Building on water

Running out of land to build on? Land reclamation comes to the rescue as the Middle East region moves towards the open sea to house residents and build hotels, says Shikha Mishra.

ANALYSIS, Projects

Running out of land to build on? Land reclamation comes to the rescue as the Middle East region moves towards the open sea to house residents and build hotels, says Shikha Mishra.

The UAE is literally rising from the sea. Projects such as Palm Diera, Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, Dubai Waterfront in Dubai and Al Raha Beach, Coconut Island and Khalifa Port at Taweelah in Abu Dhabi are transforming previously uninhabitable sea into livable and workable spaces.

Reclamation projects are the only option in the Middle East region where human numbers are growing and available land resources are shrinking.

 

Land reclamation certainly does not have or create an impact on sea levels, it only affects the boundary between the sea and the land. - Marc Sas, IMDC's manager.

"There is land to build on in the region, but everybody wants to live by the sea. It adds value to property prices and people are willing to pay more for a house that is close to the coast. That is why there is a rush to reclaim new land in the Middle East," says Niels de Bruijn, Van area Oord's director.

Keeping up with the neighbours

UAE's neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain have also caught reclamation fever.

Airline Industry Information reports that Qatar will reclaim a 22km2 area of sea for the New Doha International Airport, projected to open in 2009.

The US $240 million (AED 876 million) project requires about 60 million m3 of sand and rock for its reclamation, according to the Associated Press. Airport planners say, when completed, the airport will process 50 million passengers and two million tonnes of cargo annually.

In Bahrain, billions are being invested in infrastructure projects and more than 50 km2 of land has been reclaimed from the sea over the past 50 years.

"With the constraints on land for housing, industrial and infrastructure development, land reclamation has become a priority to meet the current demand," Nayef Al Kalali, Bahrain's Works and Housing Ministry Public Works Affairs under-secretary was quoted as saying.

Reclamation on the Pearl-Qatar, Doha's largest project, was completed ahead of schedule in July, 2008.

In a report published in Gulf Times, Central Dredging Association (Ceda) president Rewert Wurpts was quoted as saying that the "reclamation on the Pearl-Qatar was perfect and the soil is ideal for building solid foundations."

International Marine and Dredging Consultants (IMDC), a Belgium based consultancy served as advisors on the initial stages of the Pearl-Qatar project.

"One of our tasks was to address environmental concerns, check up on shore protection to ensure that the corals and marine life were not impacted by the creation of new land and that the project would not destroy any natural surroundings," says Marc Sas, IMDC's manager.
 

Noted futurist McKinley Conway ranks Saudi Arabia's seawater desalination plants as the top desert reclamation project in recent history in his new book, Global Super Projects: Mega Ventures That Are Shaping Our Future.

"Saudi Arabia is the leader in desert reclamation projects. Anyone who visits the Gulf States from Kuwait to Oman must be impressed with the extent to which desert wasteland has been revived with water flowing from huge seawater desalting plants, especially in Saudi Arabia. This area has set a pattern for what will be commonplace in many non-desert areas in the near future."

Environmental effect

With the constraints on land for housing, industrial and infrastructure development, land reclamation has become a priority to meet the current demand. - Nayef Al Kalali, Bahrain's Works and Housing Ministry Public Works Affairs under-secretary.

There is an ongoing debate on the environmental impact of land reclamation and opinion is divided on the subject.

Some experts feel that it will lead to rise in the ocean tides in the next few decades. On the other hand, a number of environmental groups have documented the increase in marine life along the shores of UAE's reclaimed land.

"Land reclamation certainly does not have or create an impact on sea levels, it only affects the boundary between the sea and the land," says Sas.

"Land reclamation does not add anything in the water which does not already exist. We are just shifting sand from one place to another. We are using material that is already there in the sea. So it is not necessarily affecting the environment," says Bruijn.

Keep on reclaiming

With projects flourishing, reclamation companies such as Van Oord are raking in the moolah. The company's turnover in 2007 to 2008 was 1.6 billion euros, and a majority of that figure came from its projects in the Middle East.

"We are currently working on Palm Deira, our contract for the project runs till 2013. The major work on our other project, The World, is complete but there is still some shaping and construction to be done," says Bruijn.

Even though the projects in the Middle East are counted among the largest reclamation developments ever done in the world, there are plans to reclaim more land to top that.

"The Universe project is being planned which will be out to tender soon," says Bruijn.

According to Sas, there is no reason for land reclamation to stop. The boundary between land and sea will be pushed closer together as companies go deeper into the sea to construct.

"As we reach further out to the sea, it will get more expensive and less attractive to reclaim. Another challenge we face and will continue to face is finding enough people to do the job, as there is a shortage of technical people," says Sas.

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