Assistant Editor, Geospatial World
With its ambitious plans for greater economic diversification, increasing public awareness and good research support, Kuwait is on its way to achieve maturity in geospatial application
Though geographically small, Kuwait is a wealthy and a relatively open economy with crude oil reserves to the tune of 102 billion barrels or 9 percent of the world’s total. Petroleum is the mainstay of Kuwaiti economy and accounts for nearly half of the total GDP and 95 percent export revenues. Authorities are keen to evolve new techniques of oil production and have committed to raise the output to 4 million barrels per day from the present 2.5 million by the end of this decade.
Its heavy reliance on the oil sector cost the Kuwaiti economy dearly during the 2009 recession when global crude oil prices took a sharp plunge, resulting in the country’s real GDP falling to -4.5 percent.
Kuwait Development Plan 2013-14 & Vision 2035
Owing to factors like its positive fiscal situation and a poor business climate, Kuwait has done little to diversify its economy. However, government recently passed a new economic development plan that allocates KD 37 billion (USD 130 billion) for greater economic diversification. Approved by the parliament in February 2010, the Kuwait Development Plan (KDP) aims to privatise a number of government entities such as the Kuwait Airways and utilities like electricity and water.
The new development plan is expected to increase the real GDP growth of the private sector to an average rate of 8.8 percent while the non-oil GDP is projected to grow at the rate of 7.5 percent. The KDP is just the initial phase of the Kuwait Vision 2035, which has the mandate to make Kuwait a hub for investments from the private sector, which will lead all economic activities.
Kuwait’s geospatial footprint
Kuwait is one of the first countries in the Arab world to start the use of geospatial technology way back in 1982 with the municipality carrying out an ambitious project to create thematic maps for the entire country. Subsequently, geospatial technology was used widely in urban planning. However, the progress made in the domain was severely hampered by the country’s invasion in 1990 and most of the projects suffered intense damage as the data was captured by the invading Iraqi troops. After the war, the municipality had to begin afresh to recreate the database and start the project again.
Figure 1: Kuwait real GDP growth figures (Source: Central Statistical Office, Central Bank of Kuwait, IMF)
Figure 2: Contribution of various sectors to Kuwait GDP in 2009 (Source: Central Bank of Kuwait & IMF)
During the early 2000s, Kuwait University, which pioneered the development and utilisation of geospatial technology, initiated a massive project to develop a national centre of GIS in Kuwait that would serve all government bodies across the country. With due support from the cabinet and government organisations, the project was commenced in 2006. Other organisations quickly followed suit and today geospatial technology is used in various ministries including the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Finance. Most of these organisations have dedicated GIS departments. Geospatial technology forms the backbone of government organisations such as the Kuwait Oil Company, Environment Public Authority and Public Authority for Civil Information. Kuwait University and Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research are doing appreciable work in this domain. Aptly summing up the present status of geospatial technology in the country, Dr Mohammed Irfan-Ullah, Project Manager, eMISK says, “Kuwait had to suffer because of the invasion and post-invasion issues. However, now that the infrastructure has started coming in, geospatial technology remains the natural choice for managing, presenting and analysing data in most of the government agencies. Last few years have seen substantial growth in the use of geospatial technology and it is catching up momentum to engulf the entire region.”
Oil and gas: Kuwait has the fourth largest oil reserves on the planet and the country’s oil and gas sector has played a vital role in sustaining its economy. Project Kuwait, which seeks to increase the oil production capacity to 4 billion barrels per day by the end of 2011 and 5 billion barrels by 2020, also involves a plan to permit oil companies from other countries to invest in the sector. The Kuwait Oil Company, one of the largest oil producers in the country, is a prolific user of geospatial technology and has a dedicated GIS department that seeks to implement the technology in most of the projects.
Government support: The government in Kuwait is well aware of the tremendous potential of geospatial technology and is working to implement it in the day-to-day functioning of its organisations. Highlighting this fact, Dr. Jasem M. Al-Ali, Assistant Professor of GIS & Environmental Sciences at the College of Social Sciences in Kuwait University says, “A number of GIS related projects are financed by government organisations, apart from establishing GIS centres in these bodies. Government fully realises the tremendous potential of this technology and is supporting people who are specialised in this field.” Supporting this view, Dr. Hamdy El-Gamily, DDG office, Geoinformatics Centre, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) says, “Most of the ministries have started to use geospatial technology in their daily business. However, there is still a lot of scope for improvement in both public and private sectors.”
