How Bahrain’s capital Manama landed WHO’s coveted ‘Healthy City’ label

Manama, Bahrain’s capital, has been labeled a “Healthy City 2021” by the World Health Organization (WHO) — the first Middle East capital to earn the distinction. (Shutterstock)
Manama, Bahrain’s capital, has been labeled a “Healthy City 2021” by the World Health Organization (WHO) — the first Middle East capital to earn the distinction. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 14 July 2021

How Bahrain’s capital Manama landed WHO’s coveted ‘Healthy City’ label

Manama, Bahrain’s capital, has been labeled a “Healthy City 2021” by the World Health Organization (WHO) — the first Middle East capital to earn the distinction. (Shutterstock)
  • World body describes “Healthy City” as one that is conscious of health and is striving to improve it
  • The first Middle East city to earn the distinction was honored in June during a virtual ceremony

DUBAI: Bahrain, where Arabian Gulf oil was first discovered, where its first electrical infrastructure was installed, and where its first school for girls was established, has chalked up yet another regional first.

Manama, the island kingdom’s capital, has been labeled a “Healthy City 2021” by the World Health Organization (WHO) — the first Middle East capital to earn the distinction — in recognition of its commitment to creating an environment conducive to human well-being.

“This is a great honor for us,” Sheikh Hisham bin Abdul Rahman Al-Khalifa, the governor of Manama, told Arab News. “We are very happy that we made it and Manama was recognized as the first city in the region as a healthy city.”




Governor of Manama Sheikh Hesham bin Abdulrahman Al-Khalifa. (Supplied)

A “Healthy City,” the WHO says, is defined by a process. It is a city that is conscious of health and is striving to improve it; any city, regardless of its current health status, has the potential to become one.

“A ‘Healthy City’ is one that continually creates and improves its physical and social environments and expands the community resources that enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life, and developing to their maximum potential,” the WHO explained.

The “Healthy City” concept was launched in 1990 to establish a link between the services provided to citizens and the implementation of sustainable development policies.

The approach seeks to put health high on the political and social agenda of cities, and to build a strong movement for public health at a local level. It strongly emphasizes equity, participatory governance, solidarity, collaboration and action to address the determinants of health.

Successful implementation requires innovation addressing all aspects of living conditions, and extensive networking between cities.




Bahraini policemen seal off a building housing foreign workers in the Salmabad industrial area as a precautionary measure after a resident tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). (AFP/File Photo)

Bahrain joined the WHO Healthy Cities Network in 2015 and initially launched a pilot scheme in the Umm Al-Hassam district of southern Manama. After this won WHO approval in 2018, the kingdom expanded its projects to cover the entire capital, forming a special council to oversee its implementation.

Manama was declared a “Healthy City” in June during a virtual ceremony hosted by the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Like the rest of the world, Bahrain has been hit by coronavirus-induced lockdowns, uncertainty and economic disruption. But now, more than 18 months since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) emerged in China and engulfed nearly every country on the planet, Bahrain appears to have turned the corner. It is currently behind only the UAE and Malta in terms of vaccine doses administered per capita.

Rapid urbanization worldwide has made the concept of healthy cities all the more pertinent. Cities are frequently overcrowded with inadequate means of waste disposal, polluted air, street violence and, in many cases, substandard housing and hazardous working conditions.

In 2018, some 55 percent of the global population lived in cities, according to UN figures. That percentage is forecast to grow to 68 percent by 2050.




Bahraini security forces members tour the Sitra field Intensive Care Unit (ICU) hospital for COVID-19 patients in Sitra island south of the capital Manama on May 4, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Rising urbanization requires “successful management of urban growth” and better handling of issues relating to housing, transportation and energy, coupled with basic services such as education and healthcare, says the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Today, the majority of Bahrainis live in towns and cities, while an estimated 11.4 percent of the kingdom’s population live in rural areas, according to a 2015 profile published by the WHO in 2017.

