What Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan has achieved at the five-year mark

What Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan has achieved at the five-year mark
Saudi Arabia’s then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled the vision 5 years ago. (SPA)
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Updated 30 April 2021

What Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan has achieved at the five-year mark

What Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan has achieved at the five-year mark
  • Experts say the programs have addressed structural challenges since the plan’s launch
  • Plans in the offing for transforming the Kingdom’s health sector among other targets

RIYADH: Five years ago, Saudi Arabia’s then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a strategic plan designed to transform the Kingdom’s economy, reduce its dependence on oil, and nurture a “vibrant society ... characterized by strong roots and strong foundations that emphasize moderate Islam, national pride, Saudi heritage and Islamic culture.”

On the same day, in an interview with Al Arabiya news channel, he talked about the Saudi government having targets, key performance indicators, and project management offices, thus charting a new course for a nation with 60 percent of its population aged under 35.

Five years on, in a review of Vision 2030’s results, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs highlighted on Tuesday the achievements covering the three major themes of “vibrant society,” “prosperous economy” and “ambitious nation.”

The council noted that access to emergency health services within 4 hours has improved from 36 percent when Vision 2030 was first inaugurated to 87 percent today. Better road management and enforcement has seen annual traffic accident fatalities fall to 13.5 deaths per 100,000, down from 28.8 when the reforms began.

The number of people participating in sports activities at least once a week has risen from 13 percent prior to the reforms to 19 percent in 2020.

“It helped develop sectors related to life quality, such as sports, entertainment, culture, tourism, and others,” Khalid Albaker, acting chief of marketing and communications at the Quality of Life Program, told Arab News.




Long dependent on oil exports, Saudi Arabia’s economy is now branching out. (AFP)

“It has also created job opportunities and diversified sources of income and contributed to GDP (gross domestic product).”

With regard to housing, the council noted that the number of homeowners has increased from 47 percent five years ago to 60 percent today as a result of more easily accessible housing assistance.

“This is in parallel with increasing the supply of housing units at reasonable prices, implementing programs specialized in securing housing for society’s underprivileged, developing and improving the legislative and regulative environment for the housing sector, and maximizing the sector’s impact on the overall economy,” Meshaal Al-Shammary, director of Housing VRP 2030’s studies and research department, told Arab News.

Separately, the number of heritage sites that can be visited in Saudi Arabia has risen from 241 in 2017 to 354 last year, creating new jobs in the tourism sector and contributing significantly to GDP, according to the council.




The number of heritage sites that can be visited in Saudi Arabia has risen from 241 in 2017 to 354 last year. (AFP)

To promote tourism, including religious pilgrimages to the Two Holy Mosques, the Kingdom has streamlined travel documentation. An Umrah visa, which previously took 14 days to process, can now be obtained within 5 minutes, while the tourist e-visa is just a few clicks away, according to the council.

During the same period, seven royal natural reserves to help preserve plant and animal species have been established.

As part of its commitment to combating climate change, the Kingdom has encouraged the concept of a circular carbon economy, adopted by the G20, and expanded its solar, hydrogen and ammonia projects.




One of the overriding goals of Vision 2030 is economic diversification. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia hopes to obtain 50 percenit of its energy capacity from renewables by 2030. This comes alongside the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, designed to boost vegetation, reduce carbon emissions, and combat pollution and land degradation.

On the financial front, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has doubled to approximately SR1.5 trillion in five years while foreign direct investment has increased from SR5.321 billion to SR17.625 billion.

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To simplify foreign investment, Vision 2030 has developed the financial sector, adding the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) to the emerging market indices MSCI and Standard & Poor’s Dow Jones.




non-oil GDP ratio rose from 55 percent in 2016 to 59 percent in 2020. (AFP)

With the establishment of the Fintech Saudi Center, the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) has become one of the 10 largest financial markets around the world, according to the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.

“The (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive impact on the speed of adoption of modern solutions and technologies in various financial transactions, especially in financial payments, lending and financing services,” Abdullah Al-Jaidan, a member of the National Committee for Information Technology and Communication at the Council of Saudi Chambers, told Arab News.

One of the overriding goals of Vision 2030 is economic diversification. Long dependent on oil exports, Saudi Arabia’s economy is now branching out. Its non-oil GDP ratio rose from 55 percent in 2016 to 59 percent in 2020. Non-oil revenues also rose from SR166 billion in 2015 to SR369 billion last year.

Saudi Arabia is now a digitally competitive nation. It is ranked sixth among the G20 states in the Global Cybersecurity Index of the International Telecommunication Union, having expanded connectivity from 1.2 million homes in 2017 to 3.5 million by 2020.

“Saudi innovation in digital payments wouldn’t be possible without a visionary investment in the entire information and communications technology infrastructure,” Ibrahim Al-Hudhaif, a business development specialist at Sulaiman Abdul Aziz Al-Rajhi Holding Co., told Arab News.

