Duqm – A fledgling haven in the desert

Duqm is a nascent haven with a huge economic potential. It is currently bent on fulfilling this promise with a sprawling diverse blend of heavy and light industries; added to a petrochemical complex that is scheduled to come into being in 2021.

Far from being a local breed or an anomaly on its own, Duqm is part of an international consortium of 21st century towns that sprang up in different parts of the globe. These towns represent a new strain that started to flourish in countries like Malaysia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and others. It’s frequently asked whether these towns would boom to constitute the economic hubs of the future. To answer this query, researchers have been at pains to disinter the scientific facts that make a town like Duqm tick.

Window on the past
In addition to the current ongoing pace of modernisation in Duqm, you can still sniff the smell of past events in the history of the town. The main street in Wilayat of Al Duqm borrows its name from the late Sultan Said bin Taimour while the Flamingo docking of Duqm port had witnessed the arrival of the late Sultan’s vessel, Flamingo, that hailed from Salalah in 1954.

That royal visit to Duqm had inspired the notable diplomat at the time, Henderson — alias ‘Bin Hender’ — to note in his book, “Memoirs of Earlier Days”, that the visit was a precursor for a series of subsequent visits that ensued in the settlement of geologists in Fahud for the purpose of exploring oil in that Governorate.
This historical fact clearly indicates the proximity of Duqm’s milieu to oil sources. The number of times Duqm was mentioned in that memorable book clearly underlines the historical role the town has played and the pivotal geographical significance of its location. Political observers indicate that Omani policy originate from the historical dimension that is clearly apparent in the policies adopted by the builder and founder of the modern revival of Oman, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.

The terrain
The name ‘Duqm’ is derived from the original Arabic word ‘al-Adqam’ which means a person who has lost his front teeth. This is how Duqm looks to onlookers from afar who can glimpse the Arabian Sea and the town that seems to be caught between two jaws as represented by the mountains that surround the town. At least, that was the linguistic interpretation presented by the researcher, Mariam al Burtumania. In her book that included comprehensive facts about Duqm’s past history and its current pace of modernisation, al Burtmania sheds light on other aspects of the Governorate, such as its climate and customs and traditions of its people.
She even overlaid facts about the linguistic origins of the names of the Governorate’s villages and dales, indicating that a past history lurks behind each of those names.
The book was therefore aptly titled: “Duqm: The Long-standing Tradition of the Land and the Conduits of the Future”. The book has the estimable characteristic of including all the important references related to Duqm from which the researcher can set off in his quest. The following aspect illustrates the specific and unique nature of the Governorate:

The location’s geography
A quick look at the map of the Gulf would reveal that Duqm is located at the farthest tip in the Arabian Sea apart from the Strait of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandab. The importance of Duqm’s location is further accentuated by the geopolitical disorders currently ongoing in the Governorate. These disorders also underpin the need for safeguarding oil supplies to the international markets, particularly the Asian markets that are reliant on the Gulf’s oil; added to the danger of piracy in the South at Bab-el-Mandeb.
These vulnerabilities at the straits have raised the insurance cost on oil tankers and shipping lines. These are translated into figures that the world trade cannot simply turn a blind eye to. It was natural that better and cheaper alternatives should be sought. It was also natural that the location of Duqm would polarise the major shipping lines. Duqm is consequently considered the location of choice for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia being the Kingdom’s sole outlet to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, apart from the two straits. This geographical fact leads us to the next vital condition that is considered vital for any maritime traffic:

Stability and security
Both location and natural resources will have no bearing in the absence of a recognised and long-standing state of stability and security. It will therefore be imperative to have a closer insight into the internal factors that control the Sultanate’s external policy and its relations with other countries of the globe. The Global Competitiveness Report, which is a report of an economic nature that is considered a vital information source for investors, has confirmed that the Sultanate has continued to score the highest rates of stability and security at the international level throughout the past decades.

Economic geography
The importance of any geographical location is measured by the extent of economic activities ongoing in that location and its surroundings as well as the natural resources prevalent in that location. The importance of the strategic location of Duqm can be appreciated by consideration of the speedy rates of growth of the nearby African and Asian markets. Duqm’s geographical locale further enables it to attract the major shipping lines that represent substantial exchange of trade between Asia and Europe.
The Gulf countries also represent a hefty consumption power. The Gulf region possesses huge financial reserves, in addition to the demographic factor as the Governorate is witnessing a steady pace of population growth. These factors have been taken into account when the facilities of Duqm’s port were constructed. These factors included the port’s water-depth — up to around 18m, that qualify the port to receive huge tankers with a capacity of up to 22,000 tonnes. The importance of this depth lies not only in the capacity to receive larger shipping lines but also in the fact that the surrounding ports lack that depth and consequently Duqm gains a substantial advantage over those ports. The gist of Duqm’s geographical location cannot be fully appreciated without taking the following other factors into account.