Based on several metrics for health and well-being, the kingdom is performing well. Life expectancy at birth now averages 77 years; the literacy rate is 98.2 percent for young people and 94.6 percent for adults.

In a country of 1.641 million people, with a capital city housing 200,000, the health workforce density is 9.1 physicians and 24.1 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people, according to UN figures.

FASTFACTS

* Manama was declared a “Healthy City 2021” in June by the WHO.

* Bahrain’s per capita health spending rose to $1,067 during 2005-13.

* Health spending as a proportion of GDP rose to 4.9% in the same period.

(Source: WHO)

Bahrain’s main environmental risk factors include “air pollution, chemical exposure, housing and environmental determinants of injuries” which “contribute significantly to the burden of noncommunicable diseases and injuries,” according to the WHO.

To qualify as part of the Healthy Cities Network, a city must have a clean, safe physical environment, including good quality housing, an ecosystem that is stable and sustainable in the long term, a strong, mutually supportive and non-exploitative community, and a high degree of participation by citizens over the decisions affecting their lives.

The basic needs of food, water, shelter, safety and work with income must be available to all residents, who must also have access to a wide variety of experiences and resources, including the chance for interaction and communication with others.

Qualifying cities must also have a diverse, vital and innovative economy, along with connectedness to their pasts, accommodating the cultural and biological heritage of city dwellers with others.

It must also have an optimum level of appropriate medical services, accessible to all, and good general health.




Bahrain’s Health Minister Faeqa bint Said Al-Saleh (R) and Capital Governor Sheikh Hesham bin Abdulrahman Al-Khalifa (L). (Supplied)

In a recent interview with Arab News, Dr. Waleed Al-Manea, Bahrain’s undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, said: “Since the start (of the pandemic), we have adopted a strategy of transparency — that’s been very important to us.

“With that transparency, we promised ourselves that we would work with facts rather than with deception. Whenever we have made a decision, it has been informed by facts.”

The WHO states that “the ‘Healthy Cities’ approach recognizes the determinants of health and the need to work in collaboration across public, private, voluntary and community sector organizations.

“This way of working and thinking includes involving local people in decision-making, requires political commitment and organizational and community development, and recognizes the process to be as important as the outcomes.”

Around 70 different projects have been implemented in Manama to help eliminate health risks and to spread awareness, Sheikh Hisham told Arab News.

Among them is the “Green Capital” project to increase the number of parks and public gardens, reduce carbon emissions, “encourage small and medium environmentally-friendly projects, increase awareness on environmental principles, and most importantly, include volunteers in our sustainable development projects. One of these projects was cleaning the beaches,” he added.

An initiative called “Colors, Healing and Happiness” was implemented with the cooperation of the Ministry of Health and around 60 volunteer artists. It followed a study by researchers from Bahrain University examining the effects of colors and drawing on mental health.




A Bahraini police officer instructs a foreign worker to wear his protective mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in the old marketplace of the capital Manama. (AFP/File Photo)

As part of a different project, an online platform called “My Capital” was initiated to facilitate better communication between residents and local government.

Yet another initiative, “You Matter,” was introduced to assist those who have suffered psychologically as a result of COVID-19, with the participation of medical specialists.

On the housing front, dozens of inspections have been made by a specialist committee to ensure safety standards are met. Any buildings that failed to meet its criteria were subject to renovations and modifications.

Sheikh Hisham said 2,627 facilities in Manama had been inspected and up to 97 percent of them were modified to ensure safety measures were put in place.

Up to 2,250 housing units in poorer neighborhoods were modified to improve health and safety standards, including the removal of informal or unauthorized electrical wiring. To reduce overcrowding in some urban districts, around 18,400 low-income workers were moved to other accommodations.

Dozens of old buildings in the industrial areas of Khalifa bin Salman Port have also undergone renovations, while measures have been imposed to ensure residential homes and areas serving food are situated at a safe and healthy distance from industrial areas.

