Riyadh is an expansive metropolis located in Saudi Arabia and is also its capital city. It is home to about seven million of the country’s 32.5 million people. Despite there being a plethora of information on the country’s steadily growing economy, updated statistics and data on the poverty rates in Saudi Arabia and Riyadh are lacking, as the Saudi government seems to keep such information under wraps. Nevertheless, these 10 facts about poverty in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia can shed some light on the situation.
Facts About Poverty in Riyadh
- Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s most powerful economies, yet social welfare programs and job growth seemingly cannot keep up with such rapid population growth. The population of Saudi Arabia was just six million in 1970 and has been expanding quickly ever since.
- The Saudi family is the richest royal family in the world, with a net worth of around $1.4 trillion due to plentiful oil reserves, yet the country itself can be considered poor, with an estimated 20 percent of its people living in poverty.
- In 2011, three young men were arrested and jailed after uploading video footage to YouTube showing poor citizens in Riyadh. The video was a report on an impoverished area of the city which contained personal interviews and a call to action for the Saudi Arabian government to do more to address the issue of poverty. Thousands of people showed support and distaste for the arrests via social media.
- The government under King Abdullah has spent $37 billion on housing, unemployment and other programs as of 2012 in an attempt to assist the increasing number of poor people, despite the fact that the programs seem to be ineffective.
- The country controls about 22 percent of the world’s oil and relies on that source of income for approximately half of its GDP. Through Saudi Vision 2030, the action plan to privatize more industries and lower the unemployment rate from 11 to 7 percent, government officials hope to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil. The plan even lists specific goals related to the health of Saudi citizens, including building facilities dedicated to sports and physical activity.
- As the poverty rate increases, so do youth unemployment rates. Close to 75 percent of all unemployed citizens are in their 20s.
- High-status, image-conscious Saudis have downplayed the existence of poverty in Saudi Arabia and the topic was avoided in Saudi Arabian media. It was considered a taboo subject by the Saudi media until 2002, when King Abdullah visited a slum in Riyadh, providing an opportunity for proper news coverage of a Riyadh slum.
- The Saudi government provides free education, healthcare and burials to its citizens, although it does not offer food stamps or a welfare system. It also provides pensions and payments for food and utility bills for the poor and disenfranchised. It has been stated that many families still rely on donations from private citizens in spite of these efforts.
- Because Saudi Arabia is a largely Muslim nation, citizens observe the religious requirement of zakat that says people and businesses should donate 2.5 percent of their wealth to charity. That money is collected by the government and distributed among the poor.
- Women who are widowed or unmarried often struggle financially, as Islamic law and Saudi culture indicate that men should be the main breadwinners. Some establishments require women to have written permission from a guardian before being hired. Fifty-six percent of unemployed youth age 15 to 25 are women as of 2015.
Saudi and American analysts report that, regardless of the efforts to alleviate poverty, large quantities of money are acquired by the royal family through corrupt tactics and schemes. Perhaps through the actions of Saudi Vision 2030 and the charitable and religious nature of the country, a long-term solution may be implemented in the future.
– Camille Wilson