Geological importance
A visitor to Wilayat of Al Duqm will initially assume that the geological significance of Duqm resides in the rock garden and the natural reserves only, and may be also in its highly refined limestone that is used for plural and varied commercial purposes, specifically in the manufacture of cement.
But the real importance of Wilayat of Al Duqm, however, lies in the fact that it represents a scientific geological museum in the true sense of the word.
The topographic layers and components of that museum clearly tell the story of the emergence of Planet Earth as indicated by the Omani geological expert, Dr Mohammed al Kindi, in his book titled “The Story of The Earth and Life in Oman (800 Million Years Ago to Date)” .
The mountainous area located in the eastern part of the Central Governorate is known as Al Huqf and extends from Wilayat of Mahout in the north (specifically from a Governorate known by the name of al-Jouba) up to Wilayat of Al Duqm in the south and Wilayat of Haima in the west, at a total length of about 200 km and a width of 75 km. The word “Huqf” means prominent sand dunes. But linguistically, the word means a lengthy and twisting body of sand. The plural of “Huqf” is “Ahqaf”, which is the title of the Koranic verse that relates history of the people of Hud. Historians had differing views on the exact location of this Governorate.
The historian Nashwan al Himairi, for instance, assumed that Al-ahqaf lies on the outskirts of the Empty Quarter between the northern part of Yemen and the southern part of Oman, and may extend to the Central Governorate from which Duqm mountains have derived their name.
The author attributes the importance of Al-Huqf to the fact that the area represents the most outstanding geological traits of Oman. We can detect – from the Strata of the area’s rock layers as well as the numerous fossils of living organisms and creatures that lived in Oman throughout millions of years narrates the emergence of the land of Oman throughout the different geological eras.
Duqm’s Natural Geological Museum includes a collection of rare geological relics such as the Trilith Stones, which are relics that are mostly construed as places of worship. The second relic is the Striated Glacial Pavement and the third is embodied in the Petrified Wood that aggregately relay the emergence of planet earth since the ancient, middle and modern ages. There is no longer any scope for posing a question on the economic feasibility of this geological wealth.
The geological formation in the Sultanate has prompted Austrian team to carry out its experiments in Dhofar Desert in 2017 to simulate life on Mars in collaboration with the Omani Astronomical Society. This is one of the instances at which I personally affirm the feasibility of establishing a Geo Hub, or perhaps more generally and inclusively, an integrated Eco Hub, in addition to the associated space industries and teaching colleges. All these are scientific activities that greatly contribute to the promotion of tourism in the Sultanate.
On the light of the above, the Ministry of Tourism has signed a memorandum of understanding with Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) for launching a geological gardens project and the creation of a tourism resort at Al-Huqf under the programme that caters for boosting economic diversification that is supervised by the Execution and Follow up Unit.

The climatic factor
Reports refer to Duqm’s climate in an offhand manner as if it is of minor importance. These reports forgo the fact that average temperatures in Duqm scale up to 30 degrees and do not exceed 35 degrees during the hottest months of summers. The underlying reason for this is that Duqm is affected by the monsoon and also constitutes part of the Arabian Gulf region that is hot in summer.
Duqm enjoys moderate weather for ten months every year, at a difference of ten degrees from most of the parts of the Gulf countries where temperatures drop only five months per year. The most important impact of this climate is represented in its role in enriching fish reserves and other maritime assets.
Al Kindi has cited a scientific explanation for the above in his book on the directional movement of the monsoon. In other words, he indicates that this phenomenon as referred to as the “coastal upwelling” that leads to lowering pressure at sea level and leads to setting in motion the internal ocean currents to form what is termed recycling of nutrition in the depths of the ocean, which in turn leads to increasing the nutritional components that float on the ocean’s surface. Consequently, a fertile environment is created for proliferation and multiplication of fish along the eastern coast of the Sultanate. This explains why this Governorate has been distinguished by the quality of its fish reserve and its diverse nutritional maritime wealth and why it has remained a resort for people throughout the ages.

The food aspect
In their personal gossip, Omani’s stress that: “no fish is on par with al-Hadri sea catch (a catchword that mean an extended distance of a location). Local experience has proven the superior quality of the Governorate’s maritime wealth, such as fish, slugs, crustaceans, sturgeons and shrimp, over the other fisheries in the Sultanate. Over 50 per cent of the fish exports go to the Gulf countries due to increase of demand on those exports. For the purpose of establishing fish and nutritional industries, the Sultanate is currently constructing its largest fishing port in Duqm, at a depth of 10m for receiving large fishing vessels. A nutritional industrial complex will also be constructed close to the port. The above was a casual briefing on Duqm for covering the economic file of Duqm. It represents a summary of a research I have undertaken, prompted by the fact that only meagre studies have been conducted on Duqm. We appeal to a generation of young Omani researchers who have translated their works into English to avail this to the rest of the world. These are, then, far-sighted visions and those who lack them will start doubting their feasibility. The current times have witnessed an unprecedented boom in the logistic infrastructure of the Sultanate. How will the economic scene look like in Duqm in the coming three years? When an economic Omani city is built out of nothing, Omani’s should head for that city before others so that this city may become part of the history to be written.

Twitter: @AnnAlkindi