Expressing his gratitude to the citizens of Manama for their cooperation in the city’s restoration and development, Sheikh Hisham said “the process of ‘Healthy Cities’ will continue in the future,” extending to every town and village in Bahrain.

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Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


#Arab_lives_matter sparks calls for more policing in Israel

#Arab_lives_matter sparks calls for more policing in Israel
Updated 58 min 39 sec ago

#Arab_lives_matter sparks calls for more policing in Israel

#Arab_lives_matter sparks calls for more policing in Israel
  • At least 78 Arab citizens have been killed so far this year out of a total of 93 slayings nationwide, according to the Abraham Initiatives

ABU SNAN, Israel: Arab citizens of Israel are seeking to raise awareness about the spiraling rate of violent crime in their communities under the hashtag “Arab lives matter,” but unlike a similar campaign in the US, they are calling for more policing, not less.

The Arab minority, which makes up around 20 percent of Israel’s population, has been convulsed by violent crime in recent years, with a rate in killings that far exceeds its share of the population and is driven by criminal gangs and family disputes.

Activists say Israeli authorities have historically ignored deadly crime among Arabs. Israeli officials have touted a number of initiatives in recent years, including larger budgets for law enforcement in Arab communities, but police say community leaders could do more to help them.

At least 78 Arab citizens have been killed so far this year out of a total of 93 slayings nationwide, according to the Abraham Initiatives, an Israeli civil society organization fostering Jewish-Arab coexistence.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged last month that after years of neglect, his newly inaugurated government would combat violent crime plaguing Arab communities. That was one of the top demands of a small Arab party that made history by joining his narrow coalition.

After another two people were killed in Arab towns last week, Arab blogger Sheren Falah Saab tweeted “#Arab_lives_matter” in Hebrew with the aim of opening a dialogue with Israel’s Jewish majority.

“The inspiration is from the Black Lives Matter movement, but it’s important to note that the violence in Arab society in Israel is not brought on by the police or law enforcement, it’s between Arabs,” she said. “It’s important to say there’s neglect and lack of enforcement by the police, and lack of follow-up when murders are committed.”

Her statement went viral on social media. Lawmakers, activists and organizations joined in the chorus, as did the minister in charge of the police.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-lev blamed the problem on “decades of neglect, disregard and fear of getting into the thick of the problems of the Arab sector and the prevailing assumption that ‘as long as they kill each other, then this is their problem.’”

“In the first 100 days since taking office, I did more than was done in last decades dealing with crime in the Arab sector. Yes, #Arab_Lives_Matter,” he tweeted.


Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls

Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls
Updated 29 September 2021

Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls

Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls
  • The constitution states only descendants of Qataris present in the country in 1930 are eligible to run or vote

AL-WAKRAH, Qatar: The modest crowd listens respectfully as TV actor Saeed Al-Burshaid gives his first stump speech ahead of Qatar’s inaugural legislative polls.

Burshaid gesticulates passionately as he builds to a crescendo in a nondescript and largely undecorated sports hall south of Doha, watched by a few dozen people sipping tea served by waiters.

“It’s our job to let them (voters) know, and to educate the people,” enthuses Burshaid, a minor celebrity in the Gulf who also previously ran Qatar TV’s drama department.

The Oct. 2 election is for 30 members of the 45-strong Shoura Council, a body that was previously appointed by the emir as an advisory chamber.

Burshaid’s laminated manifesto pledges action on both workers’ and women’s rights, issues for which the 2022 World Cup hosts have been criticized.

Burshaid praises the country’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and his 2030 development plan.

“The system — we want to make it more open, and also to discuss modern issues,” says Burshaid, who is wearing an immaculate white thobe and was ushered into the hall on a thick red carpet.

The Shoura will be allowed to propose legislation, approve the budget and recall ministers. But the all-powerful emir will wield a veto.

