Saudi Arabia’s Indigenous Population’s Vulnerability to Climate Change

Unlike most countries, Saudi Arabia has not been colonized and has no ethnic minorities. All of the population of modern-day Saudi Arabia are direct descendants of its original Arab inhabitants. There are however various tribes and sub-divisions of Arabs, some of whom are more vulnerable to climate change than others, such as the Bedouins and coastal fishing communities.

Saudi Arabia’s population is composed mainly of Arabs, who live in one of the 5 main historical regions: Najd, Hijaz, Asir, Tihamah, and Al-Ahsa, the regions of which were founded on what was formerly known as the Kingdom of Hejaz and Najd. As of the 2010 census, the Saudi population tallies up to 19,335,377, or 74.1% of the total population. Saudi nationals work in a variety of sectors, with public administration, defence, and social security being the top 3 sectors in which Saudis are engaged. Saudi nationals have a growing awareness of the potential negative consequences of climate change, such as rising temperatures, extreme heatwaves, and flooding, which most Saudis have firsthand experience with, although there is a lingering sense of skepticism among the general public towards climate change, with some believing that it is not a pressing issue or that it is not caused by human activities.

The Saudis that are most impacted by climate change are those who in some way rely on the environment for their livelihood, such as the Bedouin and the fishermen of the Eastern Province. The frequency and intensity of droughts have led to a scarcity of water and vegetation, which has had a significant impact on the Bedouin communities that rely on livestock herding. Fishermen have seen significant changes in the distribution and abundance of fish due to rising temperatures and changes in ocean currents, which has made it more difficult for them to make a living from fishing.

In addition, the loss of traditional ecological knowledge due to climate change has impacted indigenous communities’ cultural practices and identities. Changes in climate and environmental conditions have led to the loss of some traditional practices and knowledge, as well as reduced access to traditional foods and medicines.

Saudi indigenous communities have taken a range of actions to fight back against the impact of climate change. One example of such efforts is the Bedouin community’s use of traditional water harvesting techniques, such as constructing terraces and dams to capture rainwater, and the use of underground wells, called falaj, to access groundwater. These practices have helped the Bedouin to cope with droughts and water scarcity, which have become more frequent due to climate change.

In addition, some indigenous communities have been involved in sustainable resource management practices, such as the use of traditional fishing techniques that minimize the impact on marine ecosystems, and the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar power, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Indigenous communities have also been advocating for policies to address the root causes of climate change, such as reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy sources. For example, the Bedouin community has been involved in lobbying for the protection of natural habitats and the conservation of biodiversity in Saudi Arabia. Overall, the effectiveness of these efforts in fighting back against the impact of climate change on indigenous communities in Saudi Arabia has been mixed. While some initiatives have been successful in building resilience and promoting sustainability, many communities still face significant challenges in adapting to the impacts of climate change, such as water scarcity and loss of traditional knowledge. Additionally, more action is needed at the policy level to address the root causes of climate change and support the adaptation and resilience of indigenous communities.

Although Saudi Arabia has taken great strides in its Vision 2030 initiative to combat climate change and preserve the environment, none of the initiatives specifically address protecting and aiding the most vulnerable indigenous people, namely the Bedouin and fishermen mentioned. Efforts mostly center around renewable energy projects, protecting endangered areas and species, and creating livable green cities. Assistance can be improved by enacting programs that specifically target and aid the most vulnerable indigenous populations.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Saudi Arabia Country Managers Amgad Ellaboudy and Abeer Abdulkareem


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