Infrastructure in Saudi Arabia’s key cities needs addressing
Covering Construction Week’s Jeddah Infrastructure conference, which took place on 24 March, proved to be an interesting experience.
The event provoked some lively debate, not least about the state of its utilities network.
I must admit that when discussing the agenda prior to the event, this wasn’t a subject I was entirely convinced would engage the audience to any great degree.
How wrong I was. Eng Saleh M. Saadawi, who has been responsible for overseeing water and sewage projects since the National Water Company took over responsibility for them from the Kingdom’s Ministry of Water in 2009, was engaging in talking about the progress it has made so far, as well as being quite open and honest about its future challenges.
He attributes this to breaking up some of the labyrinthine contracts that had been in place to deliver water and sewerage projects previously, as well as its adoption of the FIDIC international contract standards, which he says has given contractors the confidence to take on work in the knowledge that they will follow a standard, familiar set of procedures. “It’s a fair contract,” he says.
As he points out, the changes have helped to boost coverage of the water and sewerage networks in the city. The ratio of Jeddah now covered by sewerage networks has jumped from 22% to 70%, which is impressive, but it also indicates the lack of investment that had taken place in previous years.
For Jeddah, a city of more than 3mn people, the fact that until a couple of years ago it was relying on mobile sewage trucks to serve most of the city’s neighbourhoods while five-star resorts were springing up in several other parts of the city seems a little perverse – as well as being counter-productive. As Akram Omar, development director for Emaar Middle East opined, private sector investors are understandably non-plussed if the site on which they are looking to develop new homes, offices or malls cannot be connected to water or sewerage grids – particularly when they spend money to develop internal infrastructure on site and have no connections for it.
As bad as this is, there are also areas in the city containing illegal settlements and slums with no access to clean water at all.
During the conference, Saadawi mentioned that NWC was told not to bother putting in supplies to these areas as they were due to be cleared.
A number of years later, they are still standing and the residents in them store water in metal containers in often unhygienic conditions that can attract mosquitoes and the ensuing threat of various diseases, including dengue fever.
Saadawi said it is keen to provide temporary supplies to such areas as soon as it is given the go-ahead – which is something that should be made a priority.
The threat to wider public health from any disease spread would be a far greater deterrent to outside investors than the inconvenience of busy flights or packed roads.