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State of Qatar: Making its mark

Aditya Chopra
Manager – Business Development (Middle East & Europe)
[email protected]a.net

As it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, the State of Qatar is hiking its infrastructure investments while ensuring quality amenities and governance to its citizens. Growing at an amazing rate of 15% per annum, Qatar has geospatial technology as the vanguard of its development. Here's a low down on how Qatar is using geospatial technology and the potential verticals the industry can look to..

The State of Qatar has an exciting story to share with the world. The story of how geospatial technology was introduced and how it has blended with the country's rich culture, ethics and work culture to notch up its development. What was introduced as just another tool has today become a lifeline of the nation.

The advent of geospatial technology began in Qatar in 1988 when Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad Al- Thani recognised the immense potential of these tools in revolutionising information management in Qatar. In 1989, the State of Qatar conducted a government-wide user needs assessment to determine which areas of government would benefit most from the implementation of geospatial technology. The results of the assessment indicated that the potential for GIS use throughout the government was enormous. Subsequently, the following three key recommendations were issued:

  • A high level national GIS steering committee should be established to set standards and oversee the implementation of GIS in Qatar
  • A digital basemap should be created for the entire country
  • A comprehensive, fully integrated nationwide GIS should be implemented

Acting on these recommendations, government established the National GIS Steering Committee and the Centre for GIS (CGIS) and this marked the beginning of geospatial journey of the State of Qatar.

Today, geospatial technology has enabled businesses in Qatar to transcend spatial and temporal barriers and overcome the uncertainties. With geospatial technology in the forefront, Qatar is now capable of efficient performance and effective delivery of results. The market for geospatial technology, including the disciplines of surveying, mapping, remote sensing, photogrammetry, GIS and car navigation, has charted a tremendous growth curve in the past ten years. Today, nearly 60 government agencies in Qatar are using geospatial technology as an essential ingredient in their day-to-day activities. As all government agencies use same standards, their data and resulting applications are compatible and interoperable, supporting the National GIS. In addition, agencies are connected through GISnet, a high-speed network that allows the rapid transfer of data. Qatar is perhaps the only country in the region to provide fully integrated nation-wide geospatial data infrastructure. According to Eng. Ali Abdulla Al Abdulla, Assistant Undersecretary for Planning Affairs, Ministry of Municipality & Urban Planning, the following five elements boosted the use of geospatial technology-

  • Establishment of the Centre for GIS
  • Common standards for collecting, storing, retrieving and sharing GIS data
  • Data sharing
  • Inter-agency coordination
  • Nationwide digital mapping programme

Geospatial World has analysed about 100 organisations in Qatar, the results of which show the extent of usage and the potential for geospatial technology in Qatar. Table 1 shows the number of organisations (as a percentage of total number of organisations in the vertical) actively using geospatial technology in their processes.

The analysis also estimated the percolation of geospatial technology in all the 100 organisations surveyed. Table 2 shows the results. An interesting find is that an average of 9-10 people are working exclusively on geospatial technologies at various levels in each of these organisations.

Qatar is currently experiencing an expanding economy and massive infrastructure development. Because of the established standards, companies and agencies can easily access and share geospatial data as they need, when they need it. Mohamed abdel- Wahab Hamouda, Head of the Planning and Projects Division at the Center for GIS (CGIS), comments, "Data compatibility itself tends to encourage and sustain cooperation among agencies because data is readily transferred and is easy to use." With the technical assistance, training, and guidance from CGIS, most government agencies have implemented GIS based solutions that take advantage of the wealth of data that has been created in the past 20 years.

As the agency responsible for maintaining and providing online access to Qatar's digital topographic database, CGIS makes sure that the database is comprehensive, comprises of highly accurate, topologically structured vector maps. It provides high-resolution orthoimagery and satellite and oblique images, a high-precision digital elevation model and most recently, a 3D city model of urban areas with high level of details.

Apart from the projects mentioned in Tables 3 and 4, Qatar has been making significant strides in a host of vertical segments using geospatial technology. The most potential verticals for geospatial industry in Qatar are construction and infrastructure, environment monitoring and management, oil and gas and utilities. Here's an analysis of each of these segments.


Construction and Infrastructure

Key Statistics

  • Qatar's construction sector, which has contributed 7.2 percent to the economy (2010) has shown an annual growth of 17% in 2010
  • The construction industry of Qatar witnessed contracts to the tune of US$ 20,210 million in 2010, which is expected to increase to US$ 22,149 million by 2012.
  • It is estimated that Qatar will invest around US $ 60 billion to US $ 70 billion in hotel, leisure, tourism, sports, recreational and infrastructure projects as it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022
  • US $ 10 billion was allocated to infrastructure projects alone in 2010
  • Total building construction spend in Qatar is estimated to soar to a staggering US $ 60 bn. The figure excludes projects on hold. The country's construction projects, in fact, constitute 13 per cent of the total projects in the GCC region in terms of value
  • Qatar plans to invest US $ 20 billion on road infrastructure projects between 2009 and 2014

Figure 1 breaks down projects in Qatar by their current status of construction namely, planned, design, tendered, under construction or on hold, as of January 2011. Table 5 gives the list of all major infrastructure projects in Qatar along with their timelines. In Qatar, The Public Works Authority provides and maintains state-of-the-art infrastructure that fully meets the national socioeconomic development plans. In this endeavour, geospatial technology is playing a crucial role in infrastructure planning, design and management. Some of the examples of geospatial utility are given in Table 6.



