By Geoffrey Martin
Rai Insights Contributor
Kuwait: Kuwait has been going through a massive development stage in terms of a variety of different infrastructure types and services since 2010.
There is over $234.4 billion USD in active construction projects in Kuwait as of 2017. Many of these big-ticket items are well known for being used to promote Kuwait 2035, including Silk City, the new business and residential area in Subiya across the bay from Kuwait City. The 36km causeway to the proposed new city cost $3.7 billion USD alone to build.
But many of the other improvements are small, and less readily known to the public. In my opinion the scale of changes have been momentous, and too often the public and pundits forget how much the government has changed and improved a wide variety of services in the last seven years.
One of the major improvements in Kuwait that is readily in apparent is the quality and quantity of roads, bridges, sewer improvements and repairs to a wide variety of the country’s transportation arteries. The poor quality of roads has always been a cause for complaint by citizens and expats in Kuwait. But this is changing. Road construction projects have been a key driver of improvements. There are dozens of road projects, ranging in tender from $5 million to $100 million either underway, planned, or in the tender stage. And unlike previous projects, they are being finished in a very timely manner due to government pressure on contractors to finish on time and within budget.
Driving to Kuwait University, Sabah Hospital Complex, or Shuwaikh Port has been a nightmare for years. But no longer. The Jahra bridge project, made of 17.7 kilometres of viaducts and ramps, is almost completely finished and not only reduces traffic congestion but also increases driver safety. Anyone who has driven through the series of roundabouts and poorly formed entrances to the various compounds in the area, especially during rush-hour know of this peril. This will connect to Jamal Abdul Nasser Street which is also under reconstruction. Although many pundits have criticized the scale and longevity of the project the major phase is complete and reductions in traffic congestion and accidents are already readily apparent.
New infrastructure developments on First Ring Road, the Gulf Coastal Road near Bedaa Roundabout (near the popular “Restaurant Street”), and sewer and drainage infrastructure development on the 30 and 40 series highway (near Mahboula, Mangaf, and Riggae) will reduce flooding problems. Last rainy season significant flooding and inadequate drainage systems led to significant damage to parts of the highway and areas in the vicinity.
New transport infrastructure coincides with an explosion of housing for nationals. There are over 106,000 outstanding applicants for housing, which has been voters’ most pressing concern for years. Since the 2013 parliament was inducted the government has made it a key policy platform to deliver 12,000 new housing units annually. So far, they have only provided approximately 13,000 units since 2015, although rapid progress has been made, especially in Al Mesayel area.
New suburbs, like South Mutlaa and four other planned areas outside of Kuwait City will begin construction in the next few years will house roughly 400,000 Kuwaitis each. Reconstruction of Taima and Sulaibiya areas will see new housing projects being built in those areas by 2020 according to some sources.
Other significant improvements in the medical field are also apparent. The Ministry of Health has completed or almost completed the renovation and upgrading of nine hospitals, including Al Razi, Diwan Amiri, Farwaniya, Sabah, and Adan hospitals.The Jaber Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah Hospital, newly completed comprises an area of 470,000 sq metres, with 1168 beds and 50 ambulances.
There has also been a massive increase in restaurants and food related industries. $3.5 billion USD is spent a year on food by citizens and expats, and there is roughly one restaurant for every 230 people in Kuwait, making it one of the ‘foody’ capitals of the world (9 of 10 people are also overweight, which means the new hospitals will be put to good use).
New parks can also help after eating too much shawarma. Shaheed Park, phase one and two, have been completed, providing a beautiful park in which one can exercise bring the family and enjoy a sub-tropical environment. The newly finished Boulevard mall park in Salmiya also offers another beautiful walking area. Taking into account the new cultural centers being opened, including the new opera house and the soon to be finished Abdullah Al Salem centre, there are many more things to do in Kuwait, a country a lot of locals were term ‘boring’ in comparison to Dubai.
What are the causes of this explosion of construction and development? For years Kuwait has been perceived as a place of ‘failed development’. Whether this is true or not is up to debate, but the recent changes mean it is cannot be called a failure anymore.
Many pundits in the West argue that the Arab Spring forced governments in the region to increase subsidies and infrastructure projects to placate citizens and reduce dissent. While there may be some truth to this, the more important changes in Kuwait relate to practical issues and a changing business environment. New construction companies and better sub-contractors, have pushed out more corrupt and inept public-private partners. The government is facing more fiscal problems than in the pre-2008 period and is much more vigilant in protecting its finances. The biggest challenge is creating and adapting legislation that can keep up with the pace of development and ensure contracts are not held up by legal red tape and bureaucratic problems.
There is also an increased interest in investment in the Kuwaiti economy. Kuwait is the definition of untapped potential in both a private sector and cultural sense, and with the reduction of fears of annexation or encroachment by neighbours, confidence is growing in its long-term growth. There is also more confidence in the Kuwaiti economy, with a huge rise in young and excited entrepreneurs. This will take a decade to develop but is already upending the monopoly of the merchant families, who have controlled most of the private sector since the independence period. There are more challenges than ever before to entrenched businesses and more opportunities for smaller entrepreneurs to break out into different innovative areas.
Kuwait is likely to see a massive increase in growth and GDP in the coming years if the investments that are made now keep pace. The government seems on the right track to continue with these developments.
* Geoffrey Martin is a PhD student at the University of Toronto and currently is a visiting researcher at the American University in Kuwait. He currently resides in Kuwait.