government has had a contentious relationship with the Kurds for decades, as it views the Kurds as a threat to the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK as a terrorist organization. To better understand Turkey’s relations with its Kurdish minority, here are eight facts about Turkey’s Kurds.

8 Facts about Turkey’s Kurds

  1. There are between 15-20 million Kurdish people in Turkey, most of whom are located in the Kurdish districts of Sivas and Marash and in Eastern and South-Eastern Anatolia, or what the Kurds call Northern Kurdistan. Large Kurdish communities also exist in Turkish cities, such as Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Adana and Mersin. Turkey’s Kurds comprise somewhere between 19-25 percent of its total population.
  2. After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds’ homeland, Kurdistan, was divided so that it was controlled by the mostly newly-formed states of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Many Kurdish people in Turkey are dissatisfied with this arrangement and want their own state. Indeed, since the 1930s the Kurds have resisted rule by the Turkish government, such as the government’s insistence on one national language.
  3. Since 1984, the PKK, often aided by Iran and Syria, has waged an armed insurgency against the Turkish regime. In the 1990s, the PKK executed several suicide bombings. The Turkish army has suppressed these Kurdish uprisings, and targeted Kurds suspected of supporting the PKK. In the 1990s, the regime depopulated rural Kurdish areas by evacuating or burning 4,000 Kurdish villages to the ground. This destruction displaced millions of Kurds, who received no social assistance or compensation. Furthermore, it is responsible for high unemployment among Turkey’s Kurds and economic inequality between the Kurdish and Turkish populations.
  4. When the AKP (Justice and Development Party) rose to power in Turkey in 2002, the government adopted a “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy. In accordance with this shift, Turkey sought to cooperate with Syria, Iran and Iraq on the Kurdish issue. However, since the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey’s relations with Syria and Iran have deteriorated significantly. Additionally, the Arab Spring reenergized Kurdish hopes of statehood, and the PKK escalated its terrorist attacks.
  5. Still, the AKP government has increased its efforts to engage with moderate Kurdish groups. For instance, in 2011, then-Prime Minister Erdogan recognized the Dersim massacre that occurred in the late 1930s. Some Kurds participate in Turkey’s political process; the Kurdish separatist party BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) gained three dozen seats in Turkey’s parliament.
  6. In an effort to quell political unrest among its Kurdish population, the Turkish government has employed a carrot-and-stick approach. In conjunction with the repression of the Kurdish resistance through the army and police, the Turkish regime has taken up a strategy of ‘‘development as counterinsurgency.” According to this plan, the Kurdish rebellion against the Turkish regime is attributable to the chronic poverty and lack of economic development in Southeastern Turkey and, therefore, can be resolved through economic development programs and welfare redistribution. Turkey’s most significant effort to provide economic development to its Kurdish population is the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), a program implemented which has provided more than 30 billion dollars in regional development assistance since the government implemented it in the 1970s. Notably, however, this program has not proven to benefit the Kurds. Between 1996-2003, the socioeconomic status of all but one province supposedly aided by GAP regressed. The construction of dams on the Euphrates and Tigris through the program proved to be disastrous environmentally and demographically.
  7. The Turkish government has successfully implemented social assistance programs, such as means-tested free health care, for individual impoverished Kurds. Other social assistance programs include the provision of conditional cash transfers, food stamps, housing, education, and disability aid for the poor. These programs have expanded in the 2000s, and from 2003-2009, Turkey’s spending on social expenditures increased 85 percent.
  8. These government welfare programs disproportionately benefit the Kurds; for instance, poor Kurds are twice as likely to receive a free health care card than non-Kurds in Turkey.

Conclusion

Due to this unequal distribution and Turkey’s historical relationship with the Kurds, critiques of the Turkish government conclude that it is aiding the Kurds not based on their needs, but according to their ethnicity. According to this argument, the Turkish regime provides social assistance to its Kurdish population solely in the hopes of containing the political unrest and weakening the ethnic identity of the Kurds.

The Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East, and Turkey’s Kurds make up a substantial minority of its population. Thus, Turkey’s conflict with the Kurds has huge implications for the entire Middle East. As these eight facts about Turkey’s Kurds show, this fraught relationship spans decades and will not be easy to resolve, as it concerns the sovereignty of the Turkish state and the rights of the Kurdish people.

– Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

Water Competition and Efficiency in Kazakhstan
Former Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan has come a long way since the end of the Cold War. Despite becoming a more stable nation in the Middle East compared to its neighbors, it still struggles with water distribution and quality to this day. This article shall discuss these chief problems through water competition and efficiency in Kazakhstan.

Competition with China

As far as competition goes, Kazakhstan has a major problem in the form of China. Kazakhstan relies heavily on the Ili River for a good portion of its water supply and both countries connect to this valuable river. At the end of the day, China receives a larger share of the river than Kazakhstan. This is partly because the Ili River begins in China, and that China has 15.7 billion cubic meters of water flow into its borders every year. On the flip side, Kazakhstan only gets around half of that with 8.4 billion cubic meters. China states that it should have a larger share due to it being larger than Kazakhstan and the fact that Kazakhstan exploited the water profusely in the 1960s. In fact, Kazakhstan still does today at a rate of 42.7 percent which is over the 40 percent limit range.

Efficiency in Water Distribution

Kazakhstan has noted that it needs to exploit these waters due to its inability to give its population enough water or water that meets sanitary standards. This is partly due to the lack of efficient water distribution to people in certain parts of Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, Central Kazakhstan only receives 3 percent of the country’s water.

Another problem is that the government has been treating its water as an unlimited resource while it is becoming clear that it is very scarce. This lead to poor management of this water while leading the citizens into believing that the problem is not as dire as it seems.

Sanitation in Kazakhstan

Another issue that Kazakhstan has is that most of its drinking water is unsafe to ingest. Due to the aforementioned poor distribution and supply of the water within the country, the amount of clean water sits at only 30 percent. A key cause of poor distribution is that the water often stops in pipes, which allows it to collect bacteria and disease. These interruptions in water flow can occur 14 days a month and last as long as 12 hours. The fact that the pipes that flow this drinking water are also in the same trenches as sewer pipes, causing cross-contamination and a possible epidemic does not help matters. This only further highlights why water competition and efficiency in Kazakhstan is so important.

Course of Action

Kazakhstan is looking to revamp its water system by not just fixing its own, but also by importing water from outside sources, namely other neighboring countries. The government is also receiving support from the E.U.; it is helping to create policies that can help Kazakhstan better preserve its water for drinking and agricultural needs. The E.U. is also going so far as to provide new technology to better equip the country in preserving this water. This is not surprising since the E.U. also provided $1.5 billion to help with water management from 2010 to 2013. With all of this support, the government of Kazakhstan is hoping to increase its people’s access to clean, sustainable drinking water by 2030.

In this article about water competition and efficiency in Kazakhstan, it is clear that the country is in a rough patch to competition outside of its borders, as well as its poor management of the water it possesses. With the proper restructuring of its water system and outside help, the country should be able to improve this issue. With the E.U.’s continued help and allocated funds and resources to fix the contamination and distribution problems, Kazakhstan should be able to see a great increase in clean water.

Collin Williams
Photo: Flickr

living conditions in Qatar

Qatar is a small nation bordered predominantly by Saudi Arabia. The nation has the highest GDP production in the Arab speaking world. Because of this, living standards are higher than many other Middle Eastern nations. Yet, Qatar is not without its issues surrounding living conditions despite its perceived excessive wealth.

