Implementation of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals

Bahrain Transparency Association, Bahrain Transparency Society (BTS)

We present this parallel report amid unprecedented international crises of Corona virus pandemic, or COVID-19, which has swept the world, including the Kingdom of Bahrain with far reaching socioeconomic consequences. As far as Bahrain is concerned, the grave impact of COVID-19 includes plunge of oil prices as low as $20 per barrel in international markets (more so in trading in USA).

The pandemic has exceptional challenges to Bahrain’s economy as a consequence, leaving imprints on the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development and SDGs.  Economic consequences relating to outbreak of the pandemic proved costly with untold implications for strategy, policies and structure to Bahrain to fulfil 2030 development Agenda. For instance, Bahrain has resorted to borrowing from local and international market between March and May 2020. Outstanding debt stood at US$34 billion in May 2020, which is sizable to GDP, estimated by World Bank to be US$39 for 2019.

Worse, the government felt the need of slashing allocations for fiscal year 2020 by 30% as part of response to the pandemic, in turn causing plunge in state revenues. The treasury has sustained fall in revenues from oil and non-oil sources. The non-oil portion encompasses decline in economic activities, hence collection of VAT. These actions were supplemented by the drive towards higher debt obligations. All such challenges occurred at the time when the government was required to have a balanced budget by end-2022, as part of the Financial Balance Plan (FBP). In retrospect, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait extended assistance to Bahrain in 2018, collectively developing FBP.

Bahrain is in the heart of the Arabian Gulf. The kingdom is an archipelago of 33 natural islands with additional 51 artificial ones with total area of 765 Sq. kilometre in size, where Manama is the capital. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken.  According to UN, the total population inclusive of expatriates in 2019 stood at 1.7 million divided into 63% males and 36% females. Bahrainis make up 45% and non-Bahrainis are 55%. Most migrant workers are males willing to travel alone to foreign destinations in order to remit funds to family members back home.  Per Capita amounted around U$22,000 in 2019 but effectively higher amongst locals.

The ambitious Bahrain Economic Vision 2030 (BEV2030) adopted in 2003 serves as a grand plan of economic and social development for transforming the country’s economy to ensure sustainability, diversity, competitiveness, and justice, amongst other goals; the plan stipulates that Bahraini nationals should have priority or be employees of choice in the labor market and business, at least the stated objectives. Migrant workers compromise majority of the labor force, as enterprises prefer them over locals due to numerous matters including employment cost.

Arguably, BEV2030 is linked to implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and broadly the MDGs with the intention of leaving no one behind. The Government Action Plan (GAP) stresses that 78% of SDGs targets are included in partnership with the private sector and the civil society, within regional and international cooperation. Happily, there is emphasis on partnership.

The Parallel Report on Bahrain Implementation of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals covers selected goals and specific targets of each goals deemed of particular importance to Bahrain’s socioeconomic standing.

Goal 3. Good Health and Wellbeing

Bahrain has a universal health care system since 1960. Health care is free for Bahraini citizens and subsidised for non-Bahrainis or expatriates. Bahraini physicians and nurses form a majority of the country's workforce in the health sector. The main governmental health complex is Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama. The primary health care in the kingdom includes 23 health centres distributed across the four governorates compromising Bahrain.

Bahrain boasts a notable health infrastructure, something put on display whilst addressing pandemic in early 2020. In 1968 Bahrain Defence Force Royal Medical Services, Military Hospital was opened; in 2012 the King Hamad University Hospital was added to the system.

Life expectancy in Bahrain is 73 for males and 76 for females. The Ministry of Health sponsors regular vaccination campaigns concerning TB and other diseases such as Hepatitis B. The prevalence of AIDS and HIV is relatively low. Malaria and Tuberculosis "TB" do not constitute major problems in Bahrain.

