Towards a development strategy : the role of small towns in urbanization and rural development planning in Jizan province, Saudi Arabia
One of the most striking features of the spatial pattern of development in most developing countries is the wide difference between what occurs in urban areas and rural areas, particularly in those countries which have made a rapid transition from a traditional agriculturally based economy to a modern oil-based economy. The differences can be seen in the high concentration of development services in the larger urban centres, and the overshadowing of the larger rural areas. Obviously, the residents of urban centres not only enjoy high incomes, but they also have greater opportunities to use services and facilities than does the overwhelming majority of the rural population who live in scattered villages and hamlets. Jizan province as a rural area provides a classical example as is reflected by the wide gap in the spatial pattern of development in Saudi Arabia, not only between the province and the rest of the country, but also between the urban centres and rural areas within the province. In fact, this area is characterized by rich natural resources, particularly for agricultural development, as well as by a high population density. However, it is still one of the backward areas in the country, and it is characterized by traditional subsistence methods of agriculture, low incomes, low standards of living, and a high rate of rural emigration to urban areas for better jobs and social services. Recently, the development plans have initiated a system of urban development centres in the hope that the wide gap between regions and urban and rural areas will be reduced. Unfortunately, this strategy has clearly proven inadequate in providing a comprehensive regional development policy to solve the rural problems and stimulate the rural economy in the province. It is important to note that agriculture is the basic and predominant activity of the rural population in this area. Therefore, the development of this sector is not only desirable but also feasible for the purpose of making rural areas economically and socially more attractive by increasing farmers' incomes, and creating work opportunities as well as improving other sectors that depend on agricultural products. However, agricultural development by itself is not a sufficient basis for rural development that will encourage farmers to stay in their villages. This sector should be provided with support services that enhance the quality of life such as education, health care, water, and electricity supplies. In order to achieve the rural development objectives, the regional development policy in the province should be broken down, by an extension of the urban settlement hierarchy, to include the role •Ssmall towns. Since the larger urban centres have not generated the development process in rural areas, the small towns may play a positive and effective role in the provision of economic and social services in remote areas as rural service centres. This indeed is the main aim of the study. The structure of the study is divided into three parts. The first part demonstrates the theoretical framework of the development strategies, and their failure in relation to rural development. It also discusses the role of small towns as an alternative policy for rural development. Moreover, the spatial pattern of development in Saudi Arabia was also examined. The second part provides a comprehensive geographical analysis of Jizan province. Physical environment, socio-economic conditions, and rural settlement patterns are discussed in order to provide a general perspective of information about the study area. The rural problems that relate to agricultural development and the provision of public and community services are also examined. Indeed, these analyses show that the rural problems range from inadequate provision of services where they exist, to a complete absence of services and facilities in larger rural areas. This part also examines urbanization and the urban and rural relationship in order to see how the role of small towns could provide an appropriate extension of the urban hierarchy within the existing urban system. The third part of the study deals with the policy of small towns as a planning tool for solving rural problems. Factor analysis has been used for classification of small towns. This method shows that the rural market centres have a great potential for accelerating the development process as central places. Programmes and implementation policies to establish the new role of small towns are discussed at the end of this part.