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Infrastructure investment vital say experts

Abu dhabi, April 18, 2012

Regional governments must increase spending on social infrastructure projects to prevent the economy from shrinking and maintain job creation, three experts said in a white paper.

The white paper, ‘Building a sustainable framework for the Middle East’, is the result of a round table discussion attended by delegates who will be addressing next week’s infrastructure Arabia  Summit in Abu Dhabi.  Melanie Mingas, head of editorial at The Big Project, was the moderator.

The white paper, published by Informa Exhibitions, organisers of infrastructure Arabia Summit,  examines the current state of the infrastructure industry in the Middle East in light of major political upheaval.

The summit runs alongside World ecoConstruct and Cityscape Abu Dhabi from April 22-25 April at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

In a region comprising unequal distribution of wealth, now is the time for the Middle East to work collaboratively in order to survive the recent political and economic turmoil, the experts warned, while identifying rail and affordable housing as areas relatively ignored during the last decade’s construction boom.

Current infrastructure projects in the UAE such as the Step Tunnel, Masdar City, the new energy, power and desalination stations, the nuclear programme and the number of transportation programmes from roads and railways, port and airport expansions to bus stations and depots were highlighted as positive examples of ongoing government investment.

 “Countries across the globe are increasing public investment on needed infrastructure, even with the austerity measures many are enforcing, to boost employment and give a long-term stimulus to their economies,” said panellist Ivan Woods, head of project finance advisory, BDO Corporate Finance (Middle East).

Dr Ghassan Ziadet, director of infrastructure (UAE) and regional head of bridges, Middle East and India at Atkins, called for the implementation of GCC-wide working permits to reduce the amount of manpower leaving the region during political upheaval and economic downturns. 

He said: “Moving to a regional work system would allow the skilled workers and labour to move freely between the GCC countries and thus maintain stability and create flexibility.  The cycles in different countries don’t always happen at the same time.  The suggestion of implementing a GCC-wide working permit could be expedited because otherwise, these projects will have constraints.”

In terms of opportunities in infrastructure in the Middle East, Dr Ziadat identified the creation of a rail network and believes the region was left behind in the railway transportation age.  “For sustainability in transportation, rail is the future.  It is more sustainable in terms of carbon emissions but you need long term investment programmes to achieve it.”

Woods added: “There are significant shortfalls in a number of areas.  Affordable housing has not been made available in sufficient quantity and this has been recognised in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman.” 

He points to countries like Kuwait and Egypt which have successfully utilised public-private partnerships (PPPs) to help vital infrastructure projects get off the ground.  “PPPs can be of great benefit, particularly to maximise the private sector’s involvement and added value.  The challenges of implementing PPP properly, however, and ensuring value for money for the government and the wider public, must be addressed upfront.”

The white paper concludes that now is the time for the construction industry at large to take stock, evaluate and identify how it can work more efficiently and provide better quality service to the population and environment in the future.   – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: abu dhabi | Infrastructure | Summit | railways | World ecoConstruct |

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