Fairly mature market: The Kuwaiti people are well aware of the significance of geospatial technology and the maturity level is increasing rapidly, as suggested by Dr. Jasem, “Kuwait is about 75-80 percent mature in terms of the use of geospatial technology.” Mohammed Abd El Fadil, GIS Consultant, Public Authority for Civil Information, however, shares a different view. He says, “Geospatial technology in Kuwait is fairly new. Though government firms want and understand the significance of geospatial technology, but it still has a long way to go.”
Potential Verticals Construction and infrastructure: The Kuwait Development Plan allocates USD 108 billion for infrastructure development. The investment covers close to one thousand infrastructure projects of different sizes, which will be handled by the private sector or government. The private sector projects will be based on the build-operate- transfer scheme. Table 1 lists out the infrastructure projects underway in Kuwait.
Environment: Kuwait is investing heavily in environment sector and various projects aimed at gathering comprehensive inventories in the region during the next five years will cost around USD 100 million, with each of the projects consisting of a significant geospatial component.
The Environment Public Authority, mandated to protect the environment, uses geospatial technology for most of its projects. It is currently implementing the eMISK or Environmental Management Information System of Kuwait project, which seeks to create a system that would house all geological and geo-environmental information of the country and facilitate its easy sharing between various government entities.
Highlighting the importance of EPA and the eMISK project, Mohammad Al-Ahmad, Director eMISK, Environment Public Authority says, “Just one and half year after establishing eMISK, EPA has become the leader in Kuwait as far as environment management is concerned. We have managed to create an excellent environmental database of the country, and have inspired collaboration and data sharing towards holistic growth”
Research and academia: The Geoinformatics Centre at KISR (Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research) was established in the early nineties and has the mandate to provide resources to the ministries and organisations carrying out geospatial projects. Underlining the importance of the centre, Dr. Hamdy says, “Apart from our research function, we provide all KISR R&D divisions with the required support in geospatial technology. Now almost 100 percent of the projects need GIS maps and GIS database. We also have many proposals from ministries and institutes in Kuwait to implement GIS in their organisations. So, we have also started to be a consultant in GIS in Kuwait.”
Public services: The Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) is involved in a huge GIS-based project to create a unified and accurate base map for the state of Kuwait including its administrative boundaries, land parcels, buildings etc. A part of the project is to develop the solution that manages the workflow related to GIS. Currently, the agency is in the process of analysis and production and expects to complete the project within a year.
Highlighting the significance of GIS for his organisation, Mohammed Abd El Fadil says, “GIS represents around 30-40 percent of the core business here, which says a lot about its contribution for the smooth functioning of the PACI.”
Challenges and way ahead
Data availability and standards:
Kuwait has a huge pool of data but most of it is not GIS-ready and needs to be processed before it can be used. “The data received by geoinformatics centre is not GIS-ready. So we have to process it using various tools and make sure that it becomes usable,” says Dr. Hamdy.
Lack of policy framework: Kuwait is one of the first nations in the gulf region to start using GIS. However, the progress has been pretty slow and there is still no agency that has the mandate to effectively manage spatial data. On the efforts to build an SDI, Dr. Jasem says, “We are planning to have an SDI that will help in sharing of information amongst different departments. The project is still in the planning phase and we hope to implement it soon.”Supporting the view, Mohammed Al Ahmad says, “The missing part is that we do not have a focal point like an SDI and the way we have to distribute the data is also not clear till now. Kuwait is heading towards having a good GIS community and I hope it would be done in a very professional way.”
Inadequate use: Geospatial technology in Kuwait is still in its nascent stages and lags a bit behind when compared to other countries in the region such as Qatar and UAE.
“Qatar is one of the most extensive users of GIS in the GCC region. Abu Dhabi has an excellent SDI. Bahrain is also using GIS widely in various verticals. Compared to that, I believe Kuwait is a bit behind and we have to accelerate to catch up with the region. We are pushing hard to have our SDI project ready and Ionce we have it, we will be up there with the best,” says a respondent who did not want to be quoted.
Human resource development: As the use of geospatial technology grows in the country, the need is to build quality human resources, who could take the industry on to the next level. Highlighting KISR’s work in the field, Dr Hamdy says, “We also have the job of human resource development. We bring people from ministries – that have projects with KISR in GIS – straight into the geoinformatics centre to work with us.”
Need for more private players: Another way ahead is to have more private players such as software providers and data providers, who can fulfil the requirements of the users. Stressing on the need, Dr Hamdy says, “As of now we have enough private players but a few years down the line the market will need more professional companies.”