Oil baron sheiks and makeshift sand huts: Saudi's secret poor
Once an underdeveloped desert kingdom, Saudi Arabia has become one of the wealthiest nation's in the Middle East. But, for some of the population life remains a daily struggle to survive under a government that denies that poverty is a problem.
Living in this secret society is sixty-year-old, mother of seven, Umm Ali. For all of her country's vast oil reserves, Umm Ali lives in desperate circumstances. Unable to afford a house, and barely able to cover the cost of food - she uses a meager monthly government allowance of SR800 (US $213) to keep her family alive.
Since her divorce five years ago, Umm Ali has been cast away from modern life. She has been forced to live in a straw hut on the edge of Al Ahsiba, a tiny Saudi village near the western town of Qunfuda, with her three sons and four daughters. It's a world away from the glitzy malls and four-by-fours of Jeddah or Riyadh. Umm Ali endures a primitive life where even her basic needs aren't met.
There is no let up for the family's suffering as the seasons change. Without electricity, during winter they suffer from cold bites and in the summer months they are left with little protection from the desert heat.
Saudi Arabic language daily, Ajel, reported: “In summer, Umm Ali and her children, some aged only a few years, drink hot water as she has no fridge or other devices to cool water…she struggles to protect her children from insects and poisonous reptiles although she has been bitten many times.”
Umm Ali is not alone. Last July, economics professor Dr. Hamed Qahtani published an article in Saudi's 'Wasat' newspaper stating that the middle class in the Kingdom had declined by 30%. His report hinted at a level of poverty incongruent with the Saudi government's vision.
In the the government's endeavor to push poverty under the carpet, experts producing such reports do so at their own risk. Qahtani now finds himself facing trial under 9 charges ranging from ‘setting up an unlicensed organization’ to ‘breaking allegiance to the king.’ If he is sentenced he could face up to five years in jail.
Evidence for Qahtani's research can be found in Ali's makeshift straw hut. She is currently appealing to charities and benevolent types in Saudi to help her find a house fit for human needs. But, in a Kingdom that prefers to deny the existence of its poorest citizens, Umm Ali and her family look set to face another difficult winter.
Do you think that poverty is a bigger problem in Saudi Arabia than its government is willing to admit? Leave us your thoughts below!
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