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Comment - Bernadette Redfern

Ask any engineer where the world's most exciting projects are taking place and, nine times out of ten, the answer is the Middle East.

Not only is there the world's tallest building – the Burj Dubai, standing at over 650m and climbing – but at least three other towers are also being developed that will supersede it, in Kuwait, Riyadh, and another in Dubai.

In addition, offshore developments mean that a wealth of incredible and innovative bridge crossings are in design or under construction and plans to link countries, such as the causeways between Yemen and Djibouti, Qatar and Bahrain and Subiya to Kuwait could give rise to some of the world's greatest structures.

On the transport side, governments are seeking to create the public transport systems that have so far evaded the Gulf.

The region's first light rail scheme, the Dubai Metro, is set to open its first line in September 2009.

The result is a £679bn project market that's desperate for civil engineers, project managers, and other skilled professionals to realise the plans, most of which are developed in half the time it would take elsewhere.For engineers, the benefits are clear: exposure to amazing projects and much greater responsibility in a shorter time for those that seek it. In addition to this, living standards are high, salaries tax free and crime rates low.

But for anyone thinking of making the change, there are some notes of caution. Inflation has caused the cost of living to soar, so although salaries remain tax-free, outgoings for rent (which is usually paid for a year in advance) and children's education are high. What is more, the fast-track nature of the schemes ensures that six-day working weeks and long hours are normal.
Furthermore, the six Gulf states have very different living and working environments from the more conservative Saudi Arabia, to the cosmopolitan UAE, and the quickly moving but relatively small Qatar.

The source of the infrastructure investment funding has mainly come from oil and gas
exports to overseas markets. Regardless of what happens to the price of hydrocarbons in the long term, Gulf governments are firmly committed to their plans. So, unlike other parts of the world, spending in the construction sector will remain high for years to come.

- Bernadette Redfern is a civil engineer and former features editor of Middle East Economic Digest

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