After a pre-event break for prayers, the speech by Burshaid, a candidate for the 14th district, goes ahead uninterrupted, with neither of his two rivals present.

Campaigning in the Arabian desert nation has been subdued for much of the 14-day period allotted for drumming up support.

There are 28 women among the 284 hopefuls running for the 30 available council seats. The remaining 15 seats will be appointed by the emir. Male voters at Burshaid’s segregated campaign event greet each other with customary kisses on the head.

Diplomatic sources suggest families and tribes have already conducted internal ballots to determine who will be elected for their constituencies.

Candidates will have to stand in electoral divisions linked to where their family or tribe was based in the 1930s, using data compiled by the then-British authorities.

Voter Nasser Al-Kuwari said he hoped people would not simply opt for those “closest to (their) family or friends.”

“I hope that we choose the right person in the right place,” he said.

The streets of Qatar’s towns have been speckled with billboards adorned with beaming candidates sporting Qataris’ ubiquitous national dress.

The constitution states only descendants of Qataris present in the country in 1930 are eligible to run or vote.


Iran says drills near Azerbaijan an issue of ‘sovereignty’

Iran says drills near Azerbaijan an issue of ‘sovereignty’
Updated 28 September 2021

Iran says drills near Azerbaijan an issue of ‘sovereignty’

Iran says drills near Azerbaijan an issue of ‘sovereignty’
  • "The drills carried out by our country in the northwest border areas... are a question of sovereignty," said Iranian foreign ministry spokesman
  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had criticised Tehran over the drills, calling them "a very surprising event"

TEHRAN: Tehran on Tuesday invoked its “sovereignty” to dismiss Azerbaijan’s concerns over Iranian military exercises near their shared border.
“The drills carried out by our country in the northwest border areas... are a question of sovereignty,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement on the ministry website.
Tehran “will take all measures it judges necessary for its national security,” he said, adding, “Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near our borders” — an allusion to Azerbaijan’s relations with Iran’s enemy Israel.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had criticized Tehran over the drills, calling them “a very surprising event.”
“Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It’s their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border?” he said in an interview with Turkish news agency Anadolu published on Monday.
No further details were available on the military exercises.
Fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September last year over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, claiming some 6,000 lives over six weeks.
A major supplier of arms to Azerbaijan, Israel came under diplomatic fire from Armenia over the struggle between the Caucasus neighbors.
Iran and Azerbaijan share a border of around 700 kilometers (430 miles) and enjoy good relations.
According to some estimates, there are around 10 million members of Iran’s Azeri-speaking community.


Algerian army chief accuses Morocco of ‘conspiracies’

Algerian army chief accuses Morocco of ‘conspiracies’
Updated 29 September 2021

Algerian army chief accuses Morocco of ‘conspiracies’

Algerian army chief accuses Morocco of ‘conspiracies’
  • Relations have soured between the two North African nations in recent months

ALGIERS: Algeria’s army chief accused neighboring Morocco of conspiring against his country and vowed a “rigorous, firm” response, in a speech he delivered on Tuesday at an army base near their border.

“This expansionist regime has gone too far in its conspiracies and subversive propaganda campaigns, which aim to reduce Algeria’s regional role, exhaust its capacities, prevent its development and undermine the unity of its people,” Said Chanegriha said, in a speech.

Relations have soured between the two North African nations in recent months and Algeria on Aug. 24 cut diplomatic ties with Rabat, accusing it of “hostile actions.”

Last week it also banned all Moroccan aircraft from entering its airspace. Chanegriha said Algeria’s “enemies” had recruited “traitors” as spies in order to “weaken Algeria from the inside and pressure it to renounce its principles.”

Algeria accuses Morocco and Israel of backing the separatist MAK movement, which seeks independence for the restive Kabylie region, and the Islamist Rachad movement, both listed as terrorist organizations by Algiers.

