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Housing Shortage Stands Out Among Bahrain's Woes

Housing Shortage Stands Out Among Bahrain's Woes

by Steve Crabtree

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As anti-government protests continue in Bahrain, recent Gallup surveys indicate a lack of affordable housing is among the most prominent sources of economic concern for the country's population. In October 2010, 41% of nationals and Arab expatriates surveyed in Bahrain said there had been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to pay for adequate shelter -- a sharp rise from 24% in March 2009.

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Protesters in Bahrain have demanded political reform and a more representative government in demonstrations that started Feb. 14. While press coverage has focused largely on possible sectarian tensions between the country's Shiite majority and Sunni minority, Gallup polling suggests people in the country have other key grievances. Economic concerns, such as access to food and shelter, are also important. The country does not have as much oil wealth as other small Arab Gulf countries.

In some cases, the Bahraini government has not been able to maintain the extensive social services and employment opportunities that several neighboring populations enjoy -- particularly since the region began experiencing a demographic "youth bulge." Consequently, relative to other small Arab Gulf countries, a larger share of respondents in Bahrain have a hard time paying for basic necessities; for example, in late 2010, 22% of those surveyed said there had been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed. By contrast, 9% of respondents in Kuwait and 6% in the United Arab Emirates said the same.

When it comes to services that the government traditionally subsidizes, the country's housing shortage is a particularly sore spot for people in Bahrain. The 41% of adults surveyed in Bahrain who said there were times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to provide adequate housing tops all other populations surveyed in the Arab League.

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These results reflect the growing severity of Bahrain's housing shortage as its young adult population has swelled. According to the country's housing ministry, more than 46,000 people are currently on the waiting list for government-subsidized housing, and housing units are now being assigned to those who applied in 1993.

Rising concerns about housing are also evident in respondents' relatively low satisfaction with the availability of good, affordable housing in their city or area. One in three respondents (33%) in Bahrain in April 2010 said they were satisfied -- down dramatically from 61% in March 2009. As in the other Arab Gulf countries surveyed in 2010, the availability of good, affordable housing is the one aspect of their communities that respondents were least likely to be satisfied with. However, people in Bahrain were significantly less likely to be satisfied with local housing availability than those in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates.

Addressing the housing crisis may go a long way toward improving the outlook of those in Bahrain, particularly because satisfaction with other important services -- including education and healthcare -- remains strong.

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Bottom Line

The Bahraini government has recently started to explore new strategies for improving housing availability, most prominently public-private partnerships. Until the country's property bubble burst in 2008, private developers were focused on building luxury housing rather than units that were affordable to most Bahrainis. That is now changing as the demand for high-end housing has dropped. On March 9, the government announced a plan to build 50,000 homes over the next five years in cooperation with the private sector -- a move Housing Minister Majid Al Alawi hoped would "contribute to forwarding the national dialogue" between the government and opposition leaders.

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Survey Methods

Results from Bahrain are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, per survey wave. The sample includes Bahrainis and Arab expatriates; non-Arabs were excluded. It's estimated that approximately one-fourth of the adult population is excluded. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.1 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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