x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Scoping for growth in Ras Al Khaimah

Plans for major infrastructure improvements in Ras Al Khaimah show the way toward better services to speed economic development.

There is a paradox that Ras Al Khaimah, the nation's powerhouse of cement production, has sometimes been overlooked in terms of bricks-and-mortar infrastructure development. Since opening the UAE's first cement company, Union Cement, in the early 1970s, the emirate has played an integral role in supplying the rest of the country with the raw materials needed to develop.

But the emirate, renowned for its stunning natural terrain, has not kept pace with its southern neighbours in terms of infrastructure. That is about to change.

As The National reported on Saturday, the municipal and federal governments are scheduled to announce the Regional and Urban Development Plan for Southern Ras Al Khaimah sometime next month. That scoping plan will take into account the Dh5.7 billion that has already been budgeted for Emirati housing in the emirate.

The development of each emirate, including remote rural areas, is a priority for the national development project, as we have argued in these pages before. By knitting the country together with transport and utility networks, and providing equal-quality health and education services across the Emirates, the fabric of the country is strengthened.

To be certain, there remain differences in living conditions between Ras Al Khaimah's urban centre and more remote, mountainous regions, which are home to almost 40 per cent of the emirate's population. Adequate housing is sometimes lacking and many roads are poor, making some areas practically inaccessible.

The planned infrastructure development is based on expected population growth in the emirate and, we hope, should help to stimulate economic growth as well. For many Ras Al Khaimah natives, the opportunity to work in their home emirate would be a massive lifestyle improvement. The emirate's industrial sector continues to attract investment, as does the tourism industry, and last summer the RAK free trade zone forecast an 18 per cent rise in new company registrations.

There deserves to be a note of caution, however: lessons learnt elsewhere show that plans for expansion need to be tailored to realistic projections for growth. But Ras Al Khaimah's development study, particularly dealing with transport and utilities networks, should lay the groundwork.