Bahrain sand shortage could slow down boom

Sand shortage pushes construction costs up amid fears that environmental damage could be done to the region as manufacturers switch to marine sand

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By  Rhys Jones Published  April 3, 2004

A shortage of good quality sand in Bahrain that began in the middle of last year has pushed up construction costs and could cause a serious slowdown in the country’s booming construction industry. There are also fears that environmental damage could be done as manufacturers of ready-mixed concrete switch to marine sand that requires more processing and cleaning in order to comply with technical specifications. Representatives of the Bahrain construction materials industry have appealed to the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Cabinet to unblock supplies from Saudi Arabia, which is the Kingdom’s biggest supplier of sand and help the construction boom continue apace. The sand used for manufacturing ready-mixed concrete, concrete blocks and other building materials is more suited for construction when sourced from land because it is high in silica and low in chlorides. This kind of sand is plentiful in the Saudi Arabian desert and was previously being trucked to Bahrain in unlimited quantities. However, a sudden clampdown in the middle of 2003 left many manufacturers and construction companies facing looming shortages. “Although we have a desert area in Bahrain too, the Bahraini desert sand is clayey in nature and does not contain the right composition of silica to make it suitable for construction materials,” explained one manufacturer. “With Saudi Arabia cutting back on sand supply, we have been forced to rely on marine sand dredged from the sea around Bahrain. “The problem with this sand is that it is high in chloride and requires washing and cleaning before it is fit to be used. This is not good for the environment in many ways – it takes nearly three m3 of fresh water to wash and clean one cubic-metre of dredged sand and as we all know fresh water is in even shorter supply in Bahrain than construction sand.” Construction companies put current construction prices in Bahrain at close to US $439 to $545/m2, a jump of nearly 60% over prices of early 2003. Many companies are putting in revised bids for projects that they had submitted tenders for in early 2003 because of the increased costs. However, despite talk of a slowdown, it would seem the big ‘official’ projects are not affected. A source at the Ministry of Works and Housing said that projects such as the Seef Flyover and the Hidd Industrial Port are on schedule but the ministry is drawing up plans to ensure that the Kingdom’s housing construction plans for Bahraini families is not slowed down. The biggest project, the Bahrain International Circuit remained unaffected and was in fact, completed ahead of time because it required crushed stone and not sand. There is concern though, that huge projects such as the Bahrain Financial Harbour and prestigious, luxury residential developments such as the Durrat Al Bahrain, the Amwaj Islands and the Al Marsa Floating City and Residential Marina will be dramatically slowed down.

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