Statistics show the country suffers from obesity, with 28.9% of all males and 38.2% of all females classified as obese. Bahrain has high prevalence of diabetes, in turn deemed responsible for 5% of deaths in the country. Sickle-cell anaemia and thalassaemia are prevalent in the country partly reflecting inter-family marriages. The cardiovascular diseases accounts for 32% of all deaths in Bahrain, or the primary cause, with cancer coming second.

Maternal mortality and that of children below five standing at 28.6 death per 100,000 live birth and 9 deaths per 1,000 live births respectively, compared with 226 death per 100,000 live birth and 44 deaths per 1,000 live birth worldwide. Also, there is 1.7 deaths by suicide per 100,000 population as well as 8.3 deaths by road traffic injuries per 100,000 population.

Health Improvement Strategy for the years 2015-2018 serving as an extension of what had already been accomplished and achieved from Health Agenda for the years 2011-2014. It maintains the level of further progress and prosperity with a clear vision and mission in line with Bahrain's Economical Vision 2030. The strategic objectives centre on the following:

1. Sustaining population's health through health promotion and prevention.

2. Integrating services in the health system via the Ministry of Health together with other governmental and private institutes.

3. Ensuring quality all times.

4. Guaranteeing access for all to healthcare services.

5. Enhancing Ministry of Health's role in policy making and governance.

6. Sustaining health services.

The Ministry of Health provides its services across the National Health Information System Project "SEHATI", as part of continuous efforts to provide high-quality health services.

National Health Regulatory Authority "NHRA" was established in 2009 to further streamline policies for the health systems and healthcare in Bahrain; also, the entity has supervision over health facilities in both sectors through direct monitoring performance to ensure provision of effective safe and high-quality healthcare. The law includes registering and pricing of medicines, licensing pharmaceutical factories, examining patients complaints, validation of medical errors, and granting of approvals associated with medical research.

The Supreme Council of Health was established in 2013 in order to set national health strategy in the country and to develop regulated legislations to practice the professions in line with the advancement in the country's health system. Notably, Bahrain’s health systems proved ready for COVID-19 challenge. Moreover, the National Health Survey adopted by World Health organization (WHO) is carried out by Ministry of Health and the Information & e-government to study the health status of the Bahrain society.

The National Health Plan for "2016-2025" started in 2017. The main objective was the adoption of the Social Health Insurance Program "SEHATI" to develop the quality of the existing health system and ensure sustainability. It is meant to revolutionize the local health sector through utilizing the available resources partly to encounter the challenge of sharp increase in population amidst influx of migrant workers and their families.

The American Mission Hospital and Awali Hospital at the oil company (BAPCO) served as leaders of private hospitals for decades. Yet, during the last three decades numerous private hospitals were licenced, mostly owned and manned by expatriate investors, thereby ushering in the era of commercialization of medical services to serve demand.

Health Improvement Strategy for the years 2015-2018 considered as an extension of what has already been accomplished and achieved from Health Agenda for the years2011-2014. It maintains the level of further progress and prosperity with a clear vision and mission in line with vision 2030.

Notwithstanding its limited oil and financial capability, Bahrain is recognized amongst Gulf states for its excellent health services as demonstrated by the major medical and health indicator, though things are changing. The abnormal threefold increase in population during 2001(650,000) to 2019 (1.7 m), mostly due to abnormal influx of expatriates, and mass naturalization, exerted undue pressure on the medical services. Opening medical professions for expatriates freely, and increasing recruitment of expatriates (mostly Asians), had manifold impacts including unemployment among Bahraini medics and an access of many incompetent staff to the medical professions. Shifting from free medication to paid medication, is forcing low income expatriates to refrain from medication.

Numerous challenges encounter the provision of decent health and the well-being including:

1. Ability of the public medical services to provide reliable and quality services free of charge for citizens and affordable for the expatriate residents. This requires the expansion of medical structure and keeping standards quality, which require priority in budget and otherwise.

2. Capability to restructure the medical service to attract Bahraini medics and to make medical professions desirable, secure, rewarding and respected.

3. Opening medical colleges and institutions to provide the country with the needed medical staff of all professions, and to facilitate medical studies at qualified institutions abroad.

