Farming in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, a desert country that saw its fortunes skyrocket due to the discovery of oil, uses its billions of dollars of oil profits to power many parts of its economy and its citizen’s lives. One of these facets is its food supply — the Kingdom imports more than 80% of its necessary food supply with its oil money. Only about 1.5% of the land area of Saudi Arabia is arable, and what agriculture the country does have ends up taking over 80% of the Kingdom’s precious water supply. While the country is currently food-secure, farming in Saudi Arabia has been a crucial area of interest for those who wish to expand Saudi sustainability and shore up potential risks in global food supply network crashes.

Farming Policy

Saudi Arabia originally attempted agricultural self-sufficiency with aggressive government subsidies for farmers in the 1980s due to volatile food imports. Poor techniques and mismanagement of water resources forced the reimagining of these efforts in 2007. Now, the Kingdom subsidizes the use of manufactured feed for livestock farmers and encourages vegetable growth using greenhouses and drip irrigation methods. These techniques conserve water while ensuring a more sustainable food supply.

The Saudi government has made concerted efforts to improve its agricultural sector as part of its Vision 2030 program. A top priority for the Kingdom is increasing efficiency in its use of limited natural resources while developing rural areas. Farming is an important source of employment in the Kingdom, so supporting agribusiness in Saudi Arabia not only improves food security but the overall lives of many. Farmers are often some of the poorest individuals in the world, so providing aid and focusing on agricultural efficiency simultaneously fights Saudi hunger and poverty.

New Developments

The Kingdom is still a major importer of cereals, meat, dairy products and fruits and vegetables, but there has been a growing emphasis on farming in Saudi Arabia as demand for food continues to rise. Following the failed attempts in the 1980s, Saudis have used technology to help make their agricultural industry as efficient as possible. New strategies include the use of satellites to obtain pictures of farmland. The intention of the resulting thermal images is to better understand the relationship between crop growth and overall water use. This helps farmers compare water requirements for different crops and estimate which crop has the highest yield given a certain amount of water.

Another newer form of technology recently came into play in the United Arab Emirates, which shares a border and climate with Saudi Arabia. There, a Norwegian scientist introduced her patented Liquid Nanoclay (LNC) to Emirati desert farms. LNC is a treatment that gives sand a clay coating by mixing nanoparticles of clay with water and binding them with sand particles. Since sand particles are loose, they cannot trap water efficiently, but this treatment allows them to do so. Without using any chemicals, LNC saved water consumption by over 50% in its trial run in the Emirati farms. While it is still quite expensive, international technology like this provides hope for farming in Saudi Arabia, as well as other regions that are water-scarce and relatively reliant on food imports.

Current Trends

High seafood consumption levels have driven the Kingdom to transform and expand its aquaculture industry, or the farming of aquatic species in some body of water like a tank, cage or pond. Aquaculture also saw its start in the 1980s, but today it is the fastest-growing animal food cultivation industry in Saudi Arabia. Government support is a large driver of this — to enhance food security, the government allocated $35 billion toward Vision 2030 projects that include aquaculture funding. Examples of these projects include establishing a seafood processing plant for high-end fish and marine fin-fish cages in the Red Sea in addition to several other initiatives focused on land farming.

Better-informed practices and technological advancement of farming in Saudi Arabia have helped in creating a more sustainable domestic food supply in the Kingdom. Learning from its mistakes in the 1980s, the Saudi government has targeted its subsidies and projects toward more efficient crops and projects, like fish farming. Additionally, it has pivoted away from crops and growth methods having to do with wastewater. Technology like satellite use aides in current Saudi production while new, pioneering technology like Liquid Nanoclay provides hope for the future of Saudi food security and sustainability. Even though food imports still make up the majority of its supply, the Saudi government has recognized this issue and is making a concerted effort into reforming its agriculture industry. These efforts have the potential to help Saudi Arabia avoid a major food and poverty crisis in the future.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

Crisis in YemenTucked between Saudi Arabia and the Gulf of Aden, Yemen is suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – and COVID-19 may be the final straw that wipes the Middle Eastern country off the map.

The current crisis in Yemen arises from a complex history of unrest. From 2010 to 2012, the Arab Spring ushered in a period of political rebellion throughout the Middle East. Accordingly, Yemen’s push for democracy facilitated the rocky transition of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Years of domestic hardship followed.