10 Things to Know About Living Conditions in Qatar

  1. Qatar has a forced labor problem. Migrant workers make up 90 percent of Qatar’s population. Under a 2009 sponsorship law, workers have to hand over their passports to their employers. Workers often hesitate to complain or report abuses because this makes them vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Workers pay thousands to recruiters and often arrive to find that they are being paid less than promised, but they can’t leave because they are under contract and their employers have their passports.
  2. Qatar has a unique single-payer public health care system and a new national health strategy that seeks to improve outcomes for those living in Qatar. Qatar has one of the most effective healthcare systems in the Middle East. It ranks 13 in the world’s best healthcare systems and is number one in the Middle East.
  3. Men outnumber women four to one. There are only 700,000 women in Qatar, a country of 2.5 million people. This is due to the massive influx of migrant workers in the country, which are mostly men trying to provide for their families.
  4. Women in Qatar are twice as likely to pursue higher education than men. Men often decide to go straight into work after high school. Although women graduate at twice the rate of men, they only occupy 31 percent of the workforce.
  5. Women’s rights are limited in Qatar. The nation is a religious and conservative Muslim country, subscribing to Sharia law. It is still a taboo for women to fraternize with men. Women in Qatar cannot marry without the consent of a male family member. While men have uninhibited access to divorce, a woman can only divorce a man on narrow grounds. A woman cannot divorce her husband in Qatar if she is beaten or raped by her husband because domestic abuse and marital rape are not illegal under Qatari law.
  6. Qatar has the first Refugee Asylum Law in the Gulf. Qatar recently passed a law allowing refugees to seek asylum in the country. In an attempt to improve its public image for the upcoming world cup, Qatar has abolished exit visas for migrant workers. This may be a good first step in resolving the countries problem with forced labor. The law offers freedom of religion and freedom of movement for refugees as well as giving them access to an education while in Qatar.
  7. It is believed that upwards of at least 12,000 workers have died in the construction of World Cup stadium. This is due to workers being forced to build outside during summer in a country where temperatures usually can reach up to 50C (122F) degrees. There is a law banning work outside from June to August from 11:30- 3:00, but this has done little to decrease the work-related deaths. The most support for workers has come not from the Qatari Government, but from the Human Rights Watch, which has been trying to get the country to provide better conditions for workers.
  8. Pregnancy can be a crime. Sex outside of wedlock is illegal in Qatar, and extramarital affairs are punishable by stoning to death. Doctors are even required by law to refer to any pregnant women who cannot prove they are married to the authorities.
  9. Half of Qatar’s fresh water comes from a desalination process, and chemicals are added to the water to keep it from corroding the pipes. Unfortunately, the water often lacks basic minerals and contains harmful bacteria and is often not potable. This water is mostly good for use in agriculture. Qatar has the highest domestic water consumption in the world. The average household in Qatar uses 430 liters of water a day. Crops are watered with water from aquifers, which are being used up faster than they can be replenished.
  10. Qatar has a significant expat population. People from many different nationalities flock to Qatar for a number of reasons, including job opportunities and fewer tax restrictions. Those arriving from nearby nations experience less of a culture shock than those arriving from Western Europe although English is still the second highest spoken language in the region. Qatar is actively promoting the influx of expats through reduced visa restrictions.

Life in Qatar is vastly different and often times more difficult than that of the Western World. Human rights abuses still occur every day. Women, by international standards, are struggling to find a prominent socio-economic role. Even still, Qatar has a few unique features, including its single-payer healthcare system, that separate it positively from other nations. There is clearly more work to be done in regards to living conditions in Qatar.

Sarah Bradley
Photo: Flickr

Income Inequality in the Middle East
Since 1980, the high growth rates in Asia, particularly in China and India, have led to a significant increase in income for the bottom 50 percent of the global population. While this signifies growth and a reduction of poverty levels, it does not signify a decrease in global inequality or in the income inequality in the Middle East.

Income Inequality in the Middle East

There are two types of income inequality: between-country income inequality and within-country inequality. Although the high growth rates of India and China have led to a decrease in between-country average inequality, within-country inequality has only increased. Simply stated, a look into individual countries will show that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

The World Inequality Lab, composed of over 100 researchers and economists, recently published the “World Inequality Report 2018.” The report underscores that collecting macro and microeconomic data on inequality is difficult, especially since many countries do not release or even produce income and inequality data and statistics.

Despite these limitations, the researcher and scientists found a new methodology to source the necessary data. One of the key findings of the report was that income inequality in the Middle East is the highest, while the lowest in Europe. In the Middle East, the top 10 percent take 61 percent of national income.

Causes of the Fiscal Inequalities

Income inequality in the Middle East is a result of multiple factors. On one hand, the disparate urban-rural income gap plays a large role in skewed income distribution, especially in countries like Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. Because rural communities are further away from commercial ports and main markets, they have less access to imported commodities, such as rice and wheat.

This limited access to basic needs increases malnutrition and poverty rates in these countries, thereby furthering the economic divide. This economic inequality has played a role in the Arab Spring uprisings and demonstrations, polarizing these countries not just economically, but also politically.

The World Inequality Report predicts that if countries continue to operate “business as usual,” then global, within-country inequality will only increase. However, the report suggests that if countries follow the trajectory of Europe over the past decades, then global income inequality can be reduced.

