Cautious Growth

Cautious Growth

Hisham Youssef, AIA, discusses why Qatar must look beyond the World Cup in 2022

Qatar seems to be all the buzz in the design and construction sectors these days, with major design firms flocking to this small Gulf country to pluck lucrative projects.

Qatar is witnessing an unprecedented construction boom in the wake of winning the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. In preparation, Qatar must construct at least all the facilities required for the games, and the supporting infrastructure.

Prior to winning the 2022 bid, Qatar had already unveiled its Qatar National Vision 2030 in July 2008, and is completing in 2011 a master plan for Doha led by the Urban Planning and Development Authority (UPDA) in concert with other authorities.

Doha has committed approximately US$100bn over the next five to seven years towards this ambitious effort.

This will go towards building nine World Cup stadia, renovating another three, a road and transit infrastructure linking several cities, a new rail system, airport, and a new 40-kilometre causeway connecting Qatar and Bahrain.

In anticipation of the tourism traffic, Qatar also plans to double its hotel and apartment units to about 84,000. To understand the scale of what Qatar is embarking on, imagine that most, if not all, of these sites are currently just desert with a few cranes.

Qatar is a rich country. The Qatari government earns about 70% of its revenue from petroleum and natural gas reserves.

This is, however, subject to OPEC controls and price fluctuations. This may not seem like an issue for the next several years – the supplies are expected to last another 20 years only. However, a more sustainable strategy for the use of the facilities, including the 80,000-plus hotel rooms, and retention of people, is in order.

While this is all well and good for most of us in the design and construction business, the scale of the development effort begs the question, what happens after the World Cup? Unlike Saudi Arabia and the construction boom it is witnessing, Qatar is a small country of 1.5 million people with local Qataris making up only 20% of this population.
The rest are non-indigenous, and are mostly there due to the construction industry.

Qatar plans to develop the country into a major tourism hub to put to good use the hotel rooms being developed for the World Cup. This seems somewhat ambitious.

The World Cup will put Qatar on the world map, and attract many to this tiny country, but is that enough? Qatar is well advised to consider other sources to attract businesses and people, by developing non petroleum-related revenue-producing industries. This is more sustainable and would best serve the country’s growth ambitions in the long run.

Qatar may be well positioned, with all the necessary funding, to undertake the challenge of preparing for the World Cup, but it remains to be seen if Doha has learned from elsewhere in the region regarding how to develop its economy in a sustainable way.

Hisham Youssef AIA, is an architect at Gensler, responsible for projects in Egypt and North Africa. He is also a board director of the AIA Middle East chapter.

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