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The Line threatens the climate, the environment and human rights

NOS / The biggest and most controversial 'new city' project in the world? In order to complete the enormous construction works in Saudi Arabia with the NEOM city project over the next 25 years, it is estimated that 100 workers will be needed – mainly migrants. At the same time, NEOM has been criticized for a lack of sustainable development and violations of human rights.


I Saudi-Arabia an enormous construction project is now being established in the desert: the NEOM region (neo/Greek: new; mostaqbal/Arabic: future) is probably the largest and most controversial 'new city' project in the world. It is based on the principle of special economic zones and covers an area of ​​26 square kilometers in the northwestern corner of Saudi Arabia. It corresponds to Albania in area, and borders the Red Sea to the south and the Gulf of Ayaba to the west. According to the developers, NEOM will consist of ten projects, all of which are referred to as regions. So far, only information about four of the regions has been made known.

These four are The Line, Oxagon, Troy's and Sindalah. According to rumours, the leading architectural firm will be American Morphosis. Former deputy mayor of Barcelona Antonio Vives is employed as chief planner for The Line. The British architectural firm Norman Foster was represented on NEOM's advisory board, but withdrew after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

1 million will live in The Line by 2030.

The project is largely financed by funds from the Public Investment Fund on behalf of the Saudi Arabian state. The company that was established to develop NEOM claims that the fund contributes 500 billion dollars. It forms part of Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the country's economy to reduce dependence on oil.

This applies to the degree of surveillance, the right to free speech and privacy and not least labor and environmental rights.

NEOM works according to an ambitious timetable and most of the projects are to be completed before 2030. The first is the luxury island Sindalah which will welcome guests in early 2024. The port city will then follow Oxagon shortly after.

The four projects

The Line is planned as a 170 km long, linear city from west to east which will house 9 million people before finally being completed.
position in 2045. 1 million will live in The Line in 2030. According to the developers, 2400 people have been employed so far. To complete the enormous construction work over the next 25 years, it is estimated that 100 workers will be needed – mainly migrants. According to the master plan, the city will consist of two parallel 000 meter high skyscrapers in line with 500 meter intervals. The buildings' facades must be covered with mirrors.

OXAGON is planned as an octagonal port city at Red Sea in the very south of the NEOM region. According to the developer, the port and associated logistics based on artificial intelligence will become the world's largest floating structure.

TROJENA is planned as an alpine skiing center in the Sarwat mountains (rarely above 2100 meters) in the northern part of NEOM. The 60 square kilometer recreation area will offer skiing opportunities all year round and has been awarded the Asian Ski Championships in 2029. British Zaha Hadid Architects, Dutch UNStudio, American AEDAS, German LAVA and Belgian Bureau Proferts are mentioned in connection with the design development. Dutch Mecanoo is also confirmed.

SINDALAH is planned as a holiday island in the Red Sea. It targets yacht owners. The 840 square meter island will include a marina with room for 000 boats and several hotels. Superyacht designer and architect Luca Early Design and Architecture has been given the assignment.

Indigenous peoples' human rights

The international discussion about NEOM, which has been limited, is characterized by three controversial perspectives: sustainable development, quality of life and men-
family rights (MR).

Many people in particular worry about Saudi Arabia's MR situation. Freedom House recently gave the country 7 out of 100 in its global index. Amnesty International has published on its website a list of ten points that identify the country's violations of human rights.

Particular attention is related to forced relocationone that takes place in connection with the start of construction. The area to be developed is the historic homeland of the Huwaitat tribe. It is estimated that 20000 of these will have to be moved.

Activist Abdul Rahim Al Huwaiti was killed by the country's security forces.

In 2020 published Abdul Rahim Al Huwaiti videos online to raise awareness of the situation. The BBC later reported that he had been killed by the country's security forces. Last year, the MR organization ALQST announced that three people who worked with Al Huwaiti had been sentenced to death. The UN Human Rights Council has sounded the alarm about the impending executions.

Amnesty International's director Peter Frankenstad has stated that companies that work for NOS are faced with moral dilemmas and should reconsider when it comes to continued participation in the project. Amnesty calls for answers from world-leading companies to well-documented abuses against people who have shown resistance. He wants them to hold the Saudi authorities accountable and withdraw from the project. Frankenstad also points out that when it comes to NEOM, it is about far more than people moving. This applies to the degree of surveillance, the right to free speech and privacy, and not least labor and environmental rights. Hundreds of thousands of cleaners, security guards, maids and the vast majority of construction workers could be subjected to conditions that make the Qatar World Cup look like paradise. The recruitment companies will continue to charge sky-high fees from migrantone, and expulsion will immediately follow if anyone dares to complain.

Controversial climate and environmental consequences

NEOM's director Tarek Qaddumi has stated that "we see The Line as a unique opportunity to set new goals for combining prosperity, living conditions and environmental considerations. Important sustainabilitytarget will be reached, especially when it comes to energy use, which will be 100 per cent renewable".

1,8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide will be produced.

But The Line has been criticized for being expected CO2- emissions from construction. Philip Oldfield, Head of environmentfaculty at the University of New South Wales, has estimated that up to 1,8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide will be produced. That corresponds to four years of the UK's total emissions, and will far exceed any possible environmental gain.

Eric Berg
Erik Berg
Erik Berg worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs / NORAD from 1978 to 2013. He now heads Habitat Norway.

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