4. Bringing private medical sector under supervision in order to be provider of affordable and quality services and to complement public medical sector.

5. Employment of the Bahraini medics especially physician graduates from Chinese universities and the Bahraini nurses, graduates of Bahrain “College of Medical Sciences.”

The COVID-19 Pandemic revealed the incompetence and shortcomings of the medical sector in a number of countries, which require making medical and health services a priority including budget; Bahrain is no exception in this respect.

Goal 6. Clean Water and Sanitation

Issues of interest and concern here encompass the following:

6.1.1: Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services: The Kingdom of Bahrain has achieved high level of drinking water coverage, reaching almost 100% of the population. The country opts for expensive desalination plants to ensure availability of clean water, something worthwhile.

6.3.1: Proportion of wastewater safely treated: The ratio of the treated municipal wastewater to the “secondary treatment level” is almost 100% in Bahrain. In fact, a large percentage of the municipal wastewater is treated to the tertiary level. However, there is no or at best limited information on industrial non-hazardous wastewater.

6.4.2: Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources: The level of water stress in of Bahrain is very high registered at 96% in 2016, meaning that groundwater recharge is being consumed (Bahrain uses groundwater as a natural resource). However, the history of water stress has shown major improvement in the last two decades when water stress was reaching more than 100% at times.

6.6.1: Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time: In the case of Bahrain groundwater (aquifers) is related to this indicator. Groundwater restoration remains steady. The water level in groundwater has been recovering due to the reduction of withdrawal but the quality of groundwater has not been observed yet, as it normally takes time to see this.

Overall conclusion: The Kingdom of Bahrain has made major progress in achieving the SDG6 targets, especially in terms of drinking water and sanitation services. Nevertheless, due to its arid nature and population growth and urbanization, it is facing major challenges in meeting some of the targets.

SDG 8. Decent work and economic growth

The Kingdom of Bahrain is party to the International Convention of Decent Work (CDW) ever since 2007. Decent Work Agenda – employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue ,are integral elements of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 8 of the 2030 Agenda for the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work. Furthermore, key aspects of decent work are widely embedded in the targets of many of the other 16 goals of the UN’s new development vision.

Undoubtedly, implementation of CDW requires regulated labor market and to put workers interest as priority and to safeguard workers’ rights. In reality, the Bahraini labor market is based on flow of expatriate inexpensive workforce from all over the world though mainly from Asian and then from Arab countries; wrongly, this phenomenon forces both the local and expatriate workers in weak bargaining position, contrary to CDW guidelines.

Existing legislations do not provide workers the needed space to defend their rights partly due to restrictions imposed on the labor movement. The surplus of the expatriate work force resulted in unemployment among local and expatriate workforce altogether. The country needs to exert efforts to ensure decent work conditions at least in some activities.  In particular, working conditions and accommodation extended to some migrant workers are appalling, with several people crammed in a room in dormitory. Accordingly, such a work force could not upgrade the economy or contribute to sustainable development for all.

To be sure, Bahrain’s economy continues to depend on oil revenues, with little diversification away from the oil sector. The state budget remains captive to the fluctuation in international oil market, forcing the government to resort to borrowing during when prices plunge.

Economic growth: Remarkably, Bahrain continues to demonstrate capability in registering reasonable economic growth rates, though possibly not as wished and desired. The IMF put the economic growth rate at 1.8 per cent in each of 2018 and 2019. For its part, the government projected a stronger rate of real economic growth, adjusted for inflation, of 2.1 per cent in 2020.

This noteworthy economic growth projection was based on steady rises in governmental spending on the back of financial support from three regional countries plus stronger non-oil revenues like VAT or value-added tax. Yet, outbreak of COVID-19 had adversely affected growth prospects. Worse, the plunge in oil prices reflecting decline in demand because of the pandemic further aggravated the economic growth scenario.

Budgetary revenues: Plunge of oil prices in the first half of 2020 coupled with COVID-19 caused disruptions of fiscal financing or the Fiscal Balancing Program; supported by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, the FBP is designed to attain balanced budget by the year 2023, a plan drawn prior to fall of oil prices and the outbreak of COVID-19.

