A construction boom is on in this oil-rich nation to get ready for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. BIJU GOVIND has the details.

The year 2022 is almost a decade away, but Qatar seems to be on overdrive for the FIFA World Cup it hosts that year.

As even a slight rain in the Arabian Gulf is hot topic in Kerala, licking its wounds after Nitaqat in Saudi Arabia, expect lively debates when the world’s eyes are riveted on the groundwork for a celebration of the beautiful game.

The first World Cup in an Arab nation will be different for the football-crazy State with its large number of people working in the Gulf.

Before the action, what interests the Keralite workforce and investors more will be the construction taking place at head-spinning speeds. Indians constitute 25 per cent of the population of Qatar, 55 per cent of them from Kerala.

The International Trade Union Confederation says five lakh additional workers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka are expected to reach Qatar for the work on stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure for the World Cup.

The development taking place in and around Doha, the capital of the oil-rich emirate, is unimaginable. Glass-and-steel towers are transforming the city’s skyline.

Qatar has experienced rapid economic growth in the past decade in the backdrop of high oil prices. Today, its economic policy hinges on developing non-associated natural gas resources and intensified private and foreign investments in the non-energy sector.

The construction activities planned for the World Cup in seven cities are likely to put the previously sleepy nation ahead of the much-flaunted Dubai in another five years. The cities are Doha, Al-Rayyan, Al-Daayan, Umm Slal, Al-Khor, Al-Wakrah and Al-Shamal. The games will be conducted in 12 stadiums — nine to be built from scratch and three to be renovated.

In 2010, Qatar set the ball rolling to host the World Cup with a smart bid, outwitting 11 nations, including the U.S., Japan and Saudi Arabia. The World Cup will increase its diplomatic and cultural currency.

Qatar has a population of less than 20 lakh, of which more than 85 per cent lives within a 20-km radius of the Doha conurbation. The nation is home to people from around the globe, mainly from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

A rough estimate shows that 10 lakh people visit Qatar every year. The number is growing at 20 per cent. Authorities have planned to construct 84,000 rooms, though the FIFA requirement is 60,000. They have proposed to set up team base-camp hotels and training sites. It will be a traditional model of pairing 32 hotels with 32 training sites and a village consisting of 16 clusters of luxury housing, leisure facilities and training pitches.

Qatar’s new transport system will revolutionise the way people travel in West Asia in the coming years. The metro rail will not only cover the nation but also extend to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. A high-speed rail network connecting Doha and Manama, capital of Bahrain, in less than an hour will be completed in 2019, officials say.

A 340-km road network covering all the host cities of the FIFA matches is another highlight. About 75 per cent of the network will be operational by 2020. New roads will be linked to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Sultanate of Oman by 2015.

Officials say the Hamad International Airport in Doha, constructed at a cost of $15 billion and to be opened in 2014, will be the gateway to Qatar for the World Cup, with an estimated capacity of 50 million passengers a year.

Labour issue

Administrators are, however, cautious after The Guardian reported that 44 Nepalese workers died between June and August of heart attack or in workplace accidents. The report mentioned that the problem was not confined to labour from Nepal. As many as 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of 2013.

Qatar is under pressure to sort out the labour issue. Its government needs to ensure that contractors do not violate laws and workers are not living in overcrowded housing and insanitary conditions.

But such setbacks have not deterred the Persian Gulf nation from going ahead with its development initiatives.