Qatar’s Portfolio of Green Transport Options Continues to Grow
Recently, Qatar's National Tourism Council announced that it was commissioning a project to upgrade a fleet of the nation's traditional sailing boats, Dhows. Originally used for trade, fishing, and sustaining the country's pearl diving industry, the boats have slowly become an outmoded form of transportation since the nation's 20th-century oil boom. While many Dhows have been lost to modernisation, many privately owned vessels and a number used for sightseeing remain on the water. However, the sightseeing boats offer limited amenities for guests and, running on diesel, are not particularly environmentally friendly.
As part of a drive by the Qatari authorities to expand Qatar's tourism industry, especially harnessing the nation's rich cultural heritage, and to improve existing services, the upgrade works will modernise the fleet, providing a host of new amenities and safety features for tourists. The restoration project will also add to Qatar's ever-expanding green transport portfolio...just in time for the upcoming FIFA 2022 World Cup!
For centuries, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and much further afield were navigated in wooden sailing vessels known as Dhows. The ships were integral to daily life for coastal settlers and were used for fishing, trade, exploration, and, for Qatar in particular, pearling. Indeed, prior to the 1930s and the discovery of oil, the pearl industry was Qatar's mainstay economy employing over half of the population.
The boats were made from imported wood. They were hand-built and stitched together using rope, cord and fibre. Depending on the size of the boat, building could take up to two years. Dhow construction was an industry and a craft in itself passed down from one generation to the next over hundreds of years. The boats were wind-powered using one or two sails made from woven palm leaves and, much later, cotton.
Globalisation, industrialisation and Qatar's oil-fuelled modernisation saw many seafaring and associated industries experience a rapid decline. The necessity of the traditional sailing vessels, and the craft of boat building, also became almost obsolete. The boats that remained in Qatar were kept only for private use, local fishing rather than commercial, and sightseeing by domestic and the country's small-scale tourism. The vessels even lost their sails, being refurbished with diesel engines to suit modern times.
However, two of Qatar's longstanding national visions are preserving their cultural heritage (which under a process of rapid development was in danger of being lost) and diversifying the nation's industry to encompass global tourism. Both of these objectives have saved the Dhows from being more or less expunged.
Qatar has taken massive strides in the last twenty years or so to protect and preserve its cultural and traditional values. As the sea played such an important role in shaping Qatar's national identity, the country's maritime past is at the heart of those efforts. Museums, galleries, art, music, literature and poetry all feature the nation's relationship with the sea. And, Dhows remain the main symbol of that connection. Today model boats are used all over the country as decorative features on beaches and promenades, in parks, etc. A maritime festival is held annually to celebrate the Dhow and its links to the country's past and educate people about traditional industries such as pearl diving, fishing, and boat building. And, a new industry has been constructed around building traditional vessels for individuals as floating holiday homes, racing ships or as cultural status symbols - keeping what was a dying craft alive.
In terms of tourism, Qatar has taken the beleaguered Dhow and used its cultural and historical importance to entertain and educate visitors. Not only can tourists learn about Dhows in fun and interactive ways at museums and festivals, but they can also experience life aboard on various types of cruises. Short sightseeing tours around Doha's central Bay, evening dining cruises, and day trips out to some of Qatar's coastal islands are available.
The new Dhow restoration project aims to enhance the cruising experience for sightseers, to increase the longevity of the Dhows’ existence in the Gulf waters, and to ensure that this mode of transport is in line with the country's overall sustainability goals.
The Restoration Project
More than forty Dhows have been earmarked for the restoration project by the Qatar National Tourism Council. The project will be delivered in three phases including the modernisation of associated marinas and jetties (also incorporating new waiting rooms and ticketing offices), the provision of health and safety features on all boats (including certified training for captains and crews), and, of course, the refurbishment of the fleet itself.
As part of their refurbishment, the boats will have their diesel engines removed and replaced with solar-powered, environmentally friendly engines and retrofitted with energy-efficient features such as LED lighting.
The project should be completed and the entire fleet back on the water by October 2021.
Qatar's new green sailing vessels, which contribute to marine and air quality protection, are part of a broader goal to build a sustainable tourism sector. That goal itself aligns with the country's overall national vision to be a modern sustainable society. One of the ways Qatar intends to achieve its goals is through eco-friendly transportation. Much has already been done towards adopting sustainable transport methods...
A new metro and light-rail system have been constructed in recent years. The Doha Metro, a fully automated electric train system alongside the electrically operated light rail system, offers a sustainable, energy-efficient, low carbon transportation network compared to traditional methods of city travel.
Currently, around 20% of the nation's buses are electric, a number set to grow over the next few years. The rest of the fleet operates on natural gas and diesel. However, diesel buses conform to the 2009 Euro 5 emissions standard that requires vehicles to be fitted with particulate filters that capture 99% of all particles emitted during vehicle operation. Thus, Qatar's bus fleet emits much less pollution than regular vehicles.
Qatar is also planning to introduce a rail-less, electric-bus rapid transit (eBRT) system (think hybrid bus/tram system). The eBRT system uses high passenger capacity, energy-efficient buses driven by electric propulsion. The new buses would reduce the emission of a host of pollutants, save energy and cost less than traditional style buses and tram systems to run.
And, though Qatar does operate some electric taxis around Hamad International Airport, all taxis are set to become electrified in the coming years.
To support the electric bus fleet, taxi and eBRT systems, Qatar will build around 700 charging stations. In addition, the bus depot in Qatar's newest city, Lusail, will provide electricity for all charging stations via solar panels.
Qatar has also introduced a large fleet of electric scooters for short-term hire. These micro-mobility travel options offer an alternative to cars and taxis over short distances. They are cheap, convenient, easily accessible and environmentally friendly.
Qatar has also spent a great deal of time in the last few years constructing cycle paths throughout the city and beyond. The new pathways are designed to encourage people out of their cars and other modes of transport and on to bikes for a cheaper, healthier, more environmentally friendly travel option.
Electric car use is also being encouraged and promoted by the Qatari authorities, with plans to install up to 500 charging points for electric cars by 2022.
And, in recent years, Qatar has undertaken a significant overhaul of its road networks. The works are designed to free up inner-city roads - decreasing traffic jams and travel times, increase accessibility nationwide, and ultimately reduce air pollution.
Therefore, Qatar's eco-friendly Dhows are joining an ever-growing selection of green alternatives for getting around and about.
The 2022 World Cup and the Environment
Qatar intends to host a carbon-neutral World Cup in 2022, and one of the main drivers towards that goal is sustainable transport. Though the Doha Metro, the light rail systems, fleets of electric vehicles, and new road systems will provide the key indicators of the country's success in achieving its goals, the impact from more minor sustainable transport modes cannot be underestimated. Qatar's fleet of green-powered Dhows will make their contribution towards a carbon-neutral football tournament, but they will also contribute to the nation's sustainability goals for many years to come. Visitors to Qatar can rest assured that their ecological footprint, as they admire Doha's impressive coastline from the water, will be minimal!
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