Popular demands related to UN Agenda 2030 in view of Covid 19

Bahrain Transparency Society (BTS)

The Parallel Report on The Kingdom of Bahrain Implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in May 2020, when the Covid 19 Pandemic was at its early stage. The Government then has not formulated comprehensive policy on dealing with Covid 19 and its consequences

More than a year has passed since then where Covid 19 has drastic impact on all aspects of life and actions to counter Covid 19 and its impact on major SDGs within UN Agenda 2030.Though the government draw and implemented this strategy and policies unilaterally, the people have expressed their concerns and opinions on basic aspects of this strategy and policies, that relates to their life through different means especially through the social media, the newspapers and CSOs statements and positions.

The challenge to deal with Covid 19 Pandemic could have been an opportunity to envisage a strategy and policies the unify the people and the state, but unfortunately this did not happen. The government headed by The PM Shaikh Salman Alkhalifa has administered the crises and eventually established the “National Medical Team” to deal with day to day crises, especially the health sector and related aspects. Among these aspects that relates to SDGs and UN Agenda 2030 are the following:

Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing

Covid 19 Pandemic has adversely affected the health and the wellbeing of Bahrain population (citizens, residents and visitors).The government undertook wide range of measures to counter Covid 19 such as tests, vaccination, medication, lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings and travel. The impact of Covid 19 Pandemic has been hazardous on the health of population in Bahrain. It has been possible to minimize the health hazards and minimize the causalities, and the damages. The government and National Medical Team acts unilaterally, without engagement with people and listening to their comments. The Government took economic measures at worst conditions to open Bahrain for travelers from infected countries such as the Indian Sub-Continent which was contaminated by the Indian variant (Delta) which resulted in the quick contamination of Bahrain with this viral virus and consequently high rate of infection where Bahrain ranked second in infection rate and first in death rate worldwide compared to population. Despite this, the government continued its order to open the country to travelers while closing some economic sectors in stark contradiction between the care for population health and the economic interests of some influentials. This is example of catastrophic policies which contributed to dangerous spread of the infection.

Along with this, Bahrain acquired advanced position in the rate of vaccination of population for COVID 19, where 60% of population were vaccinated by Cinopharm by end of May2021, but there is some doubt about it efficiency.

Goal 4: Quality of Education

The National Team and Ministry of Education, policy on education sector has been partial or total close down of education institutions from kinder gardens to universities. The main trend has been to shift to online teaching, and from actual to virtual presence of teaching staff and students in education premises. The education sector, both the public and the private dealt with this with variant degrees of success and failure. The education sector is behind in transforming to adopt to the communication technology in education. Education at The Primary Stage there are points of weakness, which made the possibility of cheating in exams or an anonymous person to do the homework or the exam instead of the student, which undermined the educational process

Goal 5: Gender Equality

Covid 19 Pandemic affected adversely the Bahraini women in many forms and aspects. Many women lost their source of living such as those working in the non-organized sector, the kinder gardens, beauty salons, etc. Despite the government program to activate the economy, many women who were damaged economically were not redressed.

Several Bahraini women married to non Bahraini husband were adversely, affected, as their husbands working in the private sector were more susceptible to dismissal, thus losing the source of living or the residency permit of the husband,and the children, creating unstable environment.

No government agency addressed seriously the extent of the exposure of women to family violence and the mounting phycological tension within the family due to home quarantine, and the consequence of the closure on the families

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Covid 19 Pandemic ramification on the economy, employment, and decent work is the most striking. According to WB and IMF, the Bahraini economy is the worst affected among GCC economies. Negative growth, though not calculated, is certain during 2020 and 2021.This led to wide dismissal especially in the private sector and less employment in the public sector, which means higher unemployment among nationals and expatriates

The government stated that it has allocated BD 4.2 b (US$12.4 b) to remedy the economic hazards, to reactivate the economy, prevent nationals dismissal in the private sector and minimize SME bankruptcy and liquidation. The public is not knowledgeable of the actual allocations of this money, where there is lack of transparency. On the other hand, the government resorted to borrowing to secure part of this program which aggravated the sovereign debt of Bahrain to 130% of GDP by the end of 2020.

Decent work is more remote where unemployment aggravates and private sector resorted to dismissal, lower salaries and slashing benefits. Unemployment is high among youth and newly entrants to labor market who are mostly hit, while there are no trusted figures by The Ministry of Labor. Widespread resorting to Charity Societies to remedy poverty, medication, and education needs reflect the consequences of the economic crises.

A study by the Confederation Bahraini Trade Union(CBTU) study show that the unemployment among Bahrainis has risen to 10% while the government claim it to be 4% as if the pandemic did not affect the labor market, while there are a lot business especially, small and medium companies and retail companies that closed and dismissed its employees.

Goal 10: Reduced Inequality

The economic impact of Covid 19 led to the widening gap and more disparity among the population. The Covid 19 Pandemic adversely affected most sectors of the economy but the telecommunication and computer sectors thrived while banking and finance sector did well. The SME were more adversely affected than big enterprises, and accordingly its owners and employees. Working families with limited income have been more adversely affected due increasing unemployment, dismissal and reduced benefits. The measures to remedy SME like government financial assistance and Royal Charity assistance to needy families are not enough to bridge the gap.

Goal 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

The ramifications of Covid 19 Pandemic aggravated the crises that Bahrain has been undergoing even before the pandemic. There has been appeals by Bahrain prominent personalities, CSOs and respected institutions and similarly by international parties for the government to embark on national reconciliation so as to mobilize all resources to counter COVID 19 and its ramifications. The economic demise, and wide unemployment could lead to disturbances. The COVID 19 and its ramification has facilitated more unilateral authority of the government on the account of other state institutions such the Parliament and the Civil Society, which were more marginalized.

The freedom of expression and opinion have been restricted more while the civil society organizations(CSOs) were curtailed further. More of those using social media, especially twitter, were prosecuted, for critical writings.

Great concern aroused on the imminent dangers on the life of thousands of detainees and prisoners susceptible to COVID 19 infection in custody. Despite wide protests, campaigns and appeals to release the prisoners of conscience through Royal Amnesty nothing happened. The death of two inmates MalAlah and Barkat incited more protests but the government did not release the inmates most susceptible to infection such as those with chronic diseases and old age. Some human rights organizations estimate the infected inmate to be around 200 by the end of May 2021.The death inmate Husain Barkat on 9thJune 2021 sparked wide protests, signaling more disturbance, crackdown, arrests, violence and instability.