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Geography, climate and population
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a total area of about 2.15 million km2, is by far the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered in the north by Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait, in the east by the Persian Gulf with a coastline of 480 km, in the southeast and south by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen, and in the west by the Red Sea with a coastline of 1 750 km.
It can be divided into four main physiographic units:
- the Western Mountains, called the Arabian Shield, with the highest peak at 2 000 metres above sea level and crossed by deep valleys;
- the Central Hills, which run close to the western mountains and lie in the centre of the country. Their elevation ranges from 900 to 1 800 metres above sea level;
- the Desert Regions, which lie to the east of the Central Hills, with elevations ranging from 200 to 900 metres. Sand dunes are commonly found in these deserts;
- the Coastal Regions, which include the coastal strip along the Red Sea with a width of 16 to 65 km. The important part is the Tahama Plain in the south. The plain on the eastern side overlooks the Persian Gulf, is generally wide and includes the region of oases
The cultivable area has been estimated at 52.7 million ha, which is almost 25 percent of the total area. In 2005, the cultivated area was 1 213 586 ha, of which 1 011 923 ha consisted of annual crops and 201 663 ha of permanent crops (Table 1). The cultivated area in 2005 was 23 percent less than it was in 1992. The area under annual crops decreased by 33 percent, while the area covered by permanent crops increased by 111 percent.
Saudi Arabia lies in the tropical and subtropical desert region. The winds reaching the country are generally dry, and almost all the area is arid. Because of the aridity, and hence the relatively cloudless skies, there are great extremes of temperature, but there are also wide variations between the seasons and regions. In the central region, the summer (May to October) is overwhelmingly hot and dry, with maximum temperatures of over 50 ░C, while the winter is dry and cool with night temperatures close to freezing. There can be severe frost generally and even weeks of snow in the mountains. The western and eastern regions are hot and humid in the summer months, with maximum temperatures around 42 ░C, while the winters are warm. Prevailing winds are from the north and when they blow coastal areas become bearable in the summer and even pleasant in winter. The northwardly wind produces sand and dust storms that can decrease visibility to a few metres in some areas.
In the north, annual rainfall varies between 100 and 200 mm. Further in the south, except near the coast, annual rainfall drops below 100 mm. The higher parts of the west and south do, however, experience appreciable rainfalls and over some small areas 500 mm/year is not uncommon. Long-term average annual precipitation has been estimated at 245.5 km3/year, which is equal to 114 mm/year over the whole country.
The total population is 24.6 million (2005) of which 11.5 percent is rural (Table 1). In 2005, about 76 percent were estimated to be Saudi nationals. During the period 2000-2005, the annual demographic growth rate in Saudi Arabia was 2.7 percent.
In 2006, 97 percent of the urban population had access to improved water sources. In 2006, the whole urban population had access to improved sanitation.