Also, Bahrain was asked in April 2020 to reduce its share of oil output as part of OPEC plus deal, a move designed to cut global oil output, as part of efforts to correct prices in international markets. The OPEC cartel caters for the need of oil exporting countries.

Yet, the combined blow (fall in oil prices and the pandemic) collectively undermined the possibility of achieving exceptional economic growth rates and balanced budget.  Notwithstanding all claims of economic diversifications, the petroleum sector accounts for two thirds of treasury income and export earnings. Undoubtedly, developments within the oil market underscore the need for ensuring steady and sustained diversification in the economy.

Amongst other challenges, the virus has forced closures or at best limited functioning of numerous sectors including aviation, hospitality, thereby undermining non-oil revenues with consequences for public finance and economic growth levels.

Tourism sector: The tourism sector at large is viewed as a means for helping with diversification efforts away from the petroleum sector. Happily, Bahrain has a lot to offer in the tourism sector including historical treasures. Also, plans were underway to inaugurate a new, state of the art terminal at Bahrain International Airport in March 2020 ahead of the outbreak of COVID-19. Still, one such constraint is that the tourism sector relies heavily on employment of foreign workers, thereby limiting benefits to locals.

Regional leader in banking: Make no mistake, Bahrain is a leader in financial services including insurance, Islamic finance in the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Yet, Bahrain has lost part of its positioning in the banking sphere to regional rivals like Dubai in part due to some questionable policies like absence of equal opportunities and not necessarily placing the right person in the right job.

Not fully inclusive: There are credible stories of absence of equal opportunities with untold socioeconomic consequences. Complaints concern discrimination in job opportunities based on faith. Also, time and again females complain from discriminatory practices notably for higher managerial positions and other sufferings during hiring processes. Certainly, discrimination on any basis should not be tolerated in all circumstances.

For their parts, civil society organisations or CSOs spare no effort in advising authorities of the evils associated with immoral policies. Undoubtedly discriminatory practices cause disruption of economic activities and dislocation of scarce resources. As a relatively small country, Bahrain can ill afford wasting resources on wrong choices and policies.

Jobless challenge: Official sources put unemployment rate at 4 per cent, a rate not changed for several years.  If true, this is something outstanding by global standards. However, numerous CSOs and other Bahrain followers cast doubts about the figure and argue otherwise. A more reflective figure would put jobless rate at double-digit.

One such challenge relates to the method used in arriving at the unemployment rate.  Statistics released by the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) suggest that non-Bahrainis compromised 79 per cent of total employment in 2019. Expatriates make up the majority of workforce and in more recent years just above half of total population in Bahrain. Needless to say, these statistics tell a great deal about the openness of Bahrain’s economy and willingness of locals to embrace expatriates from all over the world.

Untastefully, the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19 raised the spectrum for hate messages against expatriates on the back of uncovering of numerous cases of amongst immigrant workers, but , the utmost majority of Bahraini s are tolerant towards immigrant workers who come from a number of countries in Asia like India , Pakistan, Philippine , and a number of Arab, European and African countries

There are shortcomings in the calculating the percentage of unemployed Bahrainis , where the number of unemployed is divided by total workforce in a country where migrant workers compromise the majority of total workforce. This practice causes distortion of the statistics when considering the fact that expatriates compromise 70% of total employment.  The calculation is correct technically but not practically. Rather, the number of jobless Bahrainis should be divided on the size of local workforce, as there ought to be no unemployment amongst foreign nationals by virtue of being required of having specific jobs and not actively seeking ones while in the country.

It is believed that actual jobless figure is higher and especially serious notably amongst youths, females and rural areas .It is alarming that the big number of the unemployed are university graduates. Also, officials tend to overlook other related matters such as underemployment or underuse of a worker’s skills; the same holds true for disguised employment or the overemployment phenomenon in some governmental circles.

