SPECIAL REPRINT FROM AL ARABIYA NEWS, SAUDI ARABIA
By FAISAL J. ABBAS
Sunday, 23 September 2012
Last year, I wrote an article on the occasion of the Saudi National Day arguing that despite the country’s blessings of economic prosperity, continuous growth and remarkable stability; Saudi Arabia still had an enormous challenge that it needed to overcome.
The Kingdom’s biggest challenge comes from within, I argued. “Saudis are only now starting to wake up to their present-day demographical realities, having seen the county’s population grow at a staggering rate of 333 per cent in just 34 years,” I added.
A year later, and as we celebrate another Saudi National Day, I can’t help but repeat myself to emphasize – yet again – what our biggest challenge is.
Our government, which in 1975 only had to cater for the needs of a population of only seven million, now has to deal with almost four times that number. Furthermore, we are a predominantly young population; this means that most of us are yet to find a job, get married, buy or rent a place to live and of course consume an enormous amount of energy, which is used for air conditioning, transport and to power the massive desalination process which we run to ensure that we all get enough drinking water.
Now, this would all be manageable if we had an infinite amount of resources. Unfortunately, despite the abundant amount of oil reserves we are blessed with, the reality is whilst our population is growing, our reserves are diminishing in parallel.
This simple fact has a double-edged disadvantage: Given our demographic growth; more and more oil is going to be consumed locally – rather than exported. Recent estimates suggest that 25 percent of our oil production is channeled towards local consumption.