“Both residents and corporations in Saudi have benefited from well-established infrastructure. The majority of government transactions are made online, enhancing services delivery and easing business transactions.”

Through legislation designed to protect their personal and professional rights, workforce participation among Saudi women increased from 19.4 percent in 2017 to 33.2 percent in 2020.




Ibrahim Al-Hudhaif

The five years since the launch of Saudi Vision 2030 has also seen greater accessibility to public institutions and progress in the fight against corruption.

The total money recovered by the public treasury following anti-corruption settlements reached SR247 billion in the past three years, representing 20 percent of total non-oil revenues, in addition to tens of non-cash assets transferred to the finance ministry.
 




Workforce participation among Saudi women increased from 19.4 percent in 2017 to 33.2 percent in 2020. (AFP)

The council also said that law courts have become more effective and accessible, and a culture of accountability is becoming entrenched within government and among citizens.

Vision 2030 planners want to increase public participation and private-sector partnerships in the next phase, with plans in the offing for a health-sector transformation among other ambitious targets.

As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has noted, much more remains to be done on various fronts to achieve Vision 2030’s goals.


King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve gets 100,000 new trees

King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve gets 100,000 new trees
Updated 27 January 2022

King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve gets 100,000 new trees

King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve gets 100,000 new trees
  • Afforestation project at Rawdat Tinhat oasis is part of a goal to plant 5 million seedlings by 2025
  • Reserve was established in 2018 to preserve vulnerable and endangered plant and animal species

RIYADH: A major afforestation project is underway in Rawdat Tinhat, with 100,000 trees planted in the first phase alone.

The scheme is being handled by the Cooperative Society of Moringa and Desert Plants after being approved by the National Center for Vegetation Development and Combating Desertification and the King Abdulaziz Royal Reserve.

The reserve’s CEO Maher Al-Gothmi told Arab News that the aim was to plant 5 million trees by 2025.

Rawdat Tinhat is one of the largest green oases in the Arabian Peninsula into which several valleys flow. Located about 180 km north of Riyadh, within the royal reserve, it is home to many tree and plant species, including acacias and daisies.

The afforestation project is one of several agreed by the center with environmental associations to plant trees and shrubs in parks, valleys and other areas in the Riyadh, Qassim and Hail regions.

The projects reflect the center’s efforts to support nonprofit organizations and community partnerships, and align with its aim to increase green areas and reduce desertification, leading to sustainable development and improving quality of life as part of the Saudi Green Initiative.

The reserve is working with the Special Forces for Environmental Security and other groups to plant 500,000 seedlings in seven stages that will be irrigated using the water harvesting method. The 100,000 seedlings planted in the first phase included ghaf, talh, al-rimth and al-arfaj.

The royal reserve was established in 2018 to preserve vulnerable and endangered plant and animal species, and provide access to the environment and natural resources. It encompasses Al-Tanhat, Al-Khafs and Noura parks, as well as parts of the Al-Summan plateau and the Al-Dahna desert, and covers about 28,000 sq. km.

Al-Gothmi said the reserve was working to increase vegetation cover and reduce desertification through various initiatives, including the use of drones to disperse 300,000 seeds of the wild sidr plant as part of the “Let’s make it green” campaign.

Ibrahim Arif, an environmental expert and former professor of forest sciences at King Saud University, said that one of the most important factors in the afforestation process was maintenance.

As well as having a specialist team to undertake the planting work it was vital to implement a maintenance program to ensure the success of the afforestation process, he said.

A successful afforestation project was an investment that could provide not only a food source for wild animals, but also opportunities for beekeeping and other activities of economic value, he added.

Arif emphasized the importance of planting seedlings, rather than more developed trees, as they had more time to adapt to their new environment and could cope better with temperature changes.


Fire breaks out at industrial zone in Riyadh

Fire breaks out at industrial zone in Riyadh
Updated 27 January 2022

Fire breaks out at industrial zone in Riyadh

Fire breaks out at industrial zone in Riyadh
  • Firefighters are working to extinguish the flames

RIYADH: A fire has broken out in warehouses at an industrial zone in Riyadh, Saudi Civil Defense said on Thursday.

Firefighters are working to extinguish the flames, it added in a tweet.


Saudi Arabia announces ‘Founding Day’ as official holiday on Feb. 22

Saudi Arabia announces ‘Founding Day’ as official holiday on Feb. 22
Updated 27 January 2022

Saudi Arabia announces ‘Founding Day’ as official holiday on Feb. 22

Saudi Arabia announces ‘Founding Day’ as official holiday on Feb. 22
  • According to the royal decree, this will enable the public to celebrate Muhammad bin Saud’s successors.

RIYADH: King Salman on Thursday issued a royal order announcing that Feb. 22 will henceforth be known as Founding Day.

