Our last blog looked at one of the world’s least visited countries. Here my colleague, Nick, writes about his time in a country with one of the world’s fastest growing populations. Hope you enjoy! All the best, Mark.
Arriving into Doha, capital city and home to 90% of the population of Qatar, the first thing that hits you (at least for anyone arriving from the UK like me!) is the heat. I visited during September when the average temperature is around 38°C. Luckily, both the taxis and malls, in which I spent a lot of time during my trip, have extremely powerful air conditioning.
Owing to the country’s oil and offshore gas reserves, Qatar has experienced massive growth during a relatively short space of time, becoming one of the most wealthy countries in the Middle East and one of the world’s richest by GDP per capita. This has in turn created some issues, the most noticeable being the congestion on the roads: a result of the huge influx of people, the general sprawl of the city, the lack of public transport and the availability of very cheap fuel.
In fact, the population of Qatar has more than trebled in the last 12 years and there has been a parallel increase in the number of vehicles on the roads – from some 287,000 vehicles in 2000 to 876,000 in 2012
No doubt accelerated by having been awarded the FIFA World Cup 2022, there are now extensive works in place to improve the city’s infrastructure. These include the introduction of a metro system, improved roads, plans for an extensive railway and improved housing and hotel options. There is also the small matter of building nine new climate-controlled stadiums for the tournament of which the Lusail Iconic Stadium, to be located in a city being completely built from scratch, looks set to steal the show.
Winning the right to host the World Cup – the first Arab country to do so – has not been without its fair share of controversy and debate. There is an ongoing investigation into Qatar’s campaign to win the right to host the tournament fuelled by widespread allegations of bribery during the bidding process. In addition, questions have continued to be raised about the exploitation of blue-collar workers. Qatar was named home to the world’s fourth highest concentration of ‘slaves’ relative to its population in the Global Slavery Index.
However, the ban on child jockeys and the introduction of Swiss-designed robots to replace young migrant boys in camel racing has been one government initiative that has been widely applauded as a victory for both technology and human rights.
The best time of year to hold the tournament is also an ongoing topic and after nearly collapsing with heat exhaustion as I walked between shops in the intense midday heat in the city, I feel for Ronaldo, Messi & Co should they have to play in the Qatari summer. Controversy aside, Qatar looks determined to establish itself as a global sporting destination: in addition to being awarded the 2019 World Athletics Championships, the Qatar Olympic Committee has vowed to bid to become a candidate city for the 2024 Olympics.
The pace of construction is evident everywhere you turn in Doha with cranes a constant feature of the city’s backdrop. The view from the corniche which looks out over Doha’s imposing skyline (particularly impressive at night) showcases the relentless development of the place. An extravagant artificial island called The Pearl is also nearing completion which will create over 32 kilometres of new coastline. In contrast, the alleyways of the vibrant Souq Waqif, a centuries-old marketplace, provide a reminder of the country’s modest pearl-fishing past but even this area has been rebuilt and rejuvenated in keeping with the city’s furious expansion and development.
The demand for workers in Qatar has resulted in one of the fastest population growths in the world. It is estimated that a staggering 500 new expats arrive in the country per day. Currently some 94% of the workforce is made up of expats – the majority of these labourers – and I’m not sure I even had any interaction with a Qatari citizen during my stay! However, the government have implemented a program called ‘Qatarisation’ which aims to increase the number of Qataris occupying posts, particularly in the Energy and Industry sectors. It was also noticeable how relatively few women there were. Because of the large influx of male labourers, women account for just about 25% of the population.
The quality and availability of goods and services in Doha is generally excellent. However, since Islam is the state religion, some people coming to live and work in the city will have to adapt. For example, the ‘Qatar Distribution Centre’ in the South of the city is the only place where expats can purchase, via a permit system, alcohol and pork. It is a fairly nondescript building from the outside but when I visited it was packed inside with expats filling their trollies with beer and sausages.
In between price collecting I also popped into the Falcon Souq but wasn’t prepared to part with my cash: a prized bird there can reach 1 million Qatari Rials (USD 275,000). But I did find it interesting that Qatar Airways will let you travel with a falcon in the cabin!
When it comes to leaving the country (accompanied by feathered friend or not!) anyone who has been working there needs to be aware of Law No. 4 of 2009. Although reforms to the ‘Kafala’ (sponsorship) system have been promised by the government, this regulation currently decrees that expat workers must obtain their employer’s consent should they wish to leave the country.
All in all, I enjoyed my stay in Qatar, felt very safe and was met with friendly faces and luckily, since I was just a short-term visitor, no-one demanded to see my exit permit upon leaving the country.
Nick is part of ECA International’s International Data Research team. He travels the world regularly, capturing price data for goods and services to assist with cost of living comparisons around the world.