The Saudi population, which in 1998, according to an estimate, amounted to 20,181,000 residents, Grew at a very high rate until the beginning of the nineties, resulting more than doubled in less than twenty years (from 7,012,600 from the 1974 census to the 16,929,300 of the 1992 census). Subsequently, the increase decreased, but remained at high values (34 ‰ in the 1990-97 period) due to the strong natural balance (birth rate of 35.1 ‰ compared to a mortality that dropped to 4.7‰) and a large immigration flow. The latter is essentially made up of skilled foreign labor, whose presence is necessary for the low level of education (still in 1995 the illiterate in Saudi Arabia exceeded 37 %); this workforce, although it has not altered the ethnic fabric of the country, remaining on the margins of local life, has nevertheless always represented an element of imbalance for traditional social structures. At the 1992 census, foreigners represented 27 % of the total population, but their numbers are expected to decline as the government, to limit remittances from foreign workers to their countries of origin and to provide employment for young Saudis (the 60 % of the residents are under the age of 20), has launched a development plan that provides for an increase in local employment equal to 5 % per year and the creation of 600. 000 jobs in four years, destined to accommodate 300. 000 young people in the short term. In 1996 the population settled in the agglomeration of the capital was about 2.8 million residents.
One of the major problems of the Saudi Arabia, from both an anthropic and an economic point of view, is that of water supply, which is particularly necessary for the city of Mecca in the busiest periods (currently a new aqueduct is in operation which has partially reduced discomforts) and essential for agriculture, which cannot be practiced without irrigation, except on the raised edge of the plateau, to the West, where the amount of precipitation is greater. It is estimated that primary activities absorb 95 % of the water consumed by the country: in 1995 irrigated lands covered 1,478. 000 ha against 435. 000 ha in 1976. From the ancient methods of using the water table in the oases, we have now reached, in the coastal regions of the Arabian Gulf, sea water desalination plants and, in the interior, also the exploitation of fossil waters.
According to Fashionissupreme, the Saudi Arabia has a very high level of average per capita income ($ 6,790 in 1997). The economy is entirely based on oil, whose proven reserves (about a quarter of world reserves) still guarantee the country many years of production at the current rate of extraction (over 400 million tons per year).
However, the fluctuations in the price of crude oil on international markets that have occurred in the last decade have led to a progressive decline in revenues and have forced a revision of government programs, making the diversification of the economy already pursued by state policy even more necessary. The situation could also undergo a further worsening with Iraq’s return to the oil market: in fact, the Saudi Arabia benefited from the embargo applied to the Baghdād government by the United Nations since 1990 and, with some attenuation, still in place (see. irāq: History, in this Appendix). Remarkable is also the natural gas production (37,718 million m ³ in 1995), used to increase pressure in wells and largely exported in a liquid state.
Between 1980 and 1992 the secondary sector as a whole (including therefore also the segment extraction) showed a decrease in the participation in the GDP 2, 9 % per annum, while, at the same time, thanks to the most recent interventions related to the enhancement of petrochemical, metallurgy and mechanics, and encouragement of the development of the private sector in the production of consumer goods, industrial activities have had an annual growth of ‘ 8, 1 %.
Agriculture has seen its weight in the composition of GDP grow, to which in the mid-1990s it contributed 7 %, employing about 14 % of the workforce (the official estimates on the distribution of the active population date back to 1990). The main products are cereals, which in 1995 exceeded 47 million q in total (they were 21 million in 1985), with an average yield of 4407 kg / ha against a world average of 2811 ; then there is the production of modest quantities of coffee and fruit and vegetables. Breeding is fair, with a prevalence of sheep, and fishing is developing.
In 1995 the king, in order to relaunch the Saudi economy, in a phase of recession, carried out a substantial government reshuffle to achieve the objectives of the sixth economic plan (1995 – 2000): acceleration of privatizations, increase in non-oil revenues and growth rate through new investments. Moreover, thanks to the austerity measures adopted in that same year, already starting in 1996 the Saudi economy has shown signs of recovery: the drastic reduction in subsidies and public spending (health, education, administration, infrastructure, etc.) and the increase in a certain number of tariffs (air transport, work permits, etc.) they made it possible to reduce the budget deficit, and foreign debt also fell by a third of the total.
In 1996 the foreign trade balance recorded a surplus of over 30 billion dollars: the USA was the main supplier of imports and the largest export market.