Although my adventures in Doha only lasted two weeks, I was able to appreciate the greatness of the nation that retains its rank as the country with the highest GDP per capita.
The city I see if I set foot in Doha 30 years ago, and the city I see today are so incredibly different that I would probably not even recognize the pictures from 1977 as Qatar. This country has transformed from a fishing industry into a stunning, modern magnet, attracting foreigners from all around the world. Unlike other resource and oil rich countries that failed to invest in infrastructure or create a sustainable goal, Qatar successfully developed its hydrocarbon resources into a vision for the country.
In 1971, the Forth Field, which is the world’s largest non-associated gas reservoir, was discovered. It took 20 years to unlock the potential of this reserve, and during this time, Qatar focused on developing domestically and channeling its exports. Starting off with exporting liquefied natural gas to Japan in 1997, Qatar relentlessly scaled upwards, establishing itself as a trustworthy and flexible partner and supplier. In 2003, it constructed the Oryx GTL, the world’s first commercial-scale gas-to-liquid fuels, and throughout the 1990s, the state uncovered vast amounts of reserves. Qatar has 25 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and the world’s 3rd largest natural gas reserves, and output at current levels are projected to sustain for 56 years. Oil and gas account for about 85% of export revenues and more than 50% of GDP. Today, Qatar is the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and gas-to-liquid fuels in the world. Its ability to monetize its natural resources allowed for its economy to boom and attain the world’s highest GDP per capita.
According to the 2015 Country Report, Qatar’s real GDP growth should average 6-7% between 2012 and 2015, increasing each year. The International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Outlook database in 2014 projects its GDP to be $227 billion in 2015, with the GDP per capita to be $94,744. Beyond oil and gas, Qatar is continuously diversifying its portfolio, investing in financial institutions, scientific research and development, airlines, and education. Qatar University, Qatar Airways, the Qatar Financial Centre Authority, and Qatar Science Technology are just a few examples of the vastness of Qatar’s recent development.
A high demand for labor accompanies this incredible growth and development, drawing thousands of expatriates, especially from lesser developed countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Even with the immigration flood, a labor shortage persists in Qatar and the unemployment rate remains only .3%. As of November 2014, Qatar’s total population is 2,269,672 and growing. Qatari nationals number about 278,000, with the other 88% of the population non-Qataris. Indian workers represent the largest foreign nationality, with a population of about 545,000, and Nepal follows close behind at 400,000. Foreign workers constitute 94% of public-sector employees and 100% of private-sector jobs. A population pyramid according to GSDP in 2011 shows that Qatar is approximately three quarters male and one quarter female.
The awe-inspiring photos of Doha displayed in magazines are no comparison to the naked beauty of the city. The buildings, meticulously designed by expert architects, is a magnificent work of art by itself. From the Museum of Islamic art, the entire industrial center of Doha is within view, and as my friend from Qatar University puts it: “the best view oil can buy”. The Villagio, the largest mall in Qatar, is crowded with rich foreigners, designer labels, an amusement part, a skating rink, and a man-made canal that extends from the center, where visitors can tour in a boat.
On the northern side of Doha lies The Pearl, a four million square meter artificial island built to house foreign nationals. One two bedroom apartment in this area can amount to 16,000 riyals a month. The day starts early for the working population – usually around 7am, but the majority of people get off around 4/5pm. The night is filled with a wide range of activities, from cultural shows at Katara, family activities at the multitude of malls, and excellent food at the Souq Waqif.
Life is seemingly slow-paced and relaxing. The average salary is 17,144 riyals/month, and some professions such as a construction project manager earn as much as 350,073 riyals/month. However, a large portion of the population do not enjoy the same luxurious amenities as the others. With my time in Doha, I was able to speak with the other majority, who are not surrounded by such a comfortable lifestyle, which made me appreciate my American passport.
Nonetheless, the magnificence of Qatar is undeniable.