Clapboard houses in the desert: A trip through Aramco's Smalltown, KSA

Dhahran The Camp Courtesy of Murre And The Pacific/FlickR
Updated 14 May 2018

Clapboard houses in the desert: A trip through Aramco's Smalltown, KSA

  • The Camp in Dhahran harks back to Aramco's origins in the 1930s
  • The Camp's Al-Fayrouz cinema predates the latest wave of cinema openings in the Kingdom by several decades

DHAHRAN: Through the tight rings of security at Saudi Aramco’s world HQ you are checked and rechecked, until you reach an area that looks very different from any of the glass and concrete corporate buildings that dominate the site.
You could be in the suburbs of any big America city — rows of clapboard houses, most of them single-story, some with a small porch where you might enjoy your barbecue at weekends. You drive down main street — King’s Street — past neat gardens, grocery stores, medical facilities and a cinema.
While it looks like Smalltown USA, a typical American edge-of-town community, the residents call it The Camp. The name harks back to the area’s origins in the 1930s, when the Standard Oil Company of California — which was granted the concession to drill the oil reserves of the Dammam Dome — built a residential cluster to house the mainly American expatriates that had been shipped in to work on the nearby well.
Apart from the clapboard and porches, there are signs of a US military legacy all around the area.
“Apparently the only experience the Americans had of building in the desert came from their military bases in some parts of the USA. So it was built and operated according to army rules. The grocery stores are ‘commissaries,’ the restaurants are ‘dining halls,’” one young Saudi “Aramcon” explained.
Of course, the Al-Fayrouz cinema in the heart of The Camp predates the latest wave of cinema openings in the Kingdom. It has been around for decades, showing the latest Hollywood releases.
At the Community Heritage Gallery, Isobel Vail, the wife of a veteran Saudi Aramco worker, keeps alive the expat heritage of the company. She explains how the building that houses the beautifully displayed exhibits was one of the first built in The Camp, and was originally inhabited by the American doctor, TC Alexander, that the Aramco engineers and their wives insisted on.
That early clinic has since been superseded by the nearby John Hopkins Aramco Healthcare center, a medical facility for the 21st century.
Other parts of the camp are less Smallville suburbs, more barracks-style accommodation for engineers and rig workers. As the area expanded, the American planners realized that they needed some more basic accommodation for the growing blue-collar workforce.
These days, some expats still live and work in The Camp, but so do many Saudis, reflecting the change in the workplace demographic at Saudi Aramco over the decades. Residence there is in high demand, and awarded according to your pay grade at the sprawling headquarters building just down the road.


EU pledges to stay green in virus recovery

Updated 29 May 2020

EU pledges to stay green in virus recovery

  • To help economies from the 27-nation bloc bounce back as quick as possible

BRUSSELS: The European Commission pledged on Thursday to stay away from fossil-fueled projects in its coronavirus recovery strategy, and to stick to its target of making Europe the first climate neutral continent by the middle of the century, but environmental groups said they were unimpressed.

To weather the deep recession triggered by the pandemic, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a €1.85 trillion ($2 trillion) package consisting of a revised long-term budget and a recovery fund, with 25 percent of the funding set aside for climate action.

To help economies from the 27-nation bloc bounce back as quick as possible, the EU’s executive arm wants to increase a €7.5-billion ($8.25 billion) fund presented earlier this year that was part of an investment plan aiming at making the continent more environmentally friendly.

Under the commission’s new plan, which requires the approval of member states, the mechanism will be expanded to €40 billion ($44 billion) and is expected to generate another €150 billion in public and private investment. The money is designed to help coal-dependent countries weather the costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

Environmental group WWF acknowledged the commission’s efforts but expressed fears the money could go to “harmful activities such as fossil fuels or building new airports and motorways.”

“It can’t be used to move from coal to coal,” Frans Timmermans, the commission executive vice president in charge the European Green Deal, responded on Thursday. “It is unthinkable that support will be given to go from coal to coal. That is how we are going to approach the issue. That’s the only way you can ensure you actually do not harm.”

Timmermans conceded, however, that projects involving fossil fuels could sometimes be necessary, especially the use of natural gas to help move away from coal.

The commission also wants to dedicate an extra €15 billion ($16.5 billion) to an agricultural fund supporting rural areas in their transition toward a greener model.

Von der Leyen, who took office last year, has made the fight against climate change the priority of her term. Timmermans insisted that her goal to make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050 remained unchanged, confirming that upgraded targets for the 2030 horizon would be presented by September.

Reacting to the executive arm’s recovery plans, Greenpeace lashed out at a project it described as “contradictory at best and damaging at worst,” accusing the commission of sticking to a growth-driven mentality detrimental to the environment.

“The plan includes several eye-catching green `options,’ including home renovation schemes, taxes on single-use plastic waste and the revenues of digital giants like Google and Facebook. But it does not solve the problem of existing support for gas, oil, coal, and industrial farming — some of the main drivers of a mounting climate and environmental emergency,” Greenpeace said.

“The plan also fails to set strict social or green conditions on access to funding for polluters like airlines or carmakers.”

Timmermans said the EU would keep investing in the development of emission-free public transportation, and promoting clean private transport through the EU budget.