Perhaps after viewing the down-to-the-wire construction troubles of this summer's Olympic Games in Athens, Qatar's planners have been taking a more long-term view when it comes to the 2006 Asian Games. Scheduled to come under starters' orders in December of that year, gearing up the country's infrastructure to meet the challenge is already underway. As a spin off, Qatar is also heading for an up-to-the-minute electricity distribution system.
This week saw the Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (QGEWC) sign a contract worth QR395m with a consortium led by Siemens AG of Germany for the construction and expansion of a series of substations.
In Doha itself, there are to be six of these built. Two - Abu Hamour North and Doha Central - are 220/66/11 kV substations, while two others - Maither Central and Duhail will be 132/66/11 kV. The final two - the Ali bin Abi Thalib Street substation and one other - are to be 66/11 kV. Meanwhile, the deal also sees expansion and modification work on a number of other substations.
The rational behind the plan is that the 2006 games will require a major boost to the country's power system. The substations are to be completed by March 2006, giving plenty of time for any bugs to be ironed out before the surge in electricity demand expected for the tournament.
In addition to the substations, power cabling is also being upgraded. July 6 brought news that South Korea's LG Cable had won a $59.3m contract for a project that includes building a substation, laying underground cables between existing substations, and upgrading the power grid. The project is to be completed in 21 months.
At the same time, the QGEWC, widely known as Kahramaa, is a public-sector body in a sector which is seeing increasing private involvement. Since the early 1990s, when the Ministry of Energy removed itself from the day-to-day running of the sector and confined itself to policy and regulation roles, several international power-sector giants have been testing Qatar's waters. Meanwhile, the responsibility for electricity generation - along with water desalination - has been transferred to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company (QEWC). This entity is part owned by the government (with 42.74% of the shares), partly by private sector companies (40.4%) and partly by individual shareholders (16.86%).
The sector's best-known private facility is the Ras Laffan power and water plant, located in Ras Laffan Industrial City. Owned by the Ras Laffan Power Company, this is a largely private initiative, although QEWC owns a 25% share. The main owner is US giant AES Corporation, with a 55% stake.
Upgrading the power network is also widely expected to have advantages for another ongoing process in Qatar - that of linking the state to neighbouring electricity grids. Qatar has been in discussions for some time with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries to create a regional grid. The plan envisages three stages - first, a link up to neighbouring Bahrain, a second with the UAE and Oman and finally one with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Meanwhile, preparations for the games are underway in a number of other areas too. Most recently, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Qatar Telecom (Qtel) and Korea Telecom Corporation (KT) which will see the South Koreans giving technological support to the games.
The Doha Asian Games Organising Committee (DAGOC) has also received praise for its efforts so far from visiting Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) Vice-President Muhammed Latif Butt.
"I am in no doubt that Doha will give a good account of itself while staging the next edition of the Asian Games," Butt told the Qatar-based English language daily The Peninsula June 30. "I say this because I know Doha has the resources, the determination and the expertise that is needed in staging such mega events."
The general secretary of the Qatar National Olympic Committee, Sheikh Saud bin Abdulrehman Al Thani, agreed.
"We are making excellent progress in our preparation for the Asian Games to be held here in 2006," he told reporters the same day. "We are confident that we will fulfil our promises of completing our preparatory work well in time."
Already, Qatar has pledged to spend some $700m on building a brand-new Olympic standard sports village for the event, with a further $600m expected for infrastructure upgrades. In addition, the $2.5bn earmarked for expansion of Doha International Airport also has an Asian Games dimension.
The signs so far are good that this massive undertaking will pass off smoothly, with plenty of Qataris confident that the last-minute work underway in Athens will not be repeated in Doha.