Qatar must make brave decisions

25 October 2016

Close to $50bn-worth of infrasructure projects under way

Qatar is in a unique situation delivering the largest infrastructure projects imaginable as the oil prices hit their lowest levels in years and are forecast to stay there within the foreseeable future.

Close to $49bn-worth of transport infrastructure projects primarily road and rail are currently under execution across the country. Roughly 1.3 per cent of the state’s 2.6 million population is working on site for the metro and tram construction.

And there is a strong urgency to push ahead with the expansion of the Hamad International airport, whose capacity of 30 million passengers a year has been exceeded last year, less than two years since it opened.

The rail and airport projects tend to get the most attention because of the involvement of multinational consultants and contractors, apart from their expected contribution to Qatar’s economy and in raising the country’s profile in the international community.

The Doha Metro is expected to generate $148bn in net economic benefit and take 190,000 cars off the road everyday reducing daily CO2 release by 160 tons a day. The airport will support Qatar Airways’ bid to expand - the airline has 329 aircraft on order - and foster a regional travel hub to compete with Dubai’s.

Unknown to many, the largest portion of work under construction in Qatar are the roads, streets and related utilities, which together account for more than $28bn of ongoing infrastructure projects in the country, according to MEED Projects data.

The award of several packages for the $15bn Expressway Project in recent weeks underpins the commitment to deliver world-class infrastructure in time or prior to 2022, when the country hosts the Fifa World Cup. The official narrative, however, is that these investments, and billions more coming, actually align with the country’s long-term economic development plan. The holding of the World Cup just happens to coincide within the specified delivery time frame of the Qatar National Vision 2030.

The immovable timeline for all projects that are related to the staging of the World Cup – airport terminal that caters to an additional 1 million visitors during the 28-day event, metro that caters to visitors and residents moving from one stadium to another, among others – guarantees many pressure points among the government agencies involved in delivering these projects.

The first phase of the Hamad International airport, for instance, was completed six years behind schedule. Such delay cannot be tolerated in the next phase of the project, which aims to add a capacity of 20 million passengers a year to the existing airport.

Qatar Rail dealt with major challenges such as the flooding in 2015 that temporary halted work on the Red Line North section. It also terminated the original consortium for the major train stations at Msheireb and Education City this year and has retendered the package.

The most challenging stage for the tunnelling work of the Doha Metro is about to be completed and it will soon enter an equally difficult next phase that involves installing the systems - power distribution, tracks, tunnel ventilation, signalling and telecoms - to create the automated metro system.

While the overall economic environment in delivering these projects can be seen as less than agreeable, the country has no option but to stick to commitments it made when the environment was totally different than what it is today. This will require the government to make a lot of brave and perhaps unpopular decisions over the coming three years.


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