Attainable Solutions

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia advocates for the following proven tools to combat income inequality in the Middle East:

  • Tax progressivity
  • Increased equal access to education
  • Increased fiscal transparency
  • Investment in reducing public debt

The World Inequality Lab has already made attempts to increase fiscal transparency, using national income, wealth accounts, household income and wealth surveys, tax income and inheritance data to estimate figure on inequality and wealth in the Middle East.

International Support

Additionally, UNICEF is working to strengthen the education systems in the Middle East by working closely with both federal and local governments. The Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative under UNICEF aims to integrate core life skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, into the current education systems.

And finally, having a sense of awareness about global income inequality can also play a role in combating income inequality. Simply knowing that within-country income inequality is increasing despite the reduction in global inequality is important in addressing the issue.

Shefali Kumar
Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in IranWith a population of more than 79 million people, Iran is a large country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkmenistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Armenia. Sadly, of the millions of citizens in this country, 18.7 percent live below the poverty line. There are many causes of poverty in Iran, but two major causes have caused a crisis in the country during the last several years.

Unemployment
Iran’s economy began to struggle in 2014 when a subsidy program adjusted the prices of fuel, the country’s largest export. In 2015, the economy somewhat improved in the first half of the calendar year and the oil and fuel sector prospered. Meanwhile, unemployment in other job sectors increased. By 2016, the unemployment rate reached a three-year high of 12.7 percent, though labor participation increased from around 35 percent to about 40 percent since 2014. An unemployment gender gap was noted in 2016 as well, as unemployment rates for men and women were 21.8 and 10.4 percent respectively.

In 2014, however, Iran saw the height of the unemployment crisis when the rate of unemployed women was estimated to be 46 percent and youth unemployment was twice that of general unemployment.

Additionally, the standard monthly income for families averaging five people per household is about $600, which is considered significantly below the poverty line. In 2014, Parliament’s Plan and Budget Committee announced that 15 million Iranians were living below the poverty line, or 20 percent of the population, and seven million of those people did not have access to any services that might offer them support or assistance.

Internal Corruption
In 2014, news broke that a merchant with close ties to the Iranian government facilitated many oil and gold transactions through the Turkish People’s Bank and embezzled a significant amount of money, putting the country into serious debt. Later, many other fraudulent investors were reported to be active in the oil industry, and though over $1 billion in debt was reported, the guilty were not punished. Between 2013 and 2014, 4,000 cases of embezzlement and theft were reported, most of them being cases of illegally importing luxury cars, hidden monopolies and smuggling, to name a few, but no names of the guilty parties were ever disclosed.

In 2014, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani took office with the determination to develop an effective strategy to reduce poverty for Iranians. Rouhani established a three-part policy to assist the most vulnerable populations and curb inflation, which ended two years of negative growth. Officials under the Rouhani administration provided food aid to about seven million citizens in poverty. Though many aid projects under the administration were criticized for potentially adding to the budget deficit, such policies and programs seek to give immediate help to those living in absolute poverty, and the administration continues to fight for the poor and make food security its number one priority.

These causes of poverty in Iran have led to justified tension and fear among the public and the government that conditions and employment rates will deteriorate further if changes to the subsidy program do not go into effect, and if eliminating government corruption is not made a higher priority. Those changes are key to improving Iranian lives.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr

Education in the UAE

Education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has undergone significant changes since the small Arab nation was founded in 1971. At that time, options for students were few and far between, but this has changed significantly in recent years.

The UAE currently offers every citizen education completely free, from kindergarten to even university. The government even funds the educational endeavors of students if they seek to further their studies abroad. Moreover, the literacy rate in the UAE is 93.1 percent for males and 95.8 percent for females, according to recent estimates. This is a significant increase from the rate of adult literacy in 1975, which was only 54 percent for men and 31 percent for women.

University enrollment rates similarly paint a more optimistic picture of the educational landscape in the UAE. About 95 percent of all girls in their final year of high school apply to university, while 80 percent of males in their final year of high school apply to university. However, education in the UAE still requires improvements in order to produce competitive students in today’s world. This is evidenced by the goals of the UAE Vision 2021, the government’s five-year plan to push the country to innovate and develop, where education is given immense importance in order to secure the future prosperity of the nation on the world stage. The UAE hopes to diversify its economy, especially by investing in the very citizens who are likely to play a major role in its future growth.