Islamic Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists capitalized on Hadi’s weak state and seized control of the capital city of Sanaa in 2014. The following year, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates formed a coalition of states to invade Yemen, overpower the Houthi-Saleh rebels and reinstate Hadi’s government. More recently, coalition and Houthi alliances splintered, with Yemen as the battleground for new factions.

According to the Human Rights Watch, Saudi-led coalition attacks constitute a majority of the violence in Yemen, with approximately 12 airstrikes per day. Even so, all competing forces contribute to the bloodshed. Civilian deaths and injuries clock in at 17,500 since the conflict escalated in 2015.

Civil War, COVID-19 and Crisis: Yemen is a City on Fire

The onset of the highly infectious COVID-19 set Yemen’s conflict on fire; what remains is a full-blown crisis. Amid continued violence, 24 million Yemenis – 80% of the national population – are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. COVID-19 has worsened the already scarce supply of sanitation and clean water. Health care facilities have been dramatically reduced in capacity.

Thus far, the world has deprived 12 million Yemeni children of humanitarian aid. Innocent boys and girls are fighting for survival, some of which have yet to utter their first words. Moreover, pre-COVID-19, 2 million children faced barriers to education. Now, Yemen has 7.8 million children without schooling due to nation-wide closures.

The US Role in Yemen: Two Sides of a Different Coin

In the U.S., national headlines oscillate between COVID-19 and Donald Trump’s Twitter, with little to no mention of the ongoing crisis in Yemen. Though public awareness lacks, political action has indeed transpired on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. has funneled $721 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen since 2017. In response to the pandemic, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo directed an additional $225 million in USAID funding to help the resource-stricken country.

Despite seemingly well-intended aid, the U.S. government’s support of coalition states tells a different story. A coalition powerhouse, Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian regime and aggressive military tactics clash against American pillars of democracy and peace. The Saudi-led coalition fly planes fueled by the U.S. military and drop bombs purchased in ongoing munition sales with the United States.

In fact, the U.N. Group of Eminent Experts suspected that the U.S., “may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen through arms sales and intelligence support given to the Saudi-led coalition.”

This year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to scale back detrimental U.S. involvement in Yemen, ending the practice of the U.S. military refueling aircraft and using intelligence to support the coalition. Ultimately, President Trump vetoed the resolution, and Congress neglected to override Trump’s vote.

In an exclusive interview with The Borgen Project, Rep. Jared Huffman of California explained the significance of the Congressional statement: “I think that tells you that there is bipartisan support for distancing the United States from the military campaign from the Saudis in Yemen and for taking a more humanitarian approach.”

The Future of Fighting Against Crisis in Yemen

The crisis in Yemen presents as convoluted at best and depressing at worst. Fortunately, Huffman sheds light on the efforts unfolding within Congress, and there is a reason for optimism. Huffman declares, “There will be amendments and debates in the days ahead on the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, and I am sure there will be Yemen amendments as part of that. And so, we’ll keep trying. We’re months away from a national election and some changes that could make it possible for us to go even further.”

Hence, war wages on in Yemen as people battle each other and COVID-19. Yet, another battleground begins at the voting ballot; the upcoming U.S. elections could decide the role the government plays in Middle Eastern politics. In addition, those compelled to help Yemen can donate to reputable organizations, such as UNICEF  or Save The Children.

Maya Gonzales
Photo: Wikimedia

Eating Disorders' Global SpreadEating disorders are often presented as a western-world problem. Portrayals of eating disorders (EDs) to the general public suggest white, middle to upper-class females are the ones mostly affected. However, ED statistics demonstrate that all races, genders and ethnic groups are susceptible. As westernization continues, eating disorders’ global spread ignites.

Eating disorders cause approximately one death every 62 minutes. Medical professionals agree this number is likely higher because many ED cases are overlooked and not recorded as the cause of death. Out of all mental illnesses, “eating disorders have the highest mortality rate.” In developing countries where mental health resources are scarce, untreated people live dangerously exposed.

Increased Risk in Developing Countries

The long term health consequences associated with EDs are brutal. Typically, in countries where psychiatric help is unavailable, general healthcare services are lacking for those below the poverty line. Furthermore, in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), mental illness is a serious taboo. Although sterilization is no longer a treatment for people experiencing mental health problems, there are still a lot of stigmas associated with them. They often lead to discrimination and prevent people from seeking help when needed. In these countries, psychiatric professionals able to help are nearly impossible to find.

