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Revamping of islands to spur growth, create jobs
April 21, 2018, 5:16 pm

As part of H. H. the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah’s vision to boost Kuwait’s regional and international competitiveness, and make the country a financial and cultural hub in the region, Kuwait is planning to develop five islands located off its coastline into free-trade zones offering business, leisure and entertainment options.

The five islands, Boubyan, Failaka, Warba, Miskan and Awha are to be developed at an initial investment cost of more than US$160 billion and to be completed over a period of 20 years.

The development plan is also integral to the government’s bid to diversify the economy, wean it away from over-reliance on revenue from hydrocarbon resources, and encourage greater private sector participation through public-private partnerships.

The plan to develop the islands into commercial and leisure centers first came to light in January 2016, when it was reported that the country’s Supreme Council for Planning and Development had studied plans to develop the islands of Boubyan, Failaka, Warba, Miskan and Awha into free-trade zones.

The plans were later said to have been submitted to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah for approval, by the Prime Minister His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Hamad Al Sabah and members of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development.

While the exact details of the development plans or its estimated costs and timelines were not made public at the time of its submission to His Highness the Amir, more details of the plan began to emerge over a period of time.

The development plan was once again in the limelight recently, when First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah attended a video presentation of a study on the project by Al-Dorar, a team of youth volunteers.

Speaking at the presentation, titled ‘Economic impacts of the development of Kuwait islands and the Silk City’, Sheikh Nasser highlighted the importance of the development project of Kuwait islands and the Silk City, which is planned to come up in Al-Sabiya area.

“This project will further enhance the defenses of the country and provide investors with a sense of security,” he said following the presentation, which was also attended by National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim.

He added that the project would signal Kuwait’s keenness on protecting the local and foreign investments, while providing job opportunities for local youth.

For his part, Al-Ghanim drew attention to the importance of active participation by civil society in the economic development of the country. He promised that the parliament would approve the blueprint of the project and facilitate turning it into reality once the lawmakers received a viable plan in this regard.

Besides providing business and commercial opportunities, the mega-project to develop the islands envisages the building of tourist and leisure areas with Venice-style waterways, large shopping arcades and world-class tourism and wellness centers.

When it is fully functional, the project is expected to generate nearly $40 billion per year in revenue, provide more than 200,000 job opportunities and house an estimated 40,000 people. The free-trade zones are to be based on international models and designed to attract large scale international investments , promote public-private partnerships and enhance the value of hydrocarbon resources in the country.

The strategic location of the islands will also further boost its viability, as it would fall within the Silk Road Economic Belt Project proposed by China. Now renamed as the ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’, the economic project is planned to boost connectivity and cooperation among linked nations extending from China all the way to Europe, through the Middle East and Africa. Last week, during a session of parliament called to examine the government’s sustained development plan, Sheikh Nasser reiterated the importance of developing the islands.

“The government will submit to parliament a series of executive plans in no more than six months’ time,” Sheikh Nasser said, pointing out that the government had already laid out its plan of action based on a national vision for the year 2035.

He explained that the plan revolves around structural reforms in ministries and other state bodies, and that much emphasis would be placed on a strategy the government has put in place to stamp out corruption in a bid to “protect public funds and state properties.”

“Providing a business environment conducive for foreign investment is also among top priorities,” he continued, which in turn, “leads to economic growth and ample job opportunities for Kuwaiti youth.” He went on to reveal that the reforms would also include changes to the country’s education and healthcare systems.

He added that the national plan to develop Kuwaiti islands could spark an employment boom for the youth of the country. The mega economic project of developing the islands and constructing the Silk City in Al-Sabiya area to the north-east of Kuwait City is estimated to cost a total of over $450 billion.

The Silk City is proposed to be built at a cost of over $130 billion and, when completed by 2030, would be home to more than 750,000 people. The plan to rehabilitate the islands and develop Al-Sabiya area involves a wide range of projects that include industrial, hi-tech, clean energy, infrastructure, recreational and touristic facilities.

- Staff Report

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