Morocco normalized ties with Israel last year in a US-backed deal that also saw Washington recognize Rabat’s sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco sees the former Spanish colony as part of its sovereign territory, but the Polisario movement has continued to demand an independence referendum there as per a 1991 ceasefire deal.

Algeria has for decades hosted Polisario leaders and the issue has caused repeated diplomatic crises between the two countries.

Morocco’s normalization with Israel sparked anger in Algiers, which has accused Rabat of using Israeli spyware against its officials.

Algeria’s army chief said his country was “ready to face, with rigor and firmness, all sinister plans” against Algeria.


Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency
Updated 28 September 2021

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency
  • Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed is back in the interim capital of Yemen to revive hopes of full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement
  • Dozens of Yemeni government troops and Houthis were killed over the past 24 hours as fighting rages in the provinces of Jouf and Marib

AL-MUKALLA: As Yemen’s prime minister touched down on Tuesday in the port city of Aden for the first time in months, thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the southern city of Taiz and many other cities to protest against the country’s plunging currency and skyrocketing prices. 

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed returned to Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, to revive hopes of quick and full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and address the financial meltdown that has paralyzed the country. 

The prime minister and his cabinet left Aden in March after separatist protesters stormed the presidential palace.

For the second consecutive day, demonstrators marched around the densely populated Taiz carrying loaves of bread and posters. They demanded the government pay salaries and address the devaluation of the Yemeni riyal along with increasing prices of fuel and food. 

“I am hungry,” one protester shouted as security forces and armed vehicles were deployed outside key government facilities. Some protesters blocked roads and torched car tires. 

On Monday, at least five protesters were wounded when security forces fired live bullets to prevent protesters from blocking roads and disrupting traffic. 

The security committee in the city said it was safeguarding peaceful protests and warned against attacking private and public property. 

On Sept. 15, two protesters were killed during violent demonstrations over the economic meltdown and intensifying power cuts in Aden and Al-Mukalla. The protesters clashed with security forces, burnt garbage and tires, and stormed public facilities. 

The Yemeni riyal this week hit a record low against the dollar, trading at 1,200. The US dollar traded at 215 riyals in January 2015. 

In August, tough punitive measures by the Aden-based central bank against several currency-exchange firms that violated monetary rules helped the riyal recover by 10 percent, surging from 1,050 to 950. 

But the Yemeni riyal tumbled in the following weeks — breaking the historic 1,200 against the US dollar for the first time — as many firms have closed and banks in Houthi-controlled areas are being asked to relocate their operations to Aden.

On Tuesday, the central bank monitors inspected local exchange firms and shops, looking for violators of the bank’s rules. The banks also announced that the Bank of England had agreed to unfreeze its account, giving it access to millions of dollars.

At the same time, economists have warned that the deepening financial meltdown would exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen and would fuel violence.  

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of finance and banking sciences at Hadramout University, criticized the Yemeni government’s silence and late solutions to the continuing depreciation of the Yemeni riyal. 

“The state has given up doing the simplest things for the citizens and left them in the lurch,” he told Arab News. “This situation spells a real catastrophe as the plunging of the riyal continues and prices are going up. Salaries lost their values.”

During a brief visit to the southern city of Shabwa on Monday, the Yemeni premier attributed the fall of the riyal and the financial crisis in the country to the parallel Houthi economy and the movement’s military operations along with speculative activities by currency traders. 

“The economic situation is very difficult,” he said. 

Meanwhile, fighting has raged between Yemeni government troops and the Houthis over the past 24 hours in the province of Jouf and the central province of Marib. Dozens of combatants on both sides were killed.

The fiercest clashes on Tuesday were reported in Hareb district, south Marib province, where government troops, backed by air support from the Arab coalition warplanes, thwarted consecutive Houthi attacks. 

The rebels have recently opened new fronts south of Marib city after their forces failed to make major headway in their push west of Marib. In the Jouf province, government troops announced liberating a number of locations, east of Hazem city, the province’s capital.