In circumstances where someone living with an ED is not able to access medical assistance, the lack of access to treatment has persistent ramifications on a person’s body, such as experiencing pain caused by blocked intestines, muscle deterioration, cardiac pain, tooth decay or swollen jaw.

People living long-term with an ED have higher mortality rates. Living with an ED in a developing country is often a death sentence. Causes of death can include stomach ruptures, esophagus tears, kidney failure and cardiac arrest. To see reduced ED fatality rates, countries need psychiatric and medical resources. The number of countries that cannot provide these services advances the global spread of eating disorders.

Why Eating Disorders Occur in Impoverished Countries

The expansion and acceptance of Western culture are largely responsible for increasing ED cases around the world. Multiple studies evaluated the extent to which Westernization affects the elevated rate of eating disorder populations.

On the islands of Fiji, researchers conducted an observational study of EDs. The results of the study showed the impact of Western media. In the past, Fijians valued heavier body types as the image of beauty. When TV became commonly available in Fijian society during the late 1900s, ED rates were less than 1%. Three years later, a survey found 15% of teenage girls in Fiji vomited to keep their weight down.

An article published by the University of Columbia in the Journal of Eating Disorders analyzed Asia’s reaction to Westernization. The findings disprove the notion that eating disorders occur only in Western cultures. The article concludes by expanding the concept to all developing countries. These results strongly suggest that “eating disorders are not culture-bound or culture-specific, but rather culture-reactive.”

Westernization influences nearly every country in the world. Urbanization, population growth and newly introduced media further perpetuate eating disorders’ global spread. The most vulnerable countries are those that have little protection against virtually any form of addiction.

Outreach Combating Eating Disorders’ Global Spread

Eating disorder communities and organizations reach beyond their home countries. Outreach projects, such as international conferences, online training and collaboration between countries’ healthcare services, help protect people who are living with an ED and deprived of treatment. 

Originally the national charity Beat was solely based in the U.K. Now, Beat partners with international efforts in providing ED relief. The charity’s most well-known contribution is its international helpline service. Beat responded quickly to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, seeing helpline calls escalate by 30%. In response, Beat offers an online training course to recruit more volunteers.

The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation (IAEDP Foundation) plays a role in halting eating disorders’ global spread. The IAEDP Foundation provides high-quality ED education to international multidisciplinary groups. Core courses and certifications are available in a home study format. The goal is to improve ED knowledge amongst medical professionals so people living with EDs have more opportunities for support. 

The Austrian Society on Eating Disorders (ASED) dedicates itself to establishing a network of occupational groups with ED experience. As an international network, ASED creates guidelines catered specifically to each country’s culture. ASED encourages countries to begin scientific research in ED detection, treatment and prevention. By fostering international co-operation and education, ASED hopes to expand ED resources.

Hope for the Future

Eating disorders are complex and threatening illnesses. In the Western world, health checkups and residential treatment options, in addition to emotional and nutritional therapy, encourage recovery. However, even with these resources, ED recovery can take years; if unsuccessful, EDs may result in death. For those living in highly impoverished countries, years easily turn into lifetime struggles with EDs that could end one’s life abruptly. Luckily, outreach programs enhance efforts to bring awareness and ultimately decrease ED casualty rates. Without these promising efforts, eating disorders’ global spread would continue to permeate communities around the world.

Grace Elise Van Valkenburg

Photo: U.N. 

 

Water Crisis in Saudi ArabiaWhile 97% of Saudis have access to potable water, Saudi Arabia is classified as one of the most water-scarce nations on the planet. The absolute water scarcity level is 500 cubic meters per capita, per year. Saudi Arabia has only 89.5 cubic meters per capita, per year. Despite high levels of water access in the Kingdom, severe overconsumption and lack of reliable renewable water sources have made this issue a top priority. Many view oil as the most important natural resource in Saudi Arabia. However, due to the water crisis in Saudi Arabia, water is becoming increasingly valuable.

The Current Situation and Implications

While the Middle East and North Africa region is no stranger to water scarcity, modern consumption and waste levels have raised the stakes. These issues have disproportionately affected the poor. In some areas, more than half the water used exceeds sustainable levels and 82% of wastewater is not purified for reuse. The Guardian reported that Saudi Arabian per capita water consumption levels are double the world average at 263 liters every day. These levels indicate that the Kingdom is using more than four times the water that renews on average.

