Birco outlines why we need drainage in the desert

Birco’s Johann Groult and Joe Barron outline the important, but oft-forgotten requirement for effective drainage systems in the Middle East

SPECIAL REPORTS, Projects, Desert, Drainage, Drainage systems, Middle east

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that when it comes to average yearly precipitation, Gulf nations feature towards the bottom of the list. The six countries that comprise the GCC boast a combined annual rainfall of just 540mm – 20mm less than the Mediterranean island of Malta, which sits at 133rd in the global rankings.

Common sense suggests that the issue of drainage should be prioritised at a similarly low level in the Gulf. After all, it seems a little odd to invest in systems that guard against something as infrequent as rainfall. But according to Birco Middle East’s Johann Groult and Joe Barron (left to right), this is a false dichotomy. Scarce though it may be, in the absence of effective water-management systems, rain poses significant risks to GCC residents.

“Drainage is not always respected in this part of the world,” explains Groult, Birco Middle East’s general manager. “It is not seen as a priority; that is, until there is an episode whereby problems result from rainfall.”

German-headquartered Birco established its Middle Eastern subsidiary in 2013. In the past two years, the firm has succeeded in securing supply contracts for a selection of high-profile regional projects by focusing on two core areas.

The primary benefits of effective drainage systems are safety and sustainability,” Groult tells Construction Week. “To avoid problems such as aquaplaning on highways, you have to remove and transport surface water away from the road. And nowadays, because water is so precious, you have to filtrate it and reuse it.

“In Europe, filtration systems are fairly common. The reuse of water forms an important part of sustainability. In the Middle East, however, this technology is relatively new. So at present, our main focuses in this region are safety and the prevention of flooding,” he says.

“Drainage systems tend not to be considered a priority until it rains,” adds Barron, Birco Middle East’s GCC sales manager. He points out that when it does rain in the Gulf, local authorities often come under pressure to resolve problems such as flooding and related road accidents.

“Oman recently witnessed flash floods where people died,” Barron continues. “Of course, this is an extreme case, but that’s the consequence of not having adequate systems in place. Take aquaplaning as an example. If you have surface water on the road and it’s not drained quickly and sufficiently, you will have a higher risk of crashes and injury.”

Groult interjects: “We cannot say that Birco systems save lives directly, but this is a safety issue. [These products] reduce the risk of crashes and injuries. The storm of the century will cause problems whether or not you have channels. The issue is that [in some areas], for the time being, there is nothing.”

Encouragingly, flagship GCC projects – especially those connected to municipalities and infrastructure – are taking this matter seriously. When Birco was enlisted to supply drainage for Dubai Tram, for example, the firm had to work closely with stakeholders to deliver systems that were safe, robust, and aesthetically pleasing.

“Dubai Tram was Birco Middle East’s first major GCC project,” Groult recalls. “We devised the concept in conjunction with contractor Six Construct, consultants Systra, Alstom and Parsons, and of course, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Dubai Municipality.

“Our challenge was to ensure that the tram depot was equipped with a safe, solid, and resistant drainage system. What’s more, the drainage channels had to be integrated within the tracks,” says Groult.

According to Barron, in order to deliver an effective drainage system for Dubai Tram, Birco drew on its experience from other global markets. “Rail-track drainage systems represent one of our specialties in Europe,” he says. “For instance, Birco has worked on projects for Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company.”

“We were able to use that experience in Dubai,” adds Groult. “Trams place a lot of weight and dynamic charges onto our channel systems. All the while, their tracks have to be incorporated within our systems. We worked with the consultants to develop a concept that met all the requirements of Dubai Tram in terms of rainfall and the risk of flooding.

“After supplying the concept – shop drawings and hydraulic calculations – we worked with stakeholders to ensure that they were happy with the system. For us, a project does not end with delivery,” says Groult, who explains that additional coaching was provided.

This comprehensive approach to system delivery and support has allowed Birco Middle East to build up an impressive project portfolio since its establishment. In addition to Dubai Tram, the firm has supplied – or is in the process of supplying – drainage systems for the expansion of Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Midfield Terminal, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s CityWalk, Doha’s National Museum of Qatar, and King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“All Birco systems are compliant with the BS EN 1433:2002 standard for channel drainage systems,” says Barron.

“Between 80% and 90% of our GCC projects require systems that can deal with typical load classes – up to Load Class E 600kN,” adds Groult. “However, we also offer Load Class F drainage channels suitable for airports, which require that the full systems are able to resist up to 900kN of pressure.”

Despite Birco Middle East’s early success, Groult and Barron say that drainage still represents a fledgling sector in this part of the world. For this reason, the company is working diligently to counteract the assumption that water-management systems are not a priority for the Gulf. Groult explains: “It is more difficult to work in the GCC as a drainage specialist than it is in Europe. Europeans are used to the fact that it rains often. It also freezes, so aquaplaning is directly equated to dangerous road conditions.

“It’s easy to forget this in the Middle East, but when rainfall does occur, significant problems can arise. I live in Dubai Marina, and [when it rains], all the roundabouts are under water. A person driving too quickly can lose control of their vehicle, exactly [as they would] in the snow or the ice. The problem is that here, it only rains two or three times per year. And when you take into account that the current trend is to [cut expenditure], spending money on something that happens occasionally is not considered a priority. That is, until it does rain,” he adds.

For now, Birco’s goal in the Middle East is to drive home the safety-related benefits of water-management systems. In the future, Groult and Barron believe sustainability will come to represent an equally persuasive factor.

“In the desert, water is even more precious than it is in other regions,” explains Birco’s general manager. “Sustainability, therefore, should probably be the number-one topic of conversation. Even so, around 95% of our current meetings are safety oriented because this is what local clients want. The issue of sustainability is just [starting to be discussed].

“Birco is not a climate expert, but our products are designed around climatic data. The creation of green areas will lead to more evaporation, humidity, and rainfall. This is a natural effect. If you look at the seminars that are taking place across the Gulf at present, experts are concentrating on stop-water management. We want to help people understand that this is not the end,” concludes Groult.

A question of surroundings

Since the establishment of its Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) facility in 2013, Birco Middle East has succeeded in securing a diverse selection of high-profile contracts across the region. Though safety and sustainability represent the firm’s primary focuses, long-term cost savings have also played a significant role in the uptake of its drainage systems.

“Why, within such a short space of time, have we enjoyed such success with large-scale projects [in the Middle East]?” asks general manager, Johann Groult.

“Firstly, consultants are happy to be supported by drainage specialists, in terms of both design and warranty. And secondly, contractors are saving money,” he adds.

Because Birco drainage channels come with their own surroundings, contractors are able to cut their concrete bills. “Many companies that supply drainage systems to the Middle East only offer polymer mouths,” explains Groult. “I’m not saying that these products are bad; I’m just pointing out that they need to be surrounded with concrete. Birco channels – up to Load Class E 600kN – do not require full surrounding materials for installation.”

Joseph Barron, the company’s GCC sales manager, adds that in order to achieve value for money, drainage systems must be resilient to the Middle East’s unforgiving operating environments.

“Birco channels are 100% concrete; vibrated and pressed with 70µm hot-dip galvanised, 4mm-thick, solid-steel edges,” he tells Construction Week. “That’s very important for consultants and contractors. First of all, it means that they reduce the amount of concrete required for installation. Secondly, our channels are not moulds; they are not made from polymers or plastics. They are heavy-duty, self-sustaining systems.”

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