As former features editor of MEED, Bernadette remains a regular contributor to the title which has been publishing business information on the Middle East since 1957. Aimed at senior managers, directors and board level business people, MEED is a subscription only publication which underpins its reporting with data from the unparalleled MEED Projects database.
Recent reports include analysis on Iran’s construction sector, tunnelling throughout the Middle East including Doha’s new metro, the executive education market in the Gulf, healthcare spending, investment in Saudi Arabia’s ports, power supply and demand in key markets, the potable water challenges of the region and a supplement on wastewater.
In this tunnelling report I spoke to contractors about their experiences of creating tunnels in the Gulf region, which despite its relatively small size in international construction terms, is a global hub for these methods with $245bn in schemes planned or underway. Qatar for example is breaking world records by having the most tunnel boring machines (TBMs) active at once as it seeks to create three new metro lines ahead of the controversial FIFA 2022 World Cup. Qatar Rail told me about their passage to Doha after manufacture by Germany’s Herrenknecht and at the time of writing 14 of the 21 had arrived. Saudi Arabia too is pushing on with tunnelling underway for six new metro lines on Riyadh’s first mass transit system, the $23bn Riyadh Metro. Three packages have been awarded to three teams to deliver six lines, and 42 per cent (or more than 70 kilometres) of this will be tunnelled.
Microtunnelling too is experiencing a boom and as the name suggests it is used for creating smaller diameter tunnels than those needed for roads and railways making it appropriate for piplines and small tunnels. “The main difference between microtunnelling and using a TBM is that with microtunnelling, you are pushing a pipeline into place behind the microtunnelling machine, but with a TBM, you are building the lining in place behind it,” said John Wheeler, general manager at Al-Naboodah Specialist Services, part of the UAE’s Al-Naboodah Construction Group.
Taking to contractors was the most interesting part of writing this. Their experiences are a valuable resource for anyone working on this type of project. To be open about the issues some needed to retain anonymity and their accounts which included warnings over high water tables and rushed designs pointed to a single critical piece of advice: Preparation is everything. The better planned the project, the more risk that is removed.
Beware of helicopter Universities that drop troops into the Middle East, charge low fees and promote distance learning, then drop out a few years later because their business models fail. This was one of the more controversial views reported in a series of articles on the region’s private education market. While researching the Executive Education Guide 2014 I found that demand remained strong for further education aimed at business executives and some schools were forecasting double digit growth. Flexibility and collaboration were the buzzwords of the moment with schools increasingly seeking to pair up with companies and government organisations to deliver bespoke training for employees.