The two major sources of water are rapidly disappearing groundwater and the sea. In addition, the groundwater accounts for 98% of natural freshwater. Each accounts for 50% of the water consumed in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is the largest country to rely so heavily on desalination. However, it is extremely expensive and causes serious environmental concerns due to carbon emissions. While this issue is not immediate in that Saudis are not currently dying of thirst, it does loom over individuals who live in the region. Water is now the key to survival in the country that oil discovery transformed. Additionally, if the water crisis in Saudi Arabia is not solved, there will be severe humanitarian and geopolitical consequences for the unstable Middle East and the U.S.

Government Efforts

In 2019, Saudi Arabia launched a national program called “Qatrah,” which is Arabic for “droplet.” This program is a part of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. It intends to slash water consumption by about 43%, to 150 liters per capita, per day by 2030. Currently, Saudi Arabia is behind only the U.S. and Canada for per capita water consumption. Hence, this water conservation program is a significant endeavor that is badly needed to improve the sustainability of water supply in the Kingdom. Qatrah is meant to encourage change in individual behavior by raising awareness of the issue. In addition, the program rationalizes water sources to best protect natural resources and all aspects of life that depend on water.

Another important aspect of Qatrah is reducing water consumption in the agricultural sector. As previously mentioned, agriculture consumes the vast majority of water in the Kingdom. Because of this, the Ministry that oversees Qatrah has plans to increase the regulation of water in this sector. The Ministry also decreases its overall consumption in order to shift more water toward the urban sector. There is a government-driven campaign to preserve and protect water is invaluable. Movements like this struggle without direction and support from the government of the country in which they operate. Thus, the aggressive plan has helped to successfully bring the water crisis in Saudi Arabia to the national stage.

NGO Efforts and Other Strategies

Suez is an international corporation dedicated to achieving sustainable management of the world’s resources. In Saudi Arabia, Suez has worked in Jeddah to improve access to drinking water. According to Suez, desalination plants supply almost all the water consumed in Jeddah: 98% to be exact. The population continues to grow in the water-scarce city. As a result, Suez has pledged to make drinking water accessible 24/7, repair links in drinking water networks and improve the efficiency of wastewater collection. Moreover, Suez has successfully decreased the amount of time it takes to repair leaks throughout the network. This proves to be an easy and vital way to preserve water.

In this endeavor, Suez has 1,400 local employees who support the delivery of about 830,000 cubic meters of water to people in Jeddah every day. According to CNN, strategies are less expensive or difficult than desalination. In addition, decreasing overall water use includes wastewater treatment, groundwater recharge through capturing rain and stormwater and allocating water differently. These methods combined with practices are already in place. Additionally, it could help fight the water crisis in Saudi Arabia.

The water crisis in Saudi Arabia is not currently claiming the lives of millions. However, it continued the unsustainable water consumption in one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. Like most geopolitical and environmental issues, the poor will suffer the worst in Saudi Arabia if the government does not manage the pending crisis responsibly. Luckily, there has been a concerted government effort, through its Qatrah program. The program slashes water consumption and consumes it more efficiently. This effort has strong support from NGOs like Suez. Suez focuses on other aspects of the crisis to help the Saudi people save what is becoming their most precious resource: water.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

Air Pollution in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a country that is largely dependent upon its production of oil. However, this oil and urban activities in Saudi Arabian cities are responsible for air pollution in Saudi Arabia. Air pollution impacts everyone, but it often hurts the poor the most since they tend to not have access to proper medical care when air pollution makes them sick. According to estimates, about 20 percent of people in Saudi Arabia live in poverty. Saudi Arabia should be able to improve the living conditions of both its impoverished and impoverished people by reducing its air pollution. Saudi Arabia has put forth a policy to improve air quality nationwide and has worked in one of its polluted cities in an attempt to improve air quality.

Ambient Air Standard

The type of air pollution that Saudi Arabia deals with is ambient air pollution. Ambient air pollution includes multiple types of pollutants, many of which are harmful. In 2012, Saudi Arabia put the Ambient Air Standard into place. The purpose of this standard is to reduce the number of harmful pollutants that contribute to air pollution in Saudi Arabia. The standard provides a basis for the maintenance and restoration of ambient air within Saudi Arabia. This action that the government of Saudi Arabia put into place should be beneficial to the people of the country because it will provide cleaner air due to the fact that it will restrict the amount of emissions companies emit.