Fighting human trafficking: Thankfully, human trafficking in not tolerated in Bahrain. To this end, Bahrain has emerged as the first Arab country to achieve Tier 1 in the 2018 report of the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report. Accordingly, a reward was presented to LMRA in 2019. However, challenges of sex trafficking remain in place notably in the tourism industry. Every now and then, press sources uncover cases of trafficking in persons in outlets with horrifying stories.

Some cases of trafficking in person amount to forced labour. These immigrant workers sign up for normal jobs only to be forced into other positions against their will after arrival. There are occasional expatriate workers protests for non payment of salaries for months. Thankfully, Bahrain authorities together with CSOs and other activists are determined to eradicate all types of misuse of immigrant workers.

Fighting forced labour: Some consulates and missions work tirelessly to ensure their subjects are not used in human trafficking and get fair compensation for services rendered to their employers. Sadly, not all embassies in Bahrain cater for the full needs of their subjects.  Several foreign missions have their minds focused on generating and maintaining job opportunities for their subjects; rather, some consulates have their eyes fixed on remittances sent home to assist in addressing socioeconomic challenges in their respective countries.

Access to finance: By virtue of serving as a banking hub, residents tend to get access to the latest technological advances in financial services. Offered services keep improving with Bahrain serving as a regional model. Reflecting competition, banks chase customers for business including offering lending facilities.

Correctly, newly revised labour laws require transfer of salaries of domestic workers for instance to their bank accounts. But this is far from practice, thus efforts are needed in this respect to ensure electronic transfer of salaries. Likewise, laws require granting domestic workers fixed days off; again, this is not properly enforced across the board.

Bahrain has a long way to eradicate unemployment, ensure decent work for Bahrainis , address the appalling situation of the low paid and low skilled expatriate workers and end discrimination and favouritism on any basis.

SDG13. Climate Change

The Supreme Council for the Environment in the Kingdom of Bahrain is the main body in charge of managing climate change issues. A specialized section for sustainable development and climate change is part of the Department of Environmental Policies and Planning.

Since 2007, the Joint National Commission on Climate Change has been charged with overseeing all climate issues in Bahrain.  The National Commission is overseen by the Supreme Council of Environment, which includes members from the National Oil and Gas Authority, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Electricity and Water, the Ministry of Communications and Communications, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Economic Development Board.

Bahrain has been witnessing an urban boom during the past decades on the account of agricultural and open land. Urbanization covers the establishment of housing markets offices complex, manufacturing utilities, infrastructure, etc. The urban expansion is not entirely meant to meet the natural increase in population by virtue of being partly motivated by profiteering in real estate, and open-door policy for expatriate’s workforce where Bahrain population tripled within two decades. Urban boom resulted in tremendous increase in human and material activities that causes pollution intensely, accompanied by climate change such as increase in average air temperature and less seasonal rains.

Bahrain has been witnessing since the seventies of last century, but increasing since early last two decades, accelerating reclamation of lands from the sea, where Bahrain terrestrial area increased from 650 square kilometer in 1971 to 780 square kilometer in 2019. On the other hand, the Green Belt surrounding the capital city of Manama has been shrinking with no new green zones established in the form of compensation. This has caused further disruption of the climate and contributed to the deterioration of the climate.

Bahrain, which compromises of group of islands, suffers from pollution; the country is flat, threatened of being submerged by Arabian waters. Major polluters are the gigantic electricity generating station, fueled by hydrocarbon gas, which are in proximity of the urban areas, contributing to pollution and climate change.

Bahrain has not adopted strategy to deal with the deteriorating environment and contribute to climate change remedy. There have been no plans to shift from hydrocarbon fuel with its gas emission to renewable sources of energy whilst Bahrainis being sunny around the year. There are no major plantation projects for green zones, though there are barren that could be irrigated by treated sewage water. However, what is counted for Bahrain is the Crimean cultivation project in Tubli Bay which helps to protects ecosystem and can used as a means of coastal resilience as well as providing carbon mitigation from pool Basin.

