A country with a bulging budget surplus is best placed to commit to new construction projects
Qatar is the desert emirate in the northern Arabian Gulf whose wealth allows it to punch above the weight of both its landmass and population. Holding the world’s third-largest reserves of natural gas at 907.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf), Qatar has a population of barely 840,000, rising to 1.5 million if foreign residents are included. Among the world’s wealthiest nations, Qatar’s per capita GDP reached £56,761 last year.
Soaring world oil prices between 2003 and 2008 allowed Qatar to achieve an annual budget surplus of some £20 billion. These reserves are shielding Qatar against the global downturn in project finance, and it continues to invest heavily in infrastructure. According to the project tracker service run by Construction News sister title, Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), Qatar had nearly £86 billion of construction projects underway this month.
Qatar aims to create downstream industries and to diversify into non-oil sectors. “Qatar may be the largest exporter of LNG [liquefied natural gas], but there is growing recognition that it does not necessarily make sense to export all your resources when you can add value,” says one British businessman. “Qatar has launched industrial projects at Ras Laffan and Mesaieed to boost its export earnings.
“It would be misleading to suggest that Qatar is recession-proof. But when international oil prices hit $150 a barrel, the government pursued conservative spending policies - there were no flights of fancy - so it now has reserves that allow it to take a longer-term approach to investment than is feasible in the UK or US.”
Four transport megaprojects are underway in Qatar with a combined value of £13.9 billion.
MEED Projects lists £5.8 billion of construction contracts allocated by New Doha International Airport (NDIA) steering committee to the country’s second airport. Consultant Bechtel is overseeing 17 smaller contracts. NDIA will handle 12.5 million passengers a year under phase one, from 2009, rising to 24 million passengers by 2015. Doha International Airport is expanding capacity from four to 7.2 million passengers a year while NDIA is under construction.
New Doha Port is finally moving forward after plans to build on reclaimed urban land were scrapped in favour of a site 35km south of the capital near Mesaieed. In November, Worley Parsons Qatar was appointed project consultant.
In February, Danish consultancy COWI started environmental impact studies. The £4.5 billion project will have five general cargo berths, four container berths, a ro-ro (roll-on, roll-off) berth and livestock berth and offices. Phase one will open in 2014, initial capacity of two million twenty-foot equivalent units (teu) a year rising to six million teu by 2030.
One of Qatar’s most ambitious projects is the 45km Friendship Causeway to Bahrain. Valued at £2.9 billion, work is due to start this year. Halcrow is advising the winning consortium led by Qatari Diar and Hochtief.
Last August, Qatar awarded the £700 million consultancy contract to Deutsche Bahn to design the multi-billion pound Qatar Railways Project freight and passenger network.
Government investment arm Qatari Diar is planning an east coast freight and passenger line between Ras Laffan, Doha and Mesaieed, a high-speed link between NDIA, Doha and - via the causeway -Bahrain, and cross-border rail links to Saudi Arabia and the GCC neighbouring states beyond.
Qatar is positioning itself as a destination for meetings, incentive travel, conferences and exhibitions (MICE), and for sports and health tourism. Qatar Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (QTEA) is targeting 20 percent growth in visitors to 2013, up from a million last year.
One of the largest tourism ventures is Qatari Diar’s £1 billion Doha Convention Centre and Tower. This year, global hotel chains Hyatt and Marriott will open more than 700 rooms. Tanmiyat Real Estate will open the 71-storey Swiss Deluxe Grand Hotel and serviced apartments, bringing 234 rooms and 192 buy-to-let serviced apartments on stream in 2010.
Qatar is developing Education City as a centre of excellence to attract global business schools, universities and biomedical research companies.
Six universities have signed up so far. Education City is the brainchild of royal consort Sheikha Mozah bin Nasser Al Missned, whose Qatar Foundation is investing £1.6 billion in a teaching hospital for Weill-Cornell Medical College and £213 million in Qatar Science & Technology Park.
Education City’s convention centre for 7,000 delegates will be the Middle East’s largest. The £434 million centre features two 250-metre steel sidra trees designed by Arata Isozaki of Japan.
Reducing dependence on oil and gas is central to Qatar’s development strategy. One of the largest industrial projects underway is the £3.8 billion Qatalum aluminium project, due to open at year-end. Initial capacity of 585,000 tonnes of aluminium a year will increase to 1.2 million tonnes in 2010.