Qatar ploughs ahead with World Cup plans despite crises
Last year, Qatar's finance minister Ali Sharif Al-Emadi said his country was determined to have everything ready for the 2022 World Cup well before fans started landing in the Gulf.
"We don't want to be painting while people arrive in the country," he said, before going on to reveal Qatar is spending almost $500 million (430 million euros) a week on infrastructure projects for football's biggest tournament. It is highly unlikely that any visitor to the World Cup is going to see rushed last-minute preparations.
With four and a half years until the 2022 World Cup kicks off, Qatar is ahead of schedule when it comes to venues, related major projects and even paint.
Of the eight stadiums it will build or renovate for 2022, one – Khalifa International – is already open and will host the World Athletics Championships next year. Two more, Al-Wakrah and Al-Bayt stadiums, are expected to be finished by the end of this year and officially opened early in 2019.
Work is also well underway on Lusail Stadium, where the World Cup final and opening game will be played in 2022.
At the bottom of the heap: foreign construction workers in Qatar
Qatar is considered to be one of the richest countries in the world and will be playing host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The sporting grounds and stadiums are being constructed by an army of workers from South-East Asia – often under catastrophic working and living conditions.
Large-scale plans and major criticism: since winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in December 2010, Qatar has come under criticism for persistent human rights violations. Nonetheless, FIFA has remained firm in its commitment to hold the World Cup in Qatar. For the past five years, guest workers have been busy constructing the sites and stadiums for the event. Pictured here: a construction site in Doha, Qatar
The 1.7 million foreign guest workers, around 88 per cent of the total population of Qatar, come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. They come here to earn enough money to improve the lives of their families back home. Wages amount to around €200 a month, half of which is sent home to their families. Some of the foreign workers are assigned to fishing garbage out of the sea (pictured here).
Many foreign workers have no idea of what awaits them when they leave their home countries to work on the huge construction project in Qatar. Hardly any of them can read or write. According to human rights organisations, the workers sign contracts that they rarely understand before leaving home. These contracts stipulate labour and visa conditions for residence and employment in Qatar. Despite this, they still take the leap into the unknown. Pictured here: workers on a construction site in Doha.
After arriving in Qatar, the foreign workers receive job training – inadequate for the most part – from the construction companies. A Qatari employer acts as guarantor for a guest worker's visa and maintains a large degree of control over the working and living conditions of his employees. Construction company bosses are not in the habit of easing the heavy physical workload or of providing health insurance for the workers.
Working in temperatures of up to 50° C is almost unbearable, yet a constant reality on construction sites in the Emirate of Qatar. Critics regard this situation as a serious disadvantage to holding the World Cup in the country. The Emirate plans to equip the stadiums with cooling technology. But that is much further down the line: foreign workers on the building sites have to make do without air conditioning
At least the foreign workers are transported by bus to their living and sleeping quarters after a long ten-hour work shift. But here too, they are exposed to the searing Qatari sun.
The areas in which the foreign workers live are not very different from those in their home countries. The numbered streets in the industrial district of Doha are in the same unfinished state as the stadiums being built by the foreign workers. The buildings are usually simple, low-rise buildings. Rubbish piles up outside them. Pictured here: living quarters for foreign workers in Qatar
The migrants have next to no free time. They are tired after work and there is usually only enough time to satisfy basic needs: sleeping, eating and washing. The one day in the week that they have off from work is normally reserved for shopping. Pictured here: foreign workers on their way home from shopping
Mountains of old building materials have been dumped just outside the workers' living quarters. Left over supplies and rubbish, such as old paint pots, are simply dumped and forgotten here.
The hallways inside the living quarters are reminiscent of those found in reception centres for asylum seekers. This is where the workers leave their shoes, dry their laundry and hang up their jackets.
Foreign workers often sleep cooped-up together in a room measuring just a few square metres. The size of the living quarters is often kept to a minimum; Spartan furnishings are the norm. Six to eight steel bunk beds are pushed up against the walls of the room.
The amenities in the quarters are frugal or practically non-existent. The number of toilets, sinks and showers is extremely limited. Up to 16 people live in a 20-square-metre room without any air conditioning – too many people for such limited space.
The kitchens in the living quarters are equipped with gas stoves and long, worn-out and unhygienic worktops that line the walls. There are no shelves for storing food, and storage space is completely lacking.
Laundry is washed by hand and often hung up to dry on fences. In many cases, there is simply not enough space in the cramped living quarters to do otherwise
These three young men came to Qatar in the belief that they could earn a great deal of money. They soon discovered that they earn considerably less than the agreed minimum wage working on the huge World Cup construction site. Instead of 900 Qatari Riyal, they earn a mere 700. In their first three months on the job, many of them received no pay at all.
For the vast majority of the uninsured foreign workers, the living and working conditions in Qatar are catastrophic. To date, hundreds have died in work-related accidents or have suffered heart attacks.
The huge construction sites light up the night in Doha, creating the appearance of a city skyline. Unfortunately, what this photo does not show is that legions of foreign workers also have to toil here at night.
Construction across Doha – the 2022 World Cup is effectively a one city tournament and the longest distance between venues just 55 kilometres – progresses despite the Gulf political crisis. In the 13 months since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies froze all relations with Qatar, World Cup organisers have proved resilient.
The embargo, in place since 5 June 2017, cut off the supply of construction materials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but they were swiftly replaced by imports from Malaysia and China.
New roads, hotels, museums, neighbourhoods and even towns – including the estimated $45 billion Lusail – have been built. Doha's first metro system, costing $36 billion, is on track to open in 2019.
Qatar expects up to 1.5 million fans to attend in 2022 and they will be housed in a combination of hotels, AirBnB properties, tents and some 12,000 on cruise ships.
Doha has proved very sensitive about accusations there will not be enough hotel spaces, with claims that it will fall short of the 60,000 hotel rooms FIFA requires a World Cup host nation to provide.
Designated fan zones will be put in place, as well as regulated areas where fans can drink. Qatar, a conservative Muslim country, permits alcohol but only under regulated circumstances.
Where the teams will stay in Qatar – and if all will stay in Qatar – for the moment is not clear.
Iran has offered its Kish Island as a base for teams and use of that could depend on the tournament remaining a 32-nation World Cup, or if FIFA brings forward plans to increase it to 48 sides.
For security, Qatar will use foreign police officers to try and combat hooliganism, say organisers, as they aim to deliver "the safest World Cup in the world".
British Typhoon fighter jets bought last year by Qatar for $8 billion will help provide security and patrol the skies during the event. (AFP)