Game changer

With one eye on the 2022 World Cup and the other on a host of large planned infrastructure projects, Doha’s much-needed new port is slowly taking shape. Published in The Gulf, September 2013

A large hole is slowly emerging in Qatar, which will eventually be some 3.8 kilometres in length, 700 metres wide and 17 metres deep. Since it began work in January 2011, China Harbour Engineering Company has been digging out the port basin which will form the main part of the New Doha Port, half way between the Qatari capital and the southern town of Messaieed.

Not far away a channel is being created by the local Middle East Dredging Company which will provide access to the new port as well as to the naval base that will sit alongside it. Some 45,000 cubic metres of material is being scooped up from the seafloor each day, which will be used as reclamation fill for the navy’s new home. Back on dry land, enabling work for the container terminal began in March this year.

It is, by any definition, a huge project. The entire site covers an area of more than 26 square km and the project is budgeted to cost a total of QR27 billion ($7.4 billion), with the port alone costing about QR19 billion of that. Once it is complete it should provide Qatar with a world-class facility for both container traffic and general cargo, with an initial ability to handle up to two million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) as well as 500,000 vehicles, 750,000 livestock and one million tonnes of bulk grain a year.

As well as the new naval base there will also be an industrial zone surrounding the port. This Qatar Economic Zone 3 is designed to provide a home to manufacturing, logistics and trade businesses working in a number of industrial sectors.

The project’s size is matched by its importance for the local economy. Trade is the lifeblood of Qatar, so ensuring it has the right sort of transport infrastructure to allow its exports to leave and imports to enter is critical. It is widely acknowledged within the country that the existing Doha Port, which lies uncomfortably close to the city centre, is congested and no longer sufficient for the needs of a fast expanding economy.

“The new port is important and it is needed,” says Mohammed Moabi, assistant general manager for economics, financial analysis and research at Qatar National Bank (QNB). “It is a significant size and will benefit the country for decades to come. Without it there will be bottlenecks.”

“Qatar needs a lot of building supplies and my understanding is that at the moment they can’t get everything they need into the country except via Saudi Arabia,” adds another local observer in Doha.

The project dates back to at least June 2007 when the then Amir, Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, issued a decree which set the scheme in motion. The first tender was awarded that year, when UK-based consultancy Scott Wilson was handed a QR19.6 million contract to decide on the best location and layout of the planned port. But the project took on added significance in December 2010 when Qatar won the competition to host the 2022 football World Cup.

The new port will play a critical role in allowing all of the building materials that are needed for the stadia and other related facilities to enter the country. But that will only provide part of the demand. Qatar is halfway through a massive investment programme to develop a number of major infrastructure projects, including a metro system for the capital, a national rail network, a new international airport and improvements to the country’s water and electricity networks.

QNB says that $183 billion-worth of investments are due to be made by the government between 2011 and 2016 as part of the National Development Strategy (NDS) and, of that, as much as $72 billion will be going into infrastructure projects. That helps to explain why consultancy firm EC Harris recently ranked Qatar as the second most attractive country in the world for infrastructure investment, after Singapore.

The first phase of the new port should be operational by 2016 which represents a slight delay on the 2015 deadline set out in the NDS. Even so the country should still have ample time to bring in all the building materials it needs for the 2022 tournament, although any further delays could cause problems. That looming and immovable deadline explains why people in Doha are confident that the port will meet its revised schedule, along with some of the other major projects.

“The World Cup is why the port and the airport will get built and why the rail network will happen,” says one lawyer in the Qatari capital. “These buildings have to go up.

“There are FIFA delegations visiting fairly regularly. If it doesn’t all happen on time then the UK or France or somewhere else could host a World Cup with just a few months’ notice.”

There is a legitimate question to be asked over what will happen to all of this infrastructure once the football fans depart and the frenetic pace of building work starts to slow down. After all, migrant workers will only remain in the country if there is work to do and the size of the settled population in the long term is hard to predict. The new port is at least designed to be built in stages, with subsequent phases only going ahead if and when the demand is there. The initial container terminal capacity of two million TEUs could be tripled if phases two and three, which are the same size, go ahead.

In the meantime, the important thing for the authorities in Qatar is that the first phase moves along as planned. As of December last year, some 40 per cent of the contracts by value had been awarded and there is clearly still a long way to go. Many other contracts are currently at various stages of the tendering process, covering everything from port security to ship-to-shore cranes and infrastructure for the naval base.

Among the work already under way, the dredging of the access channel and construction of the outer breakwaters should be completed by early 2016, as should the container terminal infrastructure. And in a few years the hole now being dug by China Harbour Engineering should be filled with container ships and bulk carriers. At the same time, part of the area currently home to Doha Port has been earmarked for a 45,000-seat stadium which will be used to host some of the football matches in 2022.