Cleaning Up Dammam City

Regardless of how bad the air pollution in a country is, cities tend to always be hot spots for air pollution. The Saudi Arabian City of Dammam is one such city where air pollution is a severe problem. Urban activities such as running cars cause pollution in Dammam. Recognizing this, governmental authorities in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia developed plans to reduce the air pollution that these urban activities created. For example, the General Department of Traffic used periodic vehicle inspection stations in order to improve the mileage emissions that the cars created. The General Agency of Roads made plans to pave new roads, fix existing ones and construct tunnels and bridges to improve the flow of traffic.

These changes had positive effects on reducing air pollution in Saudi Arabia. There was a decline in volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and particulate matter among other forms of air pollution. For example, carbon monoxide in industrial areas fell from above 16 parts per matter to almost two parts per matter. Volatile organic compounds in industrial areas fell from almost 0.8 parts per matter in 2010 to slightly above 0.2 in 2015. The data that the Journal of Taibah University provided shows that governmental officials’ action in Dammam has been working.

Air pollution in Saudi Arabia continues to be a problem for its people. However, the Saudi Arabian government has made some improvements to the quality of air, especially for the people living in Dammam.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Developing Countries With Natural Resources
As the planet continues to evolve from the devastating effects of global warming and overproduction of harmful wastes, natural resources necessary for people’s well being are becoming more scarce. With so few natural resources left, these commodities increase in value, thus making them more expensive to attain on the market. Although most of the world is struggling to gain access to such natural resources, some countries are fortunate enough to have a hidden reservoir of natural resources that they can use to their advantage. Here are the top three developing countries with natural resources.

3 Developing Countries With Natural Resources

  1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Although the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still battling many economic and civic issues that emerged out of a series of political conflicts in the 1990s, the country has benefited from its overabundance of natural resources. One can attribute much of its economic growth to the mass export of mineral deposits, those that are particularly in the province of Katanga. Minerals in the region include copper, zinc, cobalt, coal, silver, uranium and platinum. The Congo’s forest is also rich in fish and lumber, but as a result of the abuse of these resources, the government is working to preserve and protect these areas from deforestation. As a result of exporting these vital resources worldwide, especially copper and cobalt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was able to climb out of its economic recession in 2018. In 2018, the economy grew to 4.1 percent and has been on a steady incline ever since. Despite gaining wealth in exporting such resources, its account deficit widened from 2.9 percent of its GDP in 2017 to 3.9 percent of its GDP in 2018. This was due to the large increase in imports, but with sufficient government programs and community support, the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be able to stabilize its economy in the future to gain more economic advantages from exporting its natural resources.
  2. Botswana: Since its independence from Britain in 1966, there were doubts about whether Botswana would be able to sustain itself as an independent country. As a landlocked country with a small agricultural population, droughts that hit the country in the 1960s took a huge toll on beef exports, which at the time was the country’s only means of export. However, its luck began to turn around in 1966 when it discovered the first batch of diamonds in Orapa. The capital expenditure on mines aided the start-up of other sectors, such as construction, financial services and transport. This led to rapid economic growth, lifting wealth prospects to overwhelming heights. As documented, from 1966 to 2014, Botswana’s GDP per capita grew at an average of 5.9 percent a year. These numbers were one of the highest rates of GDP per capita growth that the world saw during that period. A large contributor to the rapid expansion of Botswana’s economy was the export of diamonds. Of course, as a developing country, Botswana still has challenges to overcome. Youth unemployment is as high as 35 percent and more than 13 percent of the population is living off of just $1.90 a day. There are also concerns that its economy has become too reliant on its diamond business. Botswana, as always, has been working to relieve these issues.
  3. Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is home to about one-fifth of the world’s petroleum reserves. The petroleum industry takes up approximately 80 percent of its budget revenues, 90 percent of export earnings and 45 percent of the country’s GDP. In addition to the already existing oil fields, Saudi Arabia discovered the Arsan, the AsSayd, the Namlan and the Qamran oilfields along with the Jalamid gas fields in 2010, adding to its economic prosperity. Additionally, Saudia Arabia also has large reserves of a variety of metals including iron, lead, gold and copper. One company called Ma’aden, which has two subsidiaries called Ma’aden Gold and Base Metals Co., has operated five gold mines in Saudi Arabia since 1988 and has produced more than 4 million ounces of gold. To gain further investment from these profitable natural resources, Saudia Arabia joined the WTO in 2005, constructed six economically-driven cities in its country and developed social and infrastructural projects between 2010 and 2014 to promote economic prosperity. In terms of maintaining its position as perhaps the world’s leading petroleum producer and exporter, it will be able to do just that for many years to come. However, internal conflict and poverty are issues that Saudi Arabia still faces, so much work is still necessary to bring its country into an era of peace and stability.