Environmental Monitoring & Management
The dichotomy of wealth and scarcity plays out at all levels of Qatar's economy and ecology. Significant wealth in hydrocarbons has generated one of the world's highest per capita incomes, but extreme scarcity of water and arable land has created equally unusual vulnerabilities and deficits. The government's first National Development Strategy sets out a plan for 2011-2016 that balances economic growth and environmental protection. Government is planning to build new databases and formulate new ways of managing knowledge. Equally important in the long-term agenda, Qatar will develop the capacity and the culture for routinely processing, sharing and interpreting information. This, in turn, requires an open, transparent culture where knowledge bases are kept current and easily accessible. In establishing functional knowledge systems, the government will be in a strong position to monitor both compliance with and impacts of new policies and regulations. "Backed with one of the best GIS implementations in the world – the 'Qatar GIS', the Environment Department has developed GIS applications and has started using GIS for decision support in a big way! Implementing GIS itself in the department was a meticulously chalked out plan" said Dr Jamal Bukhari. Table 7 gives the projects under the Environment Department:

Oil & Gas
Sitting pretty with 14% of all known reserves in the world, the oil and gas sector in Qatar accounts for around 60% of Qatar's GDP. For years, oil and gas companies have used geospatial technology to decide where to drill a well, route a pipeline and build a plant or refinery. Today geospatial technology provides solutions throughout the petroleum lifecycle from exploration to production operations.

Qatar Petroleum (QP) has over 500 geospatial users spread over multiple locations onshore and offshore. "We have been using GIS for production of maps and charts and conducting statistical analysis and database queries" said Dr Abu-Bakr Abdelzaher, Head of QP Engineering & Topographic Data Centre. Table 8 highlights one of the major projects using geospatial technology in oil and gas sector in the State of Qatar.

Mesaieed Industrial City has taken the initiative to use geospatial technology for planning and managing land in Mesaieed. Applications already planned include: utilities management, environmental management and assessment, nautical information system & web mapping and map viewer interface with dynamic map representation.

Also planned are links between GIS and other applications such as land allocation, lease management, building permit, safe work permit, e-maintenance and security and access control.

The utilities sector is complex and is changing rapidly as companies pursue new models of value creation. At MEED Project conference 2011, a top official of Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (KAHRAMAA) mentioned that infrastructure development projects worth QR 70 billion will be made in the utility sector in the next decade.

Qatar ranks among the top three countries in the Arab world in terms of the numbers of computers, Internet, wireline, wireless and broadband users, according to the International Telecommunication Union and the United Nations. One of the leading telecom service provider in Qatar is Qatar Telecom (QTel). QTel joined Qatar government in implementing a nationwide GIS platform that would eventually serve a wide variety of government agencies, communications service providers (CSPs) and other entities. After seeing the benefits of GIS, QTel started a pilot project to use GIS for mapping and managing its network. In 1998, QTel began converting more than 5,000 paper drawings of its copper network into electronic form for use with the GIS platform. At the same time, QTel has been automating its facilities management, including its planning and engineering operations.

Power generation in Qatar today stands close to 7,881 MW while the actual peak requirement is a little more than 6,100 MW. With the complete commissioning of the 2,730 MW Ras Girtas project, the power generation would exceed 9,000 MW. Even at the current rate, the country would not face any electricity shortage until 2015. The developments in the Qatar electricity sector are expected to augment in coming years with the electricity consumption expected to grow at a CAGR of around 15% during 2010-2014. It is forecast that between 2011 and 2020, an increase in Qatari electricity generation of 90.7%, which is among the highest for MEA region. This equates to 37.7% during 2015-2020 period, down from 38.5% in 2011-2015. Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (KAHRAMAA) is the sole transmission and distribution system owner and operator (TDSOO) for the electricity and water sectors in Qatar. The electrical network data section prepares and archives the proposed and as-built electrical network data in electronic format using GIS.

Statistics indicate that over the years, the demand for electricity has drastically increased. KAHRAMAA today has its own GIS database which includes electricity transmission network, electricity distribution network and proposed electrical network. It also has access to public database like topography, parcels, roads, imagery etc. It is currently using Citrix servers which let the user create virtualised applications, server desktops, or content quickly and easily.

The current generation of potable water of 324 million gallons a day (MIGD) is far more than the peak requirements of 220 MGD. At the ongoing rate of growth, the country would have to generate additional quantities between 2017 and 2020. In 2020, additional quantities of desalinated water to the tune of 159 MIGD have to be generated to meet the country's requirements at the current level of growth. In order to store additional quantities of desalinated water, the country would require reservoirs capable of storing more than 1,900 MIGD by the turn of the decade. Huge investments would also be made to lay water pipelines from Ras Laffan to southern areas in coming years. Investments worth QR 20 billion are expected on this score alone. WATER-GIS division of Kahramaa maintains the data, provides GIS solutions, creates awareness, manages the databases and implements and improves GIS section's procedures and standards.

Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)
The State of Qatar has been doing exceptionally well in GNSS by using nationwide Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) network for updating maps in real-time. The CORS network now plays a major role in all geodetic and topographic surveys to update Qatar's maps, as well as in integrating collected GIS data into the common nationwide GIS database. The new CORS-Qatar network consists of nine reference stations and helps many organisations using RTK and GIS rovers receive differential corrections for their day-to-day activities. The network is also used for hydrographic surveys, offshore and ocean navigation etc.

The geospatial journey that began in 1988 is going in the right direction with a mission to make information sharing easier, safer and cheaper between organisations and end users. Geospatial technology has thus enabled the ministries, development agencies, academia and private sector to work in unison towards a more developed Qatar. All this has been possible because of the strong initiatives taken by the government in this regard. CGIS has been playing a pivotal role in strengthening Qatar's geospatial infrastructure. The willingness of the people to go the geospatial way is commendable. It has not reached the desired level due to lack of awareness in certain pockets, but with strong capacity building initiatives taken by the government and the academia, geospatial technology would soon reach every house and would prove to be indispensable for day-to-day activities.