There are disproportionally a large number of cars for a small country. Bahrain needs to reduce use of private cars where possible in order to limit congestion and pollutions. The authorities have the desire of embarking on a ground-breaking metro in the coming years without specific deadline, certainly a challenging task. Wrongly, electric cars have not been promoted. Recently the government established the Alternative Energy Institution, but possibly for public relations purposes.

There are several ways for Bahrain to shift to renewable energy and increase of green space in order to address environmental concerns and to contribute for reduction of global warming, in accordance to its national and international commitments including:

  • Shift to a metro public transportation system in view of limited geographical area of land and overpopulation.
  • Develop extensive public busses network with incentives and reduce private cars.
  • Change to renewable energy sources such as sun, as a source of electricity.

Undoubtedly, such a strategy is expensive but comprehensive, requiring complementary factors of polices legislations, institutions, finance, etc. The partnership of the state, the private sector and the society is a must. As a pre-requisite, this require national consensus.

SDG 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Objective No.16 is designed to promote peaceful and inclusive society, provide sustainable development and build effective and accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Bahrain has undergone dramatic changes during the last two decades, in turn affecting the state, society, and institutions, with consequences for the accomplishment of objective 16 of SDG.

During the two decades, the population has nearly tripled from 0.689 million in 2003 to nearly 1.7 million in 2019, with Bahrainis making up 45% of the total, or a minority in their own country. The major two sources of abnormal increase are the inflow of expatriates and the wide naturalization on loyalty bases. As a result, demographic reconfiguration undermines the Bahraini traditional cohesiveness, amicability, and peacefulness of the public.  As a consequence, state structure, institutions, strategy and policies had shifted to offset the balance within the society. This has been reflected negatively on most of the targets.

Target 1: The Bahraini society is traditionally peaceful where violence and homicide is rare.

Target 2: The Bahraini family and the society are predominant Muslim and conservative, so violence against children is limited.  Where existing, source of violations acts against the children are the domestic workers, educational institutions, Bahraini community and the state penal authority.

Target 3: The crises which engulfed Bahrain ever since Feb. 2011 has reflected itself on all aspects of life including Target 3 of Goal 16. The Constitution was amended in 2002 thought with infringement on citizens’ rights. Thus, enacted and adopted laws, legislations, codes, contravening with the Constitution and international conventions, should be reconsidered fundamentally.

Target 4: Concerning recovering stolen assets in Bahrain and from other countries to Bahrain, EU classified Bahrain as non-strict to money laundering in 2018. Bahrain is not known as venue of organized crime or flow of arms.

Target 5: Bahrain’s ranking on CPI scale in 2019 has slipped to rank 77 with 0.44 points. Bahrain has not developed its legislation. laws, and codes to be compatible with UNCAC, where there is no comprehensive law on corruption, transparency and decent governs .

Target 6: Establishing Effective and Transparent and Accountable Institutions at all levels could only be realized in case of the presence of independent and cooperative state branches (executive, the legislative and judiciary). In absence of independent authority with constitutional and legal guarantees to monitor state institutions and independent judiciary to make them accountable, then Target16 would be out of reach.

Target 9: Not withstanding all the shortcomings, basic liberties, are guaranteed in the constitution, their practice is conditional to the laws that regulate the practice.  Fact of the matter is an arsenal of laws and codes that deregulate, restrict and even undermine such freedoms.

Objective 16 is to promote peaceful and inclusive society, provide sustainable development and build effective and accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.


The accomplishments of the Kingdom of Bahrain of SDGs implementation, should be evaluated without over-estimation or underestimation. The catastrophic impact of the double crises of COVID19 and oil slump, re-asserted the need for radical review of the development model. The ultimate interests of Bahraini people should be in accordance to the Constitution, the National Economic Development Visions 2030, and UN- SDGs where no one is lift behind. Undoubtedly, BTS, SW, Bahraini CSOs, UN agencies and others stand ready to contribute in the required assessment and eventual changes for better and sustainable and just development.