Furthermore, the benefits of improving education in the UAE are by no means vague or illusory. Indeed, Dubai Cares, the philanthropic organization based in the UAE, attempts to address poverty across the globe by means of education. This program is devoted to combating poverty and hunger through education via a variety of means – one, in particular, is to establish school programs that ensure the children are being fed in countries ranging from Ghana to Palestine. Dubai Cares firmly believes that in education lies the key to effectively fighting poverty. Another prominent example is investing in girls’ education, believing that doing so enlightens others and results in health benefits that will affect future generations.

The intersection of education and philanthropy is hardly a surprise. Educating others gives them the tools to make proper decisions that are in their long-term interest. It helps them pull themselves out of poverty and also avoid it in the future. The future returns of such an endeavor cannot be lightly dismissed since educated parents are likely to instill the same values in the younger generation.

Mohammad Hasan Javed

Photo: Flickr

Top Developments in the lives of the Iraqi Kurds: Why it MattersThe fight against ISIS and the turbulence in the Middle East has adversely impacted Iraqi Kurds recently. The poverty rate in Iraqi Kurdistan has quadrupled to 15 percent, largely due to the fight against ISIS, civilian casualties, the influx of refugees and insuperable pressure on resources. One in 10 Iraqi Kurds live below the internationally recognized poverty line.

Since 2014, over a million refugees have arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2015, the World Bank estimated that the Kurdistan Region needs $1.4 billion in humanitarian response. The number of internally displaced persons to the region continues to increase.

The Kurds are an important ethnic group in the Middle East, often recognized for their efforts to achieve self-governance. Iraqi Kurdistan is a rather controversial oil-rich region, with especially large reserves in the province of Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been the ruling body of Iraqi Kurdistan since 1992. In 2005, the Iraqi Constitution officially recognized the autonomy of the Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have played a pivotal role in the combat against ISIS. The Iraqi Kurdish forces are a vital part of the U.S. coalition against the Islamic State. Despite accounting for close to 20 percent of the population in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds have suffered a slew of human rights violations over the years and have been oppressed due to their “minority” status. In most recent years, these attacks can be traced back to the time of Saddam Hussein and the Gulf War.

Moreover, the KRG faces many obstacles in its path to win a pending referendum and mend the infrastructure and administration in the country. The economy, resources and commerce of the region is in a poor state. The government is facing problems in financing the incomes of the people in many conclaves, as individuals are only receiving about half of their monthly salaries. The KRG is also working on improving the transparency and accountability of state financial institutions and businesses in the region to regulate the channeling of public funds.

Even though unemployment has peaked at more than 13.5 percent due to labor immobility and the lack of labor market reforms, the World Bank is still spearheading reform plans for the future. The Iraqi Kurds face a rather uncertain future ahead of them, given the clamorous events of the past and present. Self- determination has been an unavailing right for many. In a landmark move, a referendum is being called for Kurdish independence from Iraq.

However, the referendum is being eyed with a great degree of skepticism from the U.N., Iran, Turkey, Iraq and the United States. Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi is demanding a suspension to the referendum scheduled to be held on September 25, given the precarious position the region is currently in. Many are reminded of the Arab-Israeli conflicts that still impact many countries in the Middle East.

Many leaders have expressed that the referendum vote could potentially destabilize the region further, threaten Kurdish minorities and negatively affect the campaign against ISIS. Russia remains a strong ally of the Iraqi Kurds and is a major contributor to Kurdish oil and gas revenue. This will help bolster the region’s economic potential. Israel also remains another country pledging their support for the vote.

Furthermore, supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ right to establishing a sovereign state could also create safe zones and conclaves. This could effectually deal with the refugee crisis plaguing Iraq currently and help offer a more sustainable solution to the problem in the long run.

Contrary to what many entities believe, the vote could prove to be successful in ushering more progress and development, both socially and economically. It can also pave the way for improved relations in the region and put an end to the suppression of Kurds in many landlocked regions in the Middle East and finally liberate an important minority group.