Overall, developing countries do, to some degree, gain substantial benefits from exporting their natural resources for profit. However, circumstances must align in order for the export of natural resources to benefit them, because the same blessing can very well turn into a negative consequence and be more damaging to their economies.

Lucia Elmi
Photo: Flickr

education in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia understands the importance of teaching its people. Its government is increasing efforts to provide primary, secondary and tertiary education to all of its citizens. The Kingdom is improving literacy, expanding forms of education, educating women and more. Here are 10 facts about education in Saudi Arabia.

10 Facts About Education in Saudi Arabia

  1. The Kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, requires citizens to have an education. Children between 6 and 14 years old must attend school. About 200,000 children total did not attend school in 2009, however. That number decreased to about 67,000 by 2013.
  2. The Kingdom does not require college-level education, but Saudi Arabian society values it. The King Faisal Foundation, a Saudi Arabian nonprofit organization founded in 1976, supports higher education, creates universities throughout the kingdom, gives grants and helps to build better lives filled with learning. People donate to the organization to fund new schools for Saudi Arabian citizens.
  3. The Qur’an, the religious text of Saudi Arabia, is a core foundation of Saudi Arabia’s faith, society, government, law and education. The Qur’an teaches many educational values, including to “observe the earth and heavens” by learning the natural sciences like biology and Tirmidhi, learning about angels and praying for the wellbeing of people who search for knowledge. People often value the word of the Qu’ran in school textbooks, but there is a controversy over whether schools should teach it. The majority of over 700 nonprofit charitable organizations are taking donations to keep the Qur’an a subject of study.
  4. Women could not attend school before the 1950s. The government realized that uneducated women could not find husbands and start families. Many men attained relationships with international women instead, due to their higher education levels. Therefore, the government decided to allow women in Saudi Arabia the right to pursue an education and created a separate girls’ education system.
  5. Today in Saudi Arabia, women have the chance to stay in school longer. Societal standards give women more time to attend school and to study. People do not expect women to attain a career after college, but rather expect them to care for their families instead.
  6. Saudi Arabia has online schooling. Colleges such as the Deanship and Faculty of Distance Learning at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah allow flexibility in students’ schedules, allowing them to learn from their local library or home. Citizens push to have more online learning in Saudi Arabia today, hoping that everwhere in Saudi Arabia will soon accredit online learning. Writers such as Hend Suliman Al-Khalifa, an author in the e-Learn Magazine report, promote online universities like the Arab Open University.
  7. The Ministry of Higher Education has not officially recognized online education as a valid source. As a result, finding a job may be harder for students with an online degree. 
  8. Saudi Arabian students often enroll in the University of Phoenix, a private, online university in the United States. The Ministry of Education accepts a degree from this U.S. school as an official document, despite it being a private school.  The University of Phoenix offers many degrees and classes ranging from engineering, entrepreneurism and behavioral sciences to cultural studies and the performing arts.
  9. Due to Saudi Arabia’s effort to educate its population, the literacy rate for people 15 years or older has risen. The literacy rate appears to have continued rising past 2015, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Saudi Arabia’s literacy rate has risen by almost 20 percent in Saudi Arabia from 1995 to 2015. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics also reports that learning and participation in school have increased from 1995 to 2015.
  10. The Saudi Arabian school system has four categories: pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary. Children 3 to 5 years old are in the pre-primary stage. The primary stage includes children 6 to 11 years old. Secondary education includes teens from ages 12 to 17, while tertiary education teaches those from 18 to 22 years old. Children from ages 6 to 14 must go to school, but Saudi Arabian society values additional school.

Saudi Arabia improved the literacy of its adult population, but still has goals to widen its educational efforts. Citizens are working towards appealing the government to accept online-based learning officially, and the Ministry of Education continues to monitor the education system.

