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Kuwait upgrading its infrastructure in a major way

The Kuwait government is finally moving to ease major traffic snarls in Kuwait, after years of inaction, by pushing ahead with the $2.6bn plan to build a causeway stretching 36km, one of the longest in the world.

The Causeway will link Shuwaikh port and densely populated southern Kuwait, with the north of the country, near the Iraqi border.

Such major projects were stalled for years due to political unrest and bureaucratic inertia, finally leaving Kuwait with under-developed infrastructure and low levels of foreign investment, in comparison to its huge oil wealth.

Finally, over the last few months, authorities began issuing contracts for some major projects. The government signed a major deal with South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company last year, to design and build the causeway over the next five years. The construction will begin by the year-end.

The Undersecretary at the Ministry of Public Works, Abdulaziz Alkulaib, said that it is a very strategic project, and discussions about this have been on since the 1970s.

Last month, Kuwait signed a deal with consortium led by France’s GDF-Suez, and included Sumitomo Corp of Japan to build the Az Zour gas-fired power and seawater treatment plant in Kuwait. This was a breakthrough because it is the first of major public-private partnerships in Kuwait, wherein private firms will help to operate infrastructure.

When fully operational by 2015, the plant will account for some 12 percent of power generation capacity in Kuwait, and a quarter of desalination capacity.

Although it has taken a long time for these projects to begin, it is an encouraging step. It sends a positive signal to businesses and investors that projects have finally begun to take off, said Daniel Kaye, Senior Manager for Economic Research, National Bank of Kuwait (NBK).

The Causeway and Az Zour projects form part of KD30billion development plan, which aims to diversify the economy, as per ruling by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in 2010. The plan also includes a new airport terminal, a metro system, oil refinery and hospitals.

According to Kuwaiti economists, the Causeway will cut the road distance between the north and south of Kuwait, where an urban area called Silk City is planned. The Silk City, on completion, will be home to 530,000 people or about 14 percent of current population.

The Silk Road, the web of trade routes which linked Europe and Asia centuries ago, is the project designed to form part of a trade hub near a planned new port, Mubarak al-Kabeer.

The Causeway will bring about fresh opportunities for people to live and work there, and it will be a signature for Kuwait, said Mai Ebrahim al-Mesad, Senior Project Engineer.

Urbanisation in Kuwait is located along the southern coastal area, but there is planned urbanization in the northern region too, which also form part of the plan. This will help revive the region economically, said Abbas al-Muqrin, Prof. of Economics, University of Kuwait.

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