Rising poverty generates heat in Shura Council

By Abdul Nabi Shaheen, Correspondent
Published: April 08, 2009, 23:08

Riyadh: Members of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council voiced alarm over the rising number of people living below the poverty line in the country despite the best efforts of the government to fight poverty.

Based on the recently published annual report of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Shura Council came to the conclusion that nearly 22 per cent of the population is poor.

The report brings into sharp perspective a national strategy to fight poverty which was implemented in 2006. The strategy was drafted by experts following a directive by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz in 2002, in his capacity as the Crown Prince, after he had visited a Riyadh slum.

As part of efforts to fight poverty, King Abdullah had earlier allocated 10 billion Saudi riyals (Dh9.7 billion) to build 64,000 homes within a period of four years for low-income Saudi families living in makeshift tenements and slums in various parts of the country.

According to the latest report of the Ministry of Social Affairs, there are three million Saudis living below the poverty line in the country.

Taking part in a discussion about the report in the Shura Council, Saeed Al Shaikh, a member, expressed surprise over the alarming rise in the number of people enjoying social security benefits, in a country with a robust economy.

Khedr Quraishi, another member, pointed out that despite billions of riyals being spent by the government to upgrade services being offered by care centres to the poor, the situation remained virtually the same.

Amir Al Luwaiheq, another member, criticised the methodology adopted by the General Organisation for Social Insurance (GOSY) to determine the poor and low-income people in the country.

Intervening in the discussion, Dr Abdullah Alu Al Shaikh, chairman of the Shura Council, expressed dismay over the huge number of poor families, still dependent on social security benefits. “This figure is very high comparing with the poverty rate of Germany, which accounts for 11 per cent even though the country is reeling under the current global economic meltdown,” he said.

It is estimated that nearly 600,000 Saudi families are taking advantage of the social security scheme. The southern Jizan region accounts for the largest number of poor families, with 9,700. Al Qasim region had the lowest number of poor, with 506 families.

It is noteworthy that a documentary film entitled My salary is 1,000 riyals, produced and directed by Saudi media figure Tarad Al Asmari, and posted on the internet, sheds light on various aspects of the poverty conundrum in the country.

The main protagonist is Ahmad, a Saudi youth working as a security guard at a commercial building in Jeddah who must look after a seven-member family with his 1,200 riyal monthly salary, working 12 hours a day.

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