A GOVERNMENT minister yesterday strongly rejected UN figures that suggested two per cent of Bahrain's urban population were living in slum-like conditions. Social Development Minister Dr Fatima Al Balooshi said the statistics were out of date and claimed poverty in Bahrain had been eradicated.
She was speaking on the sidelines of the UN Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) annual ministerial review's regional preparatory meeting on Sustainable Urbanisation, which began yesterday.
Opening the meeting, Deputy Premier Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa said that Bahrain has managed to provide housing for its citizens.
The Islamic Development Bank has allocated $10 billion (BD378 million) to support the development process by 2015, he observed, adding that cities play a decisive role in speeding social and economic development of a country.
Shaikh Mohammed was deputised by Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa to open the event.
The figures, collected by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) and UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, said Bahrain had the joint lowest number of people living in poverty, alongside Kuwait and the UAE.
The figures were in stark contrast to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where the figures were put at between 10 and 20pc, and Yemen with more than 50pc of the urban population living in squalid conditions.
Dr Al Balooshi said a number of government initiatives had raised the standard of living among the country's poorest and helped them to integrate more into society.
"Right now there are no slums in Bahrain," she told the GDN. "They have been abolished and that is why the Premier won a UN award.
"Bahrain is one of the leading countries in the matter of social coverage and it is even incomparable to neighbouring countries.
"As part the UN's Millennium Development Goals there is no absolute poverty in Bahrain, it is zero."
Dr Al Balooshi admitted there were people living on limited incomes, but said that is why the government had introduced programmes to help the unemployed, pensioners and families.
Government delegations from across the Middle East are attending the two-day event at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa.
They are debating access to land and housing, urban planning, finance and Islamic banking during the meeting, held under the patronage of the Premier.
Recommendations from the event will serve as input to the Ecosoc's annual meeting in New York next month.
Ecosoc president Leo Merores praised Bahrain's attempts to eliminate poverty and expressed hope that it could disappear from the Gulf within a decade.
"It is quite possible if the countries maintain their high growth and if leaders apply the right policies for the distribution of income and provision of opportunities for the population," he said.
"Obviously there are some countries that have made significant progress in this area and there are some that are lagging behind.
"But on the whole, for the region it is fair to assume the Millennium Development Goal targets (to halve world poverty by 2015) will be met."