Dr. Muhammad Bin Ibrahim Al-Jarallah, Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, today addressed the United Nations Conference in Istanbul known as 'Habitat II', and spoke of the development plans of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the last twenty years as having focused on promoting housing by means of soft loans, on constructing new cities as well as renovating existing residential areas, and on continuing the effort to develop municipal services. Dr. Al-Jarallah began by conveying the greetings of Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, by thanking the Turkish government for hosting the conference, and by hoping that the meeting would achieve its targeted goals.
Pointing out that Saudi Arabia's participation in the conference arises from its belief in international cooperation within the framework of the United Nations, of which the Kingdom was a founding member in 1945, Dr. Al-Jarallah emphasized the importance of 'Habitat II', and referred to the first such conference, held in Canada twenty years ago in 1976. As the world nears the 21st century, he said, there is a pressing need for intensive efforts to be made to guarantee a better standard of living and a world free of war, famine and exploitation. Dr. Al-Jarallah briefed the international gathering on what the Kingdom has achieved toward a better life for its citizens, saying: "Over the past twenty years the Kingdom has witnessed a rise in urbanization from 48 percent in 1979 to 79 percent in 1996, and this rapid urbanization has been accompanied by a remarkable increase in the number of cities, from 70 in 1979 to 175 at present, in addition to an abundance of integrated municipal services that cover 230 small urban centers and thousands of villages nationwide." He further reported that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has adopted a long-range plan for the realization of constant construction that takes into consideration an equable distribution of population, activities, and services, in addition to protecting the environment.
To ensure equilibrium in population and urbanization, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has begun the implementation of policies to improve the situation of small and medium-sized towns, for the provision of adequate infrastructure including drinking water, power, drainage systems, health services, education, transport and communication, for which the government is spending more than SR 700 billion (U.S. $187 billion). Moreover, over the last 20 years the Kingdom has provided soft, interest-free loans for the purpose of housing construction that total SR 110 billion (U.S. $ 29 billion). In addition, certain state-run bodies have set up large residential complexes that contain a total of 2,850,000 housing units .
The government has also encouraged the private sector to take part in the development of the housing sector with a policy whereby plots of land were distributed free for the construction of housing, and over the last two decades more than 1.3 million plots have been distributed to citizens in various parts of the Kingdom.
Over the same period, the Kingdom made great efforts to develop major productive sectors including agriculture and industry. For example, the Saudi Fund for Industrial Development extended loans worth SR 28.9 billion (U.S. $ 7.7 billion) for the establishment of 1,856 industrial projects for which 196,000 new job opportunities were created. Thanks to the numerous direct and indirect incentives provided by the government to the industrial sector, eighteen industrial zones have been set up in various Saudi cities over the past two decades, with a total area of 500 billion square meters. More than SR 1.88 billion (U.S. $ 0.5 billion) has been spent in setting up the necessary public services and infrastructure, in accordance with a well-defined policy in order to maintain industrial growth and output by the private sector without direct interference from the government except in certain areas involving high levels of investment, and high risk.
As for agricultural development, Dr. Al-Jarallah reported that the Saudi Agricultural Bank has provided 362,000 loans with a total value of SR 27.5 billion (U.S. $ 7.3 billion) to encourage the farming sector and upgrade per capita income in rural areas, and to discourage immigration from rural areas to urban centers, citing the important role of agricultural development in diversifying the economic structure.
Spotlighting achievements in education, Dr. Al-Jarallah reported that by the end of 1995 there were 20,858 elementary schools, 4,000 intermediate schools, and 1,700 secondary schools, with 43 teacher training colleges and 7 universities accommodating a total of more than three million students, both male and female, at all educational levels. Special attention has been paid to technical education and vocational training, with the number of enrolled students rising in the last twenty years from 6,000 to 120,000 - a twenty-fold increase.
Referring to the distinguished success realized by the Saudi health sector, Dr. Al-Jarallah reported that in spite of the fact that the Kingdom is a vast and sparsely-populated country which poses a real challenge for the provision of health services to all citizens and residents, there are now 267 hospitals, 3,028 health care centers, and 643 private clinics. For the social services being rendered by the government there are 445 welfare centers, and over the period 1990 to 1994 a total of SR 9 billion (U.S. $ 2.4 billion) was allocated for social insurance subsidies.
As for efforts made by Saudi bodies concerned with urbanization, Dr. Al-Jarallah said that a well-defined plan has been charted to avoid the complicated problems of major metropolises such as overcrowding, pollution, and deterioration of buildings. City boundaries have been pinpointed to prevent haphazard urban expansion. These successful efforts have deepened public awareness of the relationship and integration between economic development and accurate management of the environment under the umbrella of Islamic teachings calling for rational utilization of natural resources. From this understanding and in the framework of its policy to upgrade domestic and regional participation to ensure constant development, the Kingdom has promulgated a provincial system dividing the country into administrative zones assigned to undertake the necessary steps for the promotion of services in each province according to certain criteria and regulations.
Citing soft loans and grants provided by the Kingdom since the early 1970s as development aid, and corresponding to 5.5 percent of the GNP (a target much higher than the international appeal set at 0.7 percent of a nation's GNP for aid to developing countries), Dr. Al-Jarallah reported that up to the end of 1995, as shown by international statistics, a total of U.S. $ 70.6 billion had been extended to 72 developing countries, notably in Asia. Of this amount, U.S. $ 15.71 billion went to 29 low-income countries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided assistance to many countries, including the ten African coast countries, to help them face up to the dangers of drought over the past years.
Dr. Al-Jarallah reminded the conference that during the sixth Islamic Summit Conference in Dakar in 1992, Saudi Arabia responded to calls to lessen the debt burdens of developing countries and decided to write off due loans totaling U.S. $ 6 billion, a decision that did not however involve the extremely soft loans provided by the Saudi Development Fund.
In a meeting with Dr. Al-Jarallah yesterday, Turkish President Sulaiman Demirel praised the achievements accomplished by the Kingdom in its cities, which are among the most advanced in the world, and expressed his country's desire to develop closer ties with Saudi Arabia.