High Levels of Urbanization
According to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs approximately 82.1 % of the total population lives in urban areas whereas 17.9 % live in rural areas. The urbanization rates at the regions level show that 6 regions have recorded rates that exceed 80 %, including the Eastern Province (93.2 %), Riyadh (90.9 %), Holy Makkah (87.6 %), the Northern Borders (86.7 %), Tabuk (85.9 %), and Jouf (84.5 %). It could also be noticed that approximately 76 % of Saudi population live in urban areas compared to 24 % in rural areas, as for non-Saudi population, 90 % live in urban areas and 10 % in rural areas.
While growth in the largest cities has been very significant, it is not confined to them only: smaller cities outside Riyadh and other major urban concentrations have also witnessed similar growth. The number of cities in Saudi Arabia increased from 58 in 1936 to 258 in 2004 and lately to 285 in 2015, distributed over 13 regions and 118 governorates.
In addition, urbanization is expected to continue its increase to reach up to 97.6 % by the year 2030. In light of the current growth rates in urban areas as stipulated in figure 1, the population of Riyadh will reach 8.2 million people, out of which 75 % will be Saudis,. According to the Kingdom’s long-term demographic estimates, the annual demographic growth in the Kingdom is expected to reach an average of 2.15 %. Most of the population is concentrated in the capital Riyadh, the secondary cities Jeddah and Dammam and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
The major challenge of Saudi Arabia now and for the years to come is the youth bulge with almost 60 % of the population are youth, putting pressure on the government to provide them with economic opportunities, jobs, housing and quality services as well as cities with opportunities that match their aspirations. People under the age of 24 constitute almost half of the nation’s population and people under the age of 15 make up one third.
In 2012 the population under the age of 15 constituted 34.1 % of the total population of 29.99 million. The percentage of youth under 15 within the Saudi population is much higher than that of the non-Saudi population within the country.
Access to Services and Infrastructure
Rapid urbanization results in increased usage of water resources, high consumption patterns, resource intensive lifestyles and increased industrialization. This poses challenges for protecting the environment, addressing water scarcity, pollution, solid waste management and biodiversity. The rapid increase in urbanization is generating a population demand for speedy, quality and efficient public services, most importantly housing, piped water, electricity, roads, sewerage, and telephones.
That created a serious challenge for municipal authorities: to meet the increasing demand for services and responsive proper planning of city extensions, urban centres and land infill’s on the one hand and on the other enabling the private sector to play an increasing role in providing quality urban services, housing and mass transit.