– Sofia Ponomareva
Photo: Pixabay

Child Labor in Saudi Arabia
Many know Saudi Arabia as one of the richest countries in the world. With the second largest natural oil reserve underground, Saudi Arabia is rapidly accumulating wealth and political power in international affairs. However, there is a dark side to the flashy urban lights of Saudi Arabia. The wealth gap that exists between the rich and the poor, coupled with the country’s patriarchal tradition and its recent conflict with the Houthi movement in Yemen, puts many Saudi and immigrant children in danger of child labor, violence and economic exploitation. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Saudi Arabia.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Saudi Arabia

  1. Poverty is the main cause of Saudi Arabia’s Child Labor. While Saudi Arabia is famous for its wealth, thanks in large part to the second-largest oil deposits in the world, there is a big economic disparity between the poor and the rich. According to a study that the Saudi Arabian government funded in 2015, 22 percent of families in Saudi Arabia depend on their children’s income.
  2. The minimum employment age is 13. In the royal decree of 1969, Saudi Arabia enacted a law that set the minimum employment age to 13 years old and banned children from working in hazardous conditions. This does not apply to works in the family business, domestic labor and agricultural work. Some employers of Saudi Arabia exploit a loophole in the law. For example, this law does not address the child brides of Saudi Arabia. If a child bride does any house chores or agricultural work for her husband’s family, it will not be a violation of the minimum employment age law.
  3. There are cases of child labor trafficking from neighboring countries. Stemming from Saudi Arabia’s recent conflict with Yemen, which left Yemen devastated, wartorn and practically lawless, some Yemeni parents are seeking illegal agents who will traffick their children to Saudi Arabia. While some Yemeni parents traffick their children to Saudi Arabia to save them from the desperate conditions in Yemen, other parents traffick their children in hopes of economic relief provided by their children’s labor in Saudi Arabia. While deportation is the main concern of many Yemeni parents for their trafficked children, many trafficked Yemeni children are in danger of violence, hunger and sexual abuse.
  4. Child workers usually have parents who have low professional and education level. The low education and professional level of child workers’ parents, coupled with economic disparity, make poverty in Saudi Arabia hereditary. Saudi Arabia is taking steps to ameliorate this issue. In early 2018, the Saudi government declared that it aims to eradicate adult illiteracy by 2024. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education established adult education centers across the country and launched the Learning Neighborhood program in 2006 in pursuit of this goal.
  5. Children of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia do not have protection under a law that prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Saudi Arabia’s labor law does prohibit forced labor, however, these measures do not extend to over 12 million migrant workers in the country. Some employers exploit this loophole in the labor laws, which sometimes results in physical, mental and sexual abuse of migrant workers and their children.
  6. Saudi Arabia’s citizenship requirement puts Saudi children in danger of child labor and human trafficking. A Saudi child’s citizenship comes from his or her father. If a child has a citizen mother and a non-citizen father, or from a mother who is not legally married to a citizen father, there is a chance that the country will consider the child a stateless person. As a result of being stateless, Saudi Arabia can deny a child state education, and in certain cases, medical attention. According to the U.S. Department of State, about 5 percent of street begging children in Saudi Arabia are Saudi nationals of unknown parents.
  7. The Saudi government is working with the international community to combat child labor. In 2016, with technical advisory services support from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Saudi Arabia ratified its report for ILO’s Minimum Age Convention of 1973. According to the United Nations’ 2016 report on Saudi Arabia’s adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia adopted and implemented regulations against child abuse and human trafficking. As part of the new labor reforms and regulations in 2015, for example, the Labor Ministry of Saudi Arabia can impose SR $20,000 ($5,333) on employers who employ children under 15-years old.
  8. In 2014, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) launched a campaign against child labor in Saudi Arabia. For 19-days, WWSF campaigned to raise awareness for child labor, abuse and violence against children and youth. The National Family Safety Program of Saudi Arabia also launched its four-day program which raised awareness for economic exploitation and abuse of children in Saudi Arabia. Through these campaigns, both WWSF and the Saudi government aimed to reduce child labor in Saudi Arabia by highlighting that child labor contributes to the abuse of children by harming children’s health, physical development, psychological health and access to education.
  9. UNICEF and the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs opened a reception center for trafficked Yemeni children. Many trafficked Yemeni children end up in the streets of Saudi Arabian cities as beggars or street vendors. In the worst cases, these trafficked children are under severe danger of exploitation and abuse. When the Saudi authorities detained them, these Yemeni children usually went to prison or open-air enclosures with adult deportees. The center provides shelter for these children.
  10. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aims to address the country’s poverty. Launched in April 2016, the Saudi government plans to address the country’s poverty by improving state education and empowering nonprofit organizations. These improvements can lead to making more opportunities available for the children and parents of poor economic background, potentially reducing child labor in Saudi Arabia. In this pursuit, the Saudi government granted $51 billion to the education sector. The Ministry of education established educational centers all around the country to improve adult literacy and theories determine that this improvement in adult literacy will also improve child literacy.