-Shivani Ekkanath

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

Oman Poverty Rate

The dichotomy of the Middle East region in terms of wealth and quality of life is one that truly boggles the mind. One need not search very far to learn of the tragedies that have befallen countries like Iraq, Syria, and Libya in the 21st century. The war-torn images of these countries are sketched into the collective Western mind. Simultaneously, countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are home to some of the world’s greatest cities, fabulous wealth and futuristic-looking technologies.

What often goes unnoticed are the countries that fall somewhere in the middle; ones that are not ravaged by war nor blessed with a plethora of natural resources such as oil. The Sultanate of Oman is one such example.

Poverty is a fact of life for many Middle Eastern countries, but Oman is one of the bright spots in the region in terms of poverty reduction and efforts to elevate the quality of life of its citizens. The Oman poverty rate has been on the decline in the last decade and shows signs that it will continue to do so.

Oman created a national strategy in 1970 to spur development in all aspects of life in the country. At that time, Oman had almost no formal education system; by 1999, over 70 percent of children were in primary school. Moreover, in 1970, the life expectancy at birth was near 51 years; that has increased to 78 in 2014, an almost 53 percent increase, which outpaced the world average in the same time frame by 30 percent. Oman’s poverty rate has been reduced significantly because of these improvements.

Since 2000, Oman has reached eight of its Millennium Development Goals, most notably in providing education for all, including women and children, as well as reducing the number of people suffering from extreme hunger.

Entrepreneurial activity is also on the rise in Oman, sponsored mainly by Startup Oman, a Muscat-based fund that facilitates and promotes young Omani entrepreneurs. This fund aims to reduce poverty while simultaneously encouraging creativity in the economy.

The fishing town of Duqm is being radically transformed, thanks in large part to Chinese investments, into one of the country’s central economic hubs. This has boosted employment and spurred economic activity, providing economic opportunities for Omanis.

Even amid a geopolitical spat between other Gulf countries, Omani ports are benefiting from an unusual uptick in traffic, which has resulted in increased economic activity for Omani businesses and workers. While Oman may not want to be seen as profiting from the current row, it will likely solidify its position as a neutral arbiter in regional disputes, as it has for decades. This trend, in tandem with a reduction in Oman’s poverty rate, will allow it to establish itself as a peaceful and prosperous nation in the region.

The combination of government initiatives, foreign investment and an educated population has allowed Oman to improve the lives of its citizens, which is worthy of high praise considering the situation facing other countries in the Middle East.

As long as the government continues to focus on reducing the Oman poverty rate, the Sultanate will surely establish itself as a bright spot in the Middle East.

Daniel Cavins

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Oman
Despite Oman’s vast oil reserves, large segments of the population still suffer from poverty. The main causes of poverty in Oman are unemployment, underpayment and lack of economic diversification.

In recent months, the sultanate has received attention for reaching a number of its Millennium Development Goals. Between 1990 and 2015, Oman more than halved extreme poverty and child mortality rates, achieved universal primary school enrollment and promoted gender equality in education.

Nevertheless, thousands of migrant workers still live in poverty, and 40 percent of Oman’s own citizens remain unemployed.

Due to lax labor laws, companies in Oman are not required to pay migrant workers minimum wage. This inequality, coupled with the fact that foreigners are excluded from the 100-rial ($263) monthly allowance distributed by the Omani government, has pushed many migrants into slums. As a result, an estimated 100,000 workers in Oman live like second-class citizens.

Because migrant workers can work for less than minimum wage, many of Omani’s own citizens have a hard time finding work. Despite the sultanate’s recent achievements in primary school enrollment, many Omanis lack the higher-education skills necessary to compete with low-cost foreign labor. For these reasons, almost 40 percent of Omani nationals are unemployed.

Historically, the high unemployment rate has not weighed on Oman’s economy because oil revenues have enabled the government to distribute allowances to its citizens. Since 2014, however, global oil prices have fallen by 50 percent. With oil accounting for 46 percent of Oman’s GDP and 84 percent of government revenues, the price decrease has forced the government to tighten its budget and start taxing citizens—instead of distributing allowances.

Unless the oil market turns around or Oman begins taking serious efforts to diversify its economy, the causes of poverty in Oman may multiply and its progress toward the Millennium Development Goals may reverse. Poverty in Oman will only continue to get worse if changes are not made at a national level.

Nathaniel Sher