Qatar from behind the wheel of a taxi

05 Dec 2012

Doha -- Kamrul is the face of Qatar. He’s from Bangladesh, drives a car for a limousine company, and has been in the country for 20 years.

He’s also the father of two children, a girl aged 6 and a boy, 10 months. He has never held his son because he only goes home every year or 18 months. That’s because it costs a lot of money to fly home. It also costs a lot of money to live on a worker’s salary in Doha, and the prices rise every year, he said, as do rents.

Kamrul is one of the 60% of the population that is from another country. Recent counts put the Qatari population at about 800,000. Another 1.2 million people come from Asia and Africa to work here. Salaries are better than they are at home and many of the men who come here (aside from maids and nannies, it’s mostly a male workforce) are hoping to save for the future.

For Kamrul, the rising cost of living in a place that is rapidly being rebuilt into a Middle Eastern mega-city means it’s very hard to save. He never imagined he’d spend 20 years in Qatar -- he thought he’d have gone home long ago to start a business.

He can’t bring his family here because it costs 10,000 Riyal (more than 2700 USD) for a temporary visa. That’s more than he makes in a year.

For those with a Qatari heritage, it’s a different life. If you are born Qatari (being born here but having parents from another country doesn’t count) you get free medical care, education, housing, and utilities.

Qatar is a small country, about 11,500 square kilometres, and is has the second highest per capita income in the world (after Lichtenstein). It’s unemployment rate was less than 0.5% in 2011 and its incredible and obvious wealth is because this desert nation is sitting on 15% of the world’s gas supply.  

Oil and gas account for 85% of the country’s export earnings and half of its GDP. It’s a fossil fuel paradise with gas costing 1R a litre -- less than 30 US cents. Compared to nearly everywhere on the planet, gas is free.

Qatar has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, something that has been commented on repeatedly as COP 18 has rolled slowly along. The government has used the COP as an opportunity to announce new solar and renewable energy initiatives, including plans to build a massive solar powered desalination plant to supply 80% of the country’s fresh water needs.

While the Gulf States are rich in hydrocarbons, they are also vulnerable to climate change.

Samantha Smith, head of the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative, outlined a few vulnerabilities at a panel on climate change in the Gulf region:

  • The Gulf region has the highest consumption rates in the world. If the entire planet consumed resources at the same rate “we would need six or seven planets.”
  • It’s a rich region but reliant on fossil fuels and will be affected by sea level rise, damage to coastlines, infrastructure (such as vital desalination plants), etc.
  • Gulf States are constrained by the lack of water.
  • If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced, adaptation in the region will be impossible.

On the plus side, Smith said, all Gulf states have set renewable energy targets. Saudi Arabia plans to be at 20% renewables by 2020, adding that Qatar has major plans for solar desalination.

She said this kind of transition is often seen as painful, but it is a challenge that comes with opportunities. It’s important for a young population to have the chance to work in the field of renewable energy if this transition is to succeed.


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