The new annual national holiday, which will be celebrated for the first time next month, has been created to recognize the foundation of the First Saudi State in 1727 by Imam Mohammed ibn Saud.

Ancestors of the Saudi royal family first settled alongside Wadi Hanifah in the 15th century, founding the city of Diriyah in 1446.

But it was the determination of Imam Mohammed in 1727 to transform the city state into a nation state, bringing peace and unity to the wider Arabian Peninsula, that two centuries later culminated in the foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by King Abdulaziz in 1932.

The significance of the year 1727 in the story of Saudi Arabia has become ever more apparent in the light of extensive research carried out by historians and archaeologists.

In 2010, such work led to the At-Turaif district of Diriyah, birthplace of the nation, being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a site of “outstanding universal value.”

Since then, research has continued under the auspices of King Abdulaziz Foundation for Reserach and Archives and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), which in 2017 began transforming Diriyah into a global heritage and cultural destination, with the historic site of At-Turaif at its heart.

“Many historians have neglected the initial period of Imam Mohammed ibn Saud’s rule and the preceding era, even though this was the foundational period of the state,” said Dr. Badran Al-Honaihen, associate director of historical research and studies at DGDA.

In 1446, Manaa' Al-Muraide, leader of the Marada clan of the Al-Duru tribe of the Banu Hanifah, led his people inland from their home near Qatif on the Gulf coast at the invitation of his cousin, Ibn Dir, the ruler of Hajr — modern-day Riyadh.

Wadi Hanifah, where they settled and where the city of Diriyah would later rise, was named after the Banu Hanifah.

Dr. Badran said Al-Muraide’s arrival “laid the building blocks for the establishment of the greatest state in the history of the Arabian Peninsula, after the Prophetic State and the Rashidun Caliphate.”

But another 300 years would pass before, in 1720, Saud ibn Mohammed assumed the leadership of Diriyah. In the process, he founded the House of Saud, but historians date the origin of the First Saudi State to 1727, when Saud’s son, Mohammed, became ruler of the city state.

His achievement, according to Dr. Badran, was even more remarkable because “he assumed power in exceptional circumstances.” Diriyah had been riven by internal divisions and plague had claimed many lives in the Najd. Nevertheless, “Imam Mohammed was able to unite Diriyah under his rule and to contribute to the spread of stability in the region,” he said.

Founding Day, Dr. Badran added, was not an alternative to National Day, which is celebrated every Sept. 23, but complementary to it.

“Founding Day is not intended to replace Saudi National Day, which celebrates the unification of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, but rather to recognize the beginning of the Saudi state’s history with a new event that celebrates the deep historical roots of the Kingdom.”


Saudi Arabia reports 4,738 new COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths

Saudi Arabia reports 4,738 new COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths
Updated 27 January 2022

Saudi Arabia reports 4,738 new COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths

Saudi Arabia reports 4,738 new COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 622,087
  • A total of 8,929 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced two deaths from COVID-19 and 4,738 new infections on Thursday.

Of the new cases, 1,559 were recorded in Riyadh, 573 in Jeddah, 189 in Dammam, 172 in Hofuf, 156 in Makkah, and 114 in Jazan. Several other cities recorded less than one hundred new cases each.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 622,087 after 4,973 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,929 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Over 56.2 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Adventurous family of expats share their voyages of discovery in Saudi Arabia

Adventurous family of expats share their voyages of discovery in Saudi Arabia
Updated 27 January 2022

Adventurous family of expats share their voyages of discovery in Saudi Arabia

Adventurous family of expats share their voyages of discovery in Saudi Arabia
  • Dale Shannon, his wife Jenny and son Noah have been exploring remote parts of the Kingdom for two years and now have 25,000 fans on YouTube who follow their exploits

JEDDAH: Intrepid expats Dale Shannon, his wife Jenny and their son Noah are on a mission to explore Saudi Arabia and reveal to the world the country’s natural beauty, incredible landscape and authentic culture.

They have been going on epic adventures that take them off the beaten track across the Kingdom for almost two years, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of friends they describe as “a united team.”

They film their trips and experiences, and Jenny edits the footage to create entertaining travelogues that are uploaded to the couple’s YouTube channel, called Epic Everyday Adventures. Launched in August 2020, it now has more than 25,000 subscribers and has become particularly popular with Saudi viewers.

“We are so humbled to know how viewers have been inspired by our travels through some of the most remote parts of Saudi Arabia,” Dale told Arab News. “With more than 45 videos of adventures, we have seen families and individuals alike find inspiration and education through sharing our story and experiences.”

