Finding Out About...
  Australia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates

Geography - Overview

Australia is the smallest continent, and the largest island. It contains a variety of climates, from wet tropical in the north, to deserts in the centre and west, to Mediterranean in the south-east. Originally inhabited by Aboriginal people, European colonisation began in 1788 with the establishment of a British jail settlement. Later free settlement, mainly from the United Kingdom but also from southern Europe and China, saw the expansion of the population, mainly along the south-east coast.

Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are part of the Arabian Peninsula. This is a peninsula in Southwest Asia at the junction of Africa and Asia consisting mainly of desert. The Arabian peninsula is an important part of the greater Middle East, and plays a critically important geopolitical role due to its vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

The coasts of the peninsula touch, on the (south)west, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba; on the south(eastern) coast, the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean); and on the northeast, the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf.

Its northern limit is defined by the Zagros collision zone, a mountainous uplift where a continental collision between the Arabian plate and Asia is occurring. Geographically, it merges with the Syrian Desert with no clear line of demarcation.

Politically, the Arabian peninsula is separated from the rest of Asia by the northern borders of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The following countries are considered part of the peninsula:

*  Bahrain
*  Kuwait
*  Oman
*  Qatar
*  Saudi Arabia
*  United Arab Emirates
*  Yemen

With the exception of Yemen, these countries (called the Arab Gulf states) are among the wealthiest in the world in relation to their small populations, thanks to their hydrocarbon reserves.

The country of Saudi Arabia covers the greater part of the Peninsula. The majority of the population of the peninsula lives in Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. The peninsula contains the world's largest reserves of oil. It is home to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which are in Saudi Arabia. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are economically the wealthiest in the region.

The peninsula is thought to have been the original homeland of the Proto-Semitic peoples, ancestors of all the Semitic peoples in the region — the Akkadians, Arabs, Assyrians, Hebrews, etc. Linguistically, the Peninsula was the cradle of the Arabic language (spread beyond the Peninsula with the Islamic religion during the expansion of Islam beginning in the 7th century CE) and still maintains tiny populations of speakers of South Semitic languages such as Mehri and Shehri, remnants of a language family that held greater importance in earlier historical periods when the kingdom of Sheba flourished in the southern part of the peninsula (modern-day Yemen and Oman).

Geographically, the peninsula consists of:

  • a central plateau with fertile valleys and pastures used for the grazing of sheep and other livestock
  • a range of deserts, the Nefud in the north, stony; the Rub' Al-Khali or Great Arabian Desert, a perfect Sahara, in the south, with sand estimated to extend 600 ft. below the surface; and between them, the Dahna
  • stretches of dry or marshy coastland with coral reefs on the Red Sea side
  • ranges of mountains, primarily paralleling the Red Sea on the western (e.g. Asir province) and southeastern end (Oman). The highest, Jabal Al-Nabi Sho'aib in Yemen, is 3666 m high.


The peninsula has no lakes or permanent rivers, only wadis, which are dry except during the brief rainy season. Plentiful ancient aquifers exist beneath much of the peninsula, however, and where this water surfaces, oases form (e.g. the Al-Hasa and Qatif oases) and permit agriculture. The climate being extremely hot and arid, the peninsula has no forests, although desert-adapted wildlife is present throughout the region.

back to top