Land scarcity is a real problem facing many city-states with growing populations – and the growing waste volumes that follow. To create more space, city-states around the world have found novel ways of reclaiming land from water to transform parts of adjacent rivers, lakes and seas into land – a process known as land reclamation or land fill.
Among the different methods of land reclamation, the simplest form is called “infilling,” which involves filling the area with large amounts of heavy rock, cement, clay and dirt until the desired height is reached. Reclaiming lands for agricultural purposes often requires submerged wetlands to be drained. In situations in which the material displaced by either dredging or draining is contaminated and needs to be contained, a method called deep cement mixing is used. Deep cement mixing is a technique where cement is injected into the ground for ground stabilization and land reclamation.
But land reclamation is hardly confined to city-states. The 165.76 square kilometer (64 square mile) Dutch capital Amsterdam is also creating land by transforming its port with underwater cabins dedicated to storing abandoned bikes as well as floating parking tubes for bikes, in addition to a new metro stop. Further south in Africa, Cape Town‘s 2.34-square-kilometers (0.9-square-miles) Foreshore was built on reclaimed lands from Table Bay in the 20th century. In a similar manner, Chicago has reclaimed its shoreline from Lake Michigan, which involved driving an outer line of bulkheads away from the original shoreline and then filling behind them with material dredged from the lake’s bottom, sand from the Indiana shoreline, general construction debris, alley waste and even debris from the Chicago Fire, in places up to a mile away from the original shoreline.
Land reclamation is also cause for political disputes due to how it changes geographies, re-definig the limits of national and international waters. In an effort to address this issue, the United Nations released a convention to protect transboundary waters in 1992, which was entered into force in 1996. The convention is meant to serve as a mechanism to strengthen international cooperation and national measures for the ecologically sound management and protection of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters. The convention’s legal framework sets out some key guiding principles, including: the equitable and reasonable utilization of international watercourses; the application of appropriate measures to prevent harm to other states sharing an international watercourse; and the principle of prior notification of planned measures.
In an effort to create more land for their citizens, these city-states are turning national waters into national lands.
The city-state of Qatar has been launching land reclamation projects to face its land scarcity for years. Qatar encompasses an area of 11,586 square kilometers (4,473 square miles), with a population of around 2.5 million. In 2004, it reclaimed 400 hectares of land to locate its man-made Pearl Island, sheltering around 30,000 residents. Locals and urban researchers have argued that efforts exerted by the government might have nourished the economy, but in doing so, they have also taken a toll on the marine life in coastal areas around the oil-rich nation.
Being a coastal city-state, Qatar is known for its rich marine life. It is not clear exactly how many sea mammals reside within Qatar’s waters, but its waters are home to about 6,000 of the sea mammals in the Gulf. According to ExxonMobil Research Qatar, the city-state is home to at least two out of three important regional dugong habitats. Over the past few years, fish have been decreasing around man-made islands and coastal districts, and locals are divided between overfishing and land reclamations being the reason behind this. The lack of sufficient environment protection regulations and limited monitoring and enforcement of the few that do exist have led to various forms of environmental pollution, natural habitat destruction and reduced liveability.
For political and economic reasons, systematic sea reclamation started in Bahrain in 1990. Between 60 and 70 square kilometres (37 to 43.4 miles) of land under the sea were reclaimed in order to construct artificial islands such as the 2.7 square kilometer (1 square mile) AMWAJ Islands, the 2.5 square kilometer (a little under 1 square mile) Diyar Al-Muharraq, and the 2 kilometer (0.77 square mile) Durrat Al-Bahrain, among others.
Urban expansion through sea reclamation has led to significant changes in Bahrain’s landscape, as sand and water are replaced with non-transpiring and non-evaporating materials such as asphalt, metal and concrete. This has contributed to an increase in surface and air temperature values, as new urban land areas become warmer than their rural surroundings, creating an urban heat island effect.
Another oil-rich nation, Kuwait has been reclaiming land from the sea to provide for its citizens in terms of energy. The city-state encompasses 17,820 square kilometers (6,880 square miles) of land, sheltering 4,348,395 people. In 2014, Dutch contractor Van Oord executed a ground improvement project for their Kuwaiti client, Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC). The land reclamation project comprised 65 million cubic meters (2.2 billion cubic feet) of sand and extensive soil improvement. The reclamation area is intended to house one of the largest oil refining plants in the Middle East.
When completed this year, Al-Zour Refinery will produce 615,000 barrels of oil per day, with the strategic goal of supplying low-sulphur fuel. The refinery will be constructed on the reclaimed land in a ‘sabnha area,’ a salt plain near the coast just 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) north of the Saudi border.
While land filling is common in the islands of the Arabian Gulf due to limited landmasses, it is certainly not limited to the region. Singapore, which is 687 square kilometers (265 square miles), has struggled with its small size for years. The city-state ranks 192nd out of 249 countries in terms of size, with a population that is growing at the rate of 1.86% annually. Singapore’s limited space and rigid restrictions on building height due to flight paths means that space needs to be optimized.
In response, the country’s ministers of infrastructure and transport have joined forces to create more space for people – and garbage – via the Tuas Port Reclamation Project. Set to be open in phases starting 2021, the Tuas Terminal will incorporate features such as optimized land use by utilizing both above and underground spaces for complementary purposes. These will include storage facilities, enhancing the safety and security of the port waters via a next-generation traffic management system, increasing productivity, and reducing labor costs through the use of technology like automated yard cranes and port equipment. The port may also include a number of cafes, retail stores and even a jogging track to further optimize land use and add vibrancy.
Land scarcity has been one of Singapore’s biggest challenges ever since the population began to spike in 1965, jumping from 1.9 million to 5.5 million in just 50 years. However, land scarcity doesn’t just affect Singapore’s population — it also affects the country’s landfills, as there is simply no room for extra facilities to handle the population’s waste. Located in Pulau Semakau in the south of Singapore, the only landfill left encompasses 350 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea.