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Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, Fatima and her family rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Despite the extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much a part of life in Riyadh as wealth.Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, Fatima and her family rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi children play on old furniture outside of the home where they live in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
One of twelve children living in a house where Yayeh Mussawa rents with his family plays in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudis beg in a line on a street known to locals as 'the beggers' street,' in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi children do dishes and live in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Selma Saleh, a poor Saudi woman, sits on her bed in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Matara stands with her two boys next to a sink without water, where she lives in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
A young man begs on the streets in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi citizens rest after presenting Saudi Billionaire HRH Prince al Waleed bin Talal with petitions for his help at a desert camp outside of Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Young Saudi women pray in a friend's home before going out to dinner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 25, 2013.  Though statistics are difficult to confirm, youth unemployment and poverty are on the rise in Saudi Arabia.  While society is increasingly open to women in the workforce, there are still limited jobs in which women and men can work side by side.  There are a great number of highly educated Saudis who can not find work suitable for their qualifications.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
A Saudi woman bids on an Arabian Horse at an auction outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi men pray at dusk at a camel market outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudis stand around after an auction for Arabian Horses at a club outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, S
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Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
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Rich Nation, Poor People: Saudi Arabia by Lynsey Addario

May 23, 2013

With its vast oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest concentrations of super rich households in the world. But an estimated 20 percent of the population, if not more, lives in crippling poverty. Beggars panhandle in the shadows of Riyadh’s luxury shopping malls, and just a few kilometers away families struggle to get by in the capital’s southern slums. While the government has finally acknowledged that poverty is a problem in the kingdom, the world of the Saudi poor is largely hidden from sight (to read more, see the new article on Saudi Arabia in the international edition of TIME, available to subscribers here).

Accessing this world is a difficult undertaking for foreign journalists, granted only with the assistance of a few dedicated social workers who risk government opprobrium to expose the realities of life lived on the margins. The Saudi state offers free health care and education, but little in the way of income assistance or food stamps. Many poor Saudi families rely on handouts from private citizens instead. Muslims are expected to give a portion of their annual income to charity, and many go beyond the bare minimum. Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s richest investor, estimates that he has given several billions of dollars in charity over the past 30 years, much of it wired directly to the accounts of petitioners who apply to his office for assistance with paying back loans, buying a car or getting married. It’s not necessary, but most of those supplicants visit the prince in person as part of a weekly ritual dating back to the early days of the al Saud dynasty. They line up to deliver their requests. Several pause to recite poems in praise of his generosity. The government has pledged to eradicate poverty, but it is a difficult and long-term undertaking made all the more complex by a rapidly growing population and a paucity of jobs.

Lynsey Addario is a photographer based in London and a frequent contributor to TIME.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East bureau chief for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @arynebaker.

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