National Geographic : 1952 Dec
Boom Time in Kuwait An Obscure Persian Gulf Sheikdom, Enriched by Oil, Uses Its Wealth to Improve the Lot of All Its People BY PAUL EDWARD CASE TNa sun-scorched corner of the Arabian desert I have been watching a revolu -tion in progress. It is a peaceful revolution. The only com bat involved is that of man versus his ancient adversaries: time, distance, climate. Man is winning, and his prize is oil-mil lions of barrels of oil from one of the richest pools in the world. The scene is Kuwait, a British-protected Sheikdom on the northwest rim of the Persian Gulf. Slightly smaller than New Jersey, it comprises about 6,000 square miles and has Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and a Neutral Terri tory as neighbors (map, page 787). From approximately 135 wells the Kuwait Oil Company, Ltd., is producing about 800, 000 barrels of oil daily. Gulf Oil Corporation and Anglo-Iranian Oil Company jointly own the operating concern. Kuwait's total proved reserves-oil still in the ground-are 16,000,000,000 barrels, or roughly half the total reserves of the United States. Kuwait Suddenly Becomes Rich Most dramatic effect of this bonanza is the sudden fattening of Kuwait's income at the rate of an estimated $150,000,000 a year-the Sheikdom's 50-percent share of Kuwait Oil Company profits. By dynastic law this windfall goes into the hands of the absolute ruler, His Highness Abdullah as Salim as Subah, who thus be comes one of the world's richest men (pages 791 and 800). If he chose to spend it on yachts, palaces, or racing stables, or just keep it under his bed, no one could say him nay. But His Highness has elected to use his vast wealth for the good of all his people. Through an ambitious program of public works the ruler has started the construction of a model community in an ancient and neglected region of the world. In all my years as a resident of the Near East, I have never witnessed a greater trans formation. Until a few years ago the obscure Sheik dom's 170,000 inhabitants quietly occupied themselves with the time-honored pursuits of pearling, fishing, seafaring, and shipbuilding. The capital, also called Kuwait, was known chiefly as a junction of caravan routes and as home port of deep-water sailing dhows. Fortunate geographical position and easy customs regulations give Kuwait a brisk traffic in many kinds of goods flowing between Eu rope, Asia, and Africa. Now, after centuries as a placid trading center, Kuwait has become a mushrooming boom town, just as has hap pened frequently in America's petroleum-rich Southwest. On the streets, Arabs in flowing robes slip along silently beside Americans and Europeans in business suits or work-stained khaki. Ac cents of Texas and Oklahoma, London and Zirich mingle with guttural Arabic. Camels and donkeys, once lords of the road, step warily lest they tangle with American cars, trucks, and earth-moving machines. In the harbor the ancient dhows rock in the wash of passing tankers. Flow Increased after Iran Shutdown The curtain rose on the Kuwait drama in 1936 when a well was drilled near Al Bahara, north of the port across Kuwait Bay. It was a dry hole, a failure. Within two years opera tions were begun in the Burgan area, to the south, and the result was a steady succession of producers. Activities were suspended in 1942, because of the war, and resumed in the latter part of 1945. After Iran shut down its Abadan production in 1951, thereby denying the United Kingdom one of its chief oil sources, Kuwait's output was increased from a little more than 450,000 barrels a day to its present 800,000.* In the Neutral Territory south of Kuwait American companies have completed several test wells. Results have not been announced. If this field should prove a producer, it would mean even more riches for Sheik Abdullah Salim. He and Saudi Arabia's King Abdul Aziz al Saud jointly own the Neutral Territory. All is hustle and bustle now within and beyond the crumbling old wall that surrounds three sides of Kuwait. Shiny new sedans glide through the widened gates. Trucks and trailers thunder in and out. Kuwait dashes to work in the tempo of Times Square. There is little time for the old greeting at the gate, and hardly any for the former ever-ready cup of spiced coffee. The Kuwait Oil Company has 7,165 men on its payroll. About 750 English and Ameri * See "Journey into Troubled Iran," by George W. Long, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1951.