New solutions: Experts stress importance of making Sultanate’s road and civil infrastructure “resilient” to climate-change impacts
As the Omani government sets about taking stock of the significant damage inflicted by Cyclone Shaheen across vast swathes of North and South Al Batinah governorates, there are calls by experts for current and future infrastructure projects to be made suitably “resilient” to severe flooding and climate change-related perils.
Besides causing extensive damage to private homes, businesses, farms and utilities, floodwaters unleashed by Shaheen are also understood to have also wrecked roads in many places, damaged dams and aflaj, and water and sewer networks, while causing extensive economic disruption as well.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee tasked with overseeing the post-cyclone recovery of areas impacted by Shaheen announced the formation of a special team of experts drawn from the Engineering Services division of the Sultan’s Armed Forces and the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Informational Technology (MCTIT). The team’s remit is to review the design of road infrastructure and propose solutions to make all roads resilient to potential flood damage.
Yesterday, the Ministerial Committee authorized the formulation of an “action plan” to address damage to dams and aflaj, as well as ascertain the need for new flood protection dams, aimed at mitigating the effects of future storm events.
Significantly, flood protection schemes are in various stages of design, construction and operation in several areas around the Sultanate, including Muscat, South Sharqiya, Al Wusta and Dhofar Governorates, among other locations.
But given the rising frequency and intensity of cyclones in the Sultanate – a phenomenon attributed to global warming and climate change – a number of design engineers contacted by the Observer have underlined the need for future civil infrastructure to be suitably “hardened” to withstand flood-related risks. They also stress the importance of superior design engineering and construction work to ensure all future projects to be made “climate-resistant”.
A veteran civil engineer, with longstanding experience in Oman, said: “The Sultanate’s Highway Design Manual adheres to internationally accepted ASTHO standards, but special consideration must be made in the design of cross drainage or embankment structures, given the unprecedented volumes and ferocity of floodwater when it rains. This will require an overhaul of design standards, material specifications and construction technology.”
Furthermore, the design of roads should go hand in hand with the design of drainage infrastructure primarily to ensure that flood or drain water is channeled well away from the road. Any waterlogging on the road should be swiftly drained away as well, he said.
A former C-level executive in a leading investment firm questioned the wisdom of awarding design engineering contracts for key civil infrastructure projects to the low / lowest bidder, which is a longstanding practice in the Sultanate.
“Flood control design work is not optimal in Oman, and so is construction supervision, especially when the cheapest design consultants are chosen for an important job. There is little effort to assess the capabilities of the design consultants and the contractors because the driving motivation is to get the job done at the lowest cost.”