Transparency, Transformation and Alleviation: Poverty in Saudi Arabia


SEATTLE — With a booming population that has skyrocketed from six million in 1970 to well over 32 million today, millions of Saudi Arabians live in a state of unfortunate poverty. The kingdom imposes volatile restrictions on basic human rights — such as human expression and association — among its citizens. With the continuing exponential growth in population, welfare programs and job opportunities are simply unable to keep up thereby contributing to poverty in Saudi Arabia.

Uncovering Poverty

However, alarmingly enough, there are no concrete statistics to be easily found about the overall poverty rate in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government releases minimal information about its poorest citizens, but media reports and private projections estimate that between two and four million people live on less than $530 a month (about $17 a day).

The World Bank released an economic outlook report for Saudi Arabia in April 2018 that stated that the Saudi Arabian economy is projected to continue expanding in 2018, with a 1.8 percent increase in GDP. This increase is mainly due to a moderate recovery in oil production levels as well as marginally higher public spending.

Oil-Based Economy

Saudi Arabia has an oil-based economy. Eighty-seven percent of total exports and 46 percent of GDP are accounted for by shipments of oil. Recently, the government has invested in the telecommunications, petrochemicals, natural gas exploitation and power generation sectors.

Recovering oil prices are predicted to continue strengthening the current account from its estimated 1.7 percent GDP growth in 2017. Inflation is expected to be substantially more volatile in the coming years, rising to nearly 5 percent in 2018 and then dropping to below 2 percent in 2019 as the VAT introduction is absorbed. The poverty rate among Saudis continues to increase as youth unemployment soars; more than two-thirds of Saudis are younger than 30, and nearly three-quarters of all unemployed Saudis are in their 20s.

Emerging Poverty in Saudi Arabia

The World Bank projects that poverty in Saudi Arabia is still emerging. The majority of low-income residents are migrant workers, but as the citizen population exceeds the 20 million mark, insufficient access to economic opportunities is also an issue for nationals. The old social contract – one based on government employment, generous subsidies and free public services – is no longer sustainable due to the prospect of low oil prices unabating continuation.

As a result of this growing poverty in Saudi Arabia, begging in the slums is now extremely common, mainly by women. The conditions of the slums are devastating; women and children are walking and sleeping in sewage, and children are also forced to sell whatever they can, unable to get an education. The most recent and updated findings on the World Bank Group’s website show that as of 2014, more than 80,000 children were not attending primary school.

Experiences of Saudi Women

EA WorldView in a YouTube film depicts a Saudi woman, standing outside a charity organization where she describes her situation. She lives in a cramped and decrepit house with four of her divorced daughters, each with four to seven children. Altogether, their income is $372, while their rent has increased to $298. She says, “We want to eat and live like other human beings.”

Saudi women are unfortunately subjected to the kingdom’s system of male guardianship, which states that every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, known as a wali. With this system in place, this means that women in Saudi Arabia must has permission from a male guardian – husband, father, or even brothers or sons – in order to make a number of important decisions. One of these important decisions includes working, which oftentimes is not an option as it entails women to have a certain range on freedom of mobility by the authoritative males.

Female migrant workers experience multiple abuses in their everyday lives, making them among the poorest of Saudi Arabia’s society. The nearly three million female migrant workers regularly face issues such as nonpayment of salaries, excessive working hours, and verbal, mental, physical and sexual abuse. All in all, Saudi Arabian women struggle to change the structural aspects of their vulnerability and are subjected to the current and growing rate of poverty in Saudi Arabia.

Transparent Poverty and Ways to Alleviate Suffering

Recently, due to the revelations about the severe poverty made by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Social Affairs in April of this year, the ministry was able to reach the public and media to show that nearly 22 percent of the population classifies as poor.

King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz chose Dr. Yousuf Al Othaimmen, one of his most trusted aides, to evaluate the severity of the problem. Dr. Al Othaimeen told reporters the he has mentioned setting up a food bank on the lines of similar initiatives in Sudan and Egypt to extend free food to the poor.

In a rich nation with millions of poor people and strict limitations, especially among women, Saudi Arabia continues to remain in a state of overwhelming poverty among the kingdom’s most wealthy and extravagant palaces and riches.  With ideas towards betterment and solutions such as Dr. Al Othaimeen’s, we can have hope of alleviating poverty in Saudi Arabia.

– Angelina Gillespie
Photo: Flickr


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