Dale, a US national who works in the aerospace industry as an aircraft mechanic and advisor, said he came to the Kingdom in 2015 to experience life in another country and grow as a person. Jenny, a nurse from the Philippines, came to work in Saudi Arabia in 2009. The couple married in 2016 and Noah, was born in Tabuk in 2017. They said they fell in love not only with each other but also their adopted country.

Dale said he comes from a small town in the US and grew up camping and hiking. Jenny, on the other hand, who grew up in a city and wanted to experience the great outdoors.

“Being outdoors and exploring nature really creates some positive character traits and memories, and we wanted to share and create our own experiences with Noah and give him an opportunity to grow up with those amazing outdoor adventures,” said Dale.

Along the way, he added, they have made some great friends.

“One of the things that makes Saudi Arabia really pull on our hearts is how easy it is to meet new people and become real friends,” said Dale. “People here really seem to genuinely care about each other and are some of the most welcoming people we have been fortunate enough to experience.

“One of the things we enjoy the most about our YouTube channel is how many awesome people we have been able to meet here in Saudi Arabia and establish personal relationships with.

“People here really seem to genuinely care about each other and are some of the most welcoming people we have been fortunate enough to experience.”

The idea for exploring the length and breadth of Saudi Arabia came to the couple about two years ago, after s trip to AlUla.

“We had gone on a tour to AlUla in early 2020, around February,” said Dale. “We enjoyed the scenery and the places and the desert so much that after that trip we knew that we wanted to continue and explore more. So, definitely our AlUla experience was the turning point that motivated and inspired us to explore more.”

Shannon had some vacation time saved up and Jenny, who was by then a stay-at-home mom, learned how to become a videographer and editor to produce their YouTube videos. They also invested in proper equipment and a new vehicle suitable for off-road exploring and began their adventure of a lifetime.

“After our AlUla trip, we bought some gear and changed our vehicle to a proper off-road exploring vehicle, a Nissan Patrol Super Safari, and we slowly started exploring the Kingdom.

“We fell in love with the landscapes, the open-air museum of history you find here and the hospitality and friendliness of the people of all areas … and then we started exploring. We just became naturally curious to see and know more.”

Venturing into the desert wilderness is not easy and requires a financial investment. As their videos grew in popularity the Shannons last year joined Patreon, a platform that provides content creators with the tools to build a subscription service for fans of their work. For the Shannons, it means that people who enjoy their videos can contribute toward the costs of creating future content. They said that about 70 percent of their supporters on Patreon are Saudi.

“We are so thankful for their support and hope to grow our small Patreon family so we can continue these adventures,” said Dale.

“It is expensive to take trips as much as we do. We don’t have any sponsors or anything like that, so up until recently we financed our own adventures so that we could continue sharing our experiences here in Saudi Arabia. We are thankful for the support of our small Patreon family.”

There have been some challenging moments during the family’s adventures, including a worrying incident during a journey through Al-Nafud Al-Kabir (The Great Desert) this month, when they were accompanied by other members of their team.

“We had prepared for this trip six months in advance,” said Dale. “This was the final leg of our overlanding trip. The terrain is difficult and full of sand dunes. We entered the desert just north of Hail and drove about 230km into the desert through the sand dunes. There was no cell service.

“We camped for three nights and drove for three days. The trip through the desert consumed most of our fuel and for some, all of their fuel.

“The stress you face and the quick decisions that have to be made are really challenging but, at the end of the day, it is so rewarding. I am happy our overlanding team trusted me enough to let me lead the expedition through Al-Nafud.”

His family has done so much traveling in the Kingdom during the past two years that Shannon said it is hard to keep count of their destinations.

“I am not exactly sure on the number of places we visited, but we drive everywhere we go and we have driven from Haql in the northwest all the way down to Fayfa in the south, and everywhere in between,” he said. “We have been from Hail down to Riyadh and in between. We hope to get enough time in the future to make it to the north and the east of the Kingdom.”

Wherever they have traveled in Saudi Arabia, Shannon said he has never felt concerned for the safety of his family.

“I mention this on many occasions in our videos because in comparison to most places I have been around the world, it’s extremely safe here and this is part of the reason we feel so comfortable exploring here,” he said.

In fact the most difficult aspect of the experience in Saudi Arabia so far has been language barrier.

“It would be really great to be able to learn Arabic,” he added.

Both Shannon and his wife said they adapted easily to life in Saudi Arabia after leaving their home countries behind.

“We found it to be quite easy transitioning to living in a foreign country,” he said. “I think part of the reason is because we had set our minds that this is what we wanted to do, but also because we both really fell in love with the people and the culture here in Saudi Arabia — those two things made the transition extremely easy.”

Asked if he had any advice for newcomers to the Kingdom or people considering moving there, Shannon said: “My advice to others moving to Saudi Arabia is always to come with an open mind, embrace the culture and the people, and once you arrive and settle in, go out there and meet people and get to know the people of Saudi Arabia. It will be one of the best things you have ever done.”