No Nimbies Here

Its weird to think that back in the 1970s the area where we live, Juffair, didn’t exist. There were no buildings indeed no land, just water. Land reclamation is big business here with Bahrain’s landmass estimated to have grown 11% in the 20 odd years up to 2008 and continuing apace. Although its probably more accurate to call this activity landfill rather than reclamation.

The “coastline”viewed from our window runs in a straightline behind the hospital from left to right about a kilometre in all then it sharply turns 90 degrees north towards the Shk. Khalifa Bin Salman Causeway (this leads across the bridge to Muharraq Island to the north of us). The resultant protected corner is home to 20 or so fishing dories. The land to the left and right of the hospital along the shore is mainly as yet undeveloped. On the right, the shore leading to the road, vast lorries arrive daily with loads of hard core which are added to the mounds across from us. A projecting finger is already well developed; a new quay or road or the start of infilling the corner?

Not just Juffair but Amwaj Islands to the north, Durrat Al Bahrain to the south and close to Manama the Financial Harbour, Bahrain Bay and Marsa Al Seef. A look at the Bahrain Bay
website quickly reveals that global recession has not had much of an impact on the expansion progress. The sheer scale and speed of the reclamation projects and the subsequent building here is mind boggling to a Brit.

In the UK any major construction project is delayed for years by inquiries and nimby-ism. The Hindhead Tunnel and the 3rd runway at Heathrow spring to mind. Fascinated I started to look into how this expansion is done here as the raw materials have to come from somewhere and in our driving around the island so far we’d not come across any major holes in the ground! Some stats I found (no guarantees for their accuracy):

  • Approx 3 million tons of sand extracted from the sea bed per year (1)
  • In 2007 there were 196 islands of which 133 are natural the rest man made (2)
  • Bahrain has increased in size by 26km2, that’s 11.4%, since land reclamation statistics were recorded in 1981. In 1981 Bahrain was 665.3km2 and in 2007 it increased to 741.4km2 (3)

So the infill mostly comes from the surrounding seabed. The seas around Bahrain are relatively shallow and well protected presumably making extraction and land expansion easy. But even here some groups are not happy – fishermen complain that they are losing ports and that dredging is destroying fish habitats whilst an MP complained recently that Bahrain is losing revenues due to low or zero price charged to the contractors for the sand.

Man has always had an impact on his environment even if we sometimes don’t realise that what we see today is the result of past activities. The beautiful river Test in Hampshire owes much of its present day attractiveness as a shallow trout filled stream to its industrial past with silk & corn mills and papermaking all extracting water or exploiting its power. Even today it is a managed river with regular cutting of the weed to keep it flowing and ensure the health of its latest industry, trout fishing.

Large areas of East Anglia were once soggy marshes until land owners realised they could increase their wealth by expanding their acreage bringing in the Dutch to teach them how to drain it. From my teens I recall complaints that the removal of hedging to create enormous fields in Bedfordshire & Cambridgeshire, considered essential for the mechanised farming, had caused soil erosion due to the winds whisking away the bare peaty or sandy soils in late winter or early spring.

It’s a balancing act and one which Bahrain will probably still be juggling with for many years to come. Perhaps other countries can learn something from this crazy rush for land; streamlining planning processes, the potential impact of such expansion or the economic benefits it brings to a small state that no longer can rely on an income from oil. For now though I am happy to enjoy living on some new land which whilst not green at least has superb views, that is until someone moves the shore a little further north and builds on it!