National Geographic : 1975 Oct
contracts for nearly eight billion dollars' worth of military construction, while U. S. Government teams work on a joint economic commission with the Saudi Arabians to pro vide technical assistance. But other nationals jam Riyadh's hotels Germans, French, Japanese, British. One American grumbled: "The Japanese send 40 man delegations; they stay awhile, then leave. You wonder what they do-are they just fishing?" So countless feasibility studies are commissioned, countless letters of intent ini tialed; but many fewer contracts are signed. Ambitious Plans Loom Like a Mirage On one of my last journeys in Saudi Arabia, I visited the fishing village of Jubail, the planned hub of the nation's biggest industrial complex. It seemed a near-ghost town. The streets were empty, many houses deserted; the dhows lay like tilted sea gulls on the mud flats of low tide. For some years Jubail's in habitants have drifted off for jobs in the re fineries and larger surrounding towns. There were a few signs of change-con struction machines rumbling in the distance, wooden stakes marking off sites in the desert. But it was difficult to envision the quarter of a million housing units planned for workers, the dozens of plants. Can the Saudis do it? Will they do it? "Historically," one banker said, "they have been better at talking than at performance." So the world waits as businessmen come and go, their briefcases crammed with intent. For precedent in the handling of vast sur pluses, Saudi Arabia and its neighbors look to Kuwait. That state has been grappling with the problem for 25 years. Kuwait may be described as 6,000 square miles of desert, under which lies a natural oil tank, and on top of which sits a large modern city, its growth marked by a succession of six ring roads. Oil-development work is essen tially complete-the exploration finished, ma chinery and pipe in place, even the lifting pressure provided generously by nature. This year the Kuwaitis took over 100-percent con trol of the Kuwait Oil Company from Gulf and British Petroleum. All they have to do to Real sand, fake sky form a simulated set ting for Bedouin brought in from the desert to perform traditional dances for a local color telecast in Abu Dhabi. reap the profits from 2.3 million barrels of oil a day is to turn the valves, filling three or four tankers each 24 hours. Last year that gush of oil provided Kuwait with eight billion dollars in revenue. From the beginning, Kuwait's rulers have poured money into social services: free tele phones, free houses, food subsidies, bonuses to parents who send their children to school, free medical care, including-for those who are not satisfied with local facilities-accom panied travel to England for treatment. As the revenues continue to grow, benefits expand. The government has budgeted 750 million over the next five years for middle income housing-including three-room high rise flats for young marrieds who want to escape the traditional pattern of several generations living together.