Solid gold pearl

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Buoyed by LNG exports and the prospect of a World Cup in ten years, Qatar’s recent economic progress has been impressive. In 2010, the IMF assessed the country’s economic growth at 18.8% in real terms, and even with a comparatively moderate outlook of 6% growth predicted this year, the economy is clearly still on the rise. Money is evidently being spent too, with funds going into massive utilities projects such as the recently completed Ras Girtas Power plant and the $3 billion Facility DIWPP under construction. With the spending though, comes a very particular Qatari view of procurement.

“In Qatar they don’t want it gold plated. They need it gold. They don’t really care about the price, Qatar is looking primarily for quality.”

So says Walid Oraby, general manager of Metito in Qatar. His company has been working in the country since October 2003, when Oraby was one of just four employees at the company’s newly established Doha office. Metito now has around 400 Qatar-based employees and has been involved in over 100 projects there in the last seven years. It is fair to say, I think, that Oraby is a passionate advocate for the country’s prospects.

“We landed in Qatar at the right moment, just as the economy took off. The timing from management was really good – they knew when and why we should start there. We started almost from scratch, but within six months we had landed three or four jobs. Now we know the country very well”.

This knowledge of the country is, no doubt, where the insight into Qatar’s focus on quality comes from. “Qatar really does want the highest quality finish for all its projects. There are factories in the UK and in Germany where they have specific production lines solely for Qatar products. They are making products that are very expensive, made to a specification that nobody else is asking for”.

If this focus on quality at any cost is impressive, then the current developments underway are simply stunning. The Pearl Qatar has risen from the sea to become a 985-acre luxury island development with a population of nearly 100,000 when fully completed. Together with hotels, schools, shops and restaurants, the country’s first tilt at an international real estate venture is extraordinary in scale and presents some very singular infrastructure challenges.

Oraby says that the Pearl was abnormal in terms of desalination projects, with the size of the island presenting unusual constraints on plant design. Metito was contracted by Qatar’s United Development Company (UDC) to provide the Pearl with a sea water reverse osmosis desalination plant that would provide for potable needs, district cooling (DC) and irrigation. When operational, the plant will produce 35,000m3 per day, with 20,000m3 being used for DC, 10,000m3 for irrigation and 5,000m3 for potable purposes.

Because of limited space on the Pearl, the finished plant needed to have a small footprint and Metito’s solution was to build upwards rather than outwards. Pumps were sited on one level, controls on another, with care being taken to limit the vibrating machinery’s effects on the structure. The resulting building, which also had to be aesthetically similar to surrounding structures, has pumps installed nine metres below sea level.

“There is now talk about making a bottling plant on the island. The two-part desalination process produces water that is almost bottled water standard. The thinking is that bottling equipment could be added and then water could be issued to residents at better rates.”

Sustainability and the environmental impact of the Pearl project were key focuses for Metito. Oraby praises the country’s “world leader” position on the recycling of sewage and explains that Qatar’s long term water plans have seen it go as far as utilising underground aquifer tanks to naturally treat wastewater. More widely, the country has strict environmental regulations that required Metito conduct scoping studies to demonstrate how highly-saline reject water from the Pearl would be dealt with. The company had to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment to best protect the waters around the island.

“The Qatar environment is well controlled. They have a plan for water conservation that goes until 2050.”

Elsewhere there is, of course, the World Cup 2022. Even at a distance of ten years, some might find the prospect of thousands of football fans descending on their country disturbing. For many others though, the World Cup presents a swathe of opportunities, and the resultant infrastructure projects are extensive.

Oraby suggests that the World Cup is now the focus for the country, with the plans to fully air-condition every stadium a particular interest for Metito. Each stadium is set to have district cooling, and so every site will also require a desalination plant. The time frame Oraby suggests is for tenders to be issued for stadiums in the last quarter of this year, with 2013 the departure point for all projects. He then expects that everyone will be busy with preparation projects by 2015.

Oraby says that a close understanding of the Qatari market and a constant physical presence in the country will stand Metito in good stead when competing for such tenders.

“Our workforce is very flexible and clients know that. We can move people between offices in, for example, Dubai and Doha, very easily. Clients in the Gulf like dealing face-to-face. They don’t like dealing with people remotely and that’s understandable, because with infrastructure you are talking about something close to their daily lives. Having a local presence is therefore very important.”

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