Child labor in Saudi Arabia is both a local and international issue. While the stateless and poor children of Saudi Arabia turn to street vending and begging to support their families, many trafficked Yemeni children in the country are under constant threat of violence and exploitation. These 10 facts about child labor in Saudi Arabia show that with the help of the international community and the Saudi government’s increasing awareness of its less fortunate populace, a better future awaits for the children of Saudi Arabia.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Guest workers
The exploitation of guest workers in Saudi Arabia has been a common occurrence for many years. Eleven million guest workers have come to the Middle Eastern nation in order to find an opportunity to support their families back home. What some meet with is abuse and hardship from their employers for a variety of reasons. These workers are not citizens and they have a limited number of rights to protect them.

Discovery of Oil and the Demand for Workers

When people discovered oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, it was still a very young country having only established in 1932. The country was one of the most underdeveloped and poorest in the world and did not have the means to extract this oil.

To profit from its discovery, the Saudi government brought in guest workers from the West after World War II and they were mostly professionals in the oil industry. After its success,  it eventually required workers from neighboring Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Yemen and Palestine as well, especially as the gas crisis in 1973 raised the demand for oil.

As the economy of Saudi Arabia grew, there came a need for more workers in other industries of the country besides oil. As a result, guest workers from other Asian nations such as Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka went to Saudi Arabia for work.

Guest Worker Abuses

Human Rights Watch, an international organization, describes the conditions of the guest workers in Saudi Arabia as being similar to slavery. These workers are beaten, exploited, overworked, underpaid and sometimes not even paid at all. The abuse of these workers is deep-seated in race, gender and religious discriminations.

Over 900,000 Filipinos are working in Saudi Arabia and many of them work in the service industries including hotels. There was an instance where 15 Filipino hotel guest workers had to work more than their scheduled 40 hours a week. When they did not receive overtime pay their employers owed them, they complained to the hotel manager who told them to be quiet or they would have them deported.

Guest workers do not have the convenience of collective bargains or unions to protect them from this type of abuse. Saudi employers can dismiss their guest workers at any time regardless of what employment contracts. An employer dismissed a 26-year-old Bangladesh guest worker named Bachu after only seven months because they did not need him anymore. The unexpected termination forced the now jobless worker to attempt to obtain a job illegally, which resulted in his arrest and deportation back to Bangladesh.

There are very few laws that protect guest workers from abuses in regard to the law. There are instances of workers receiving false accusations of crimes, harsh penalties, unfair trials and random arrests. One such incident occurred in 2005 with the arrest and execution of a Sri Lankan maid named Rizana Nafeek. The 24-year-old housemaid suffered the accusation of murdering the baby that she was in charge of taking care of, but she claimed it died from choking. She did not have a translator during her interrogation and the authorities beat her into signing a confession. She was only one of the 100,000 Sri Lankan maids that are guest workers in Saudi Arabia. Over 100 guest workers are sitting on death row in the country.

Changes for the Workers

Recently, the Saudi Arabian government has taken steps towards protecting its guest workers through a series of legislations. In 2015, the government voted on these laws and will impose hefty fines on businesses that it finds guilty of abuses such as not paying employees on time, violating health and safety and employing children under 15.

The U.N. has adopted resolutions that would protect guest workers in not only Saudi Arabia but around the world. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families emerged to protect the human rights of the 164 million guest workers throughout the world.

Saudi Arabia is a young and growing nation. The use of guest workers has helped its economy expand and thrive as a nation. The treatment of these workers has brought much negative attention to the country, though. It is taking steps, however, to ensure that the abuse and exploitation of these workers come to an end.

– Sam Bostwick
Photo: Wikipedia Commons