The Middle East is probably the richest area in the world with the largest reserves of petroleum and gas. However, as we all know, the entire area is an arid desert. Most agricultural goods, food items and essentials have to be shipped or trucked in and this makes the Middle East area one of the most prosperous and profitable areas for transporters in the entire world. In 1995, the volume of intra-Arab imports amounted to about $11,042 million and the volume of the intra-Arab exports amounted to about $13,185 million and this amount is doubling every year.
But problems do arise for truckers . The demand for American food items, European goods, and Asian edibles is high but almost everything has to be transported over arid sandy land, through treacherous deserts, several country borders and even over small landlocked water bodies.
Road Transportation Concerns for truckers
Roads are very well constructed over most of the Middle East. There are several cross Arab state roads that extend from Mauritania all the way to Oman. The Arab states realized early on that is was necessary to have a reliable and trusted road connection between its member nations and they actively built roads and highways that now cross over through UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan and over to Europe as well. This well established road network means that the Middle East has always been able to import all of its food and other necessities from other industrialized countries. This trade has definitely increased in the last few years. Although several states do have ports, the desert region makes it necessary to have an extensive road network that will transport the goods to interior cities and settlements. In fact, the Middle East has a higher than average requirement of 31% of trucks and truckers as compared to a global average of 22%. Rapid urbanization, increasing population rates and rapidly developing cities has also increased the demand for truckers who can transport goods into the interiors.
Advantages for Truckers
The extensive demand for goods means that there is always work available for trained truck drivers. Goods may be loaded on at ports located on the Red Sea, the Mediterranean or the Arabian Gulf and then ferried across the Middle East extends as far as Kabul or Karachi or even the other way up to Sudan and Egypt. This may result in longer trips for truckers that are profitable with payments ranging to about $5000 or more. New suspension bridges and better roads are also a huge advantage for truckers and trucks never go empty due to the return traffic in the form of local goods that are shipped to ports for export. There are now plans for more than 28,200 kilometers of new roads, light rail and monorail projects as well so that transportation can be made easy. To deal with the unique weather conditions, truckers also use special trucks like the Mercedes, Scania, Fiat, Volvo Daf, and Mac 10-gear diesel articulated truck-and-trailer transportation trucks that are geared to deal with the shifting sands and sub zero temperatures in the winter.
Problems for Truckers plying in the Middle East
Even though the area is very popular and profitable for transportation companies and truckers, it’s not without its problems. Common headaches for transportation companies include the following —
1. Varying border rules and regulations — The Middle East has always been a very volatile region politically. International rules and local civil problems abound. Local tribes and militant groups also add to the melting pot causing a huge range of problems for solitary truckers plying their trucks in the region. For example, truckers plying from Afghanistan over to the Middle East have to deal with an increasingly militant Taliban which guns down drivers, loots the trucks and then burns the trucks down. Poverty in the interior also encourages the locals to band together and rob trucks that are left unattended by truckers. This problem is much worse for smaller firms which cannot afford to hire two driver trucker teams or to pay off the attackers. Now NATO-based transportation orders have increased but truckers are frequently infidels or sneaks are being hunted or shot down. Frequent border closures are also common resulting in increased delays in transportation and holdups in transportation. Document stamping is also extended at border stations resulting in problems for transportation companies.
2. Extensive toll systems — A few Middle East countries have started tolling stations on their major nodal roadways to recover costs of infrastructure. Although this may seem feasible for local transportation, it does not work out for long distance truckers. For example, long distance truckers may travel a grueling 8000 mile round trip from the Atlantic to Gulf and back again and paying multiple tolls along the way is not at all feasible. For example, Turkey introduced a $800 road tax literally overnight leaving thousands of truckers stranded at the border.
3. Weather problems — The Middle East has its own unique geographical problems. Well developed roads in Ankara, Jordan and Israel are frequently covered with shifting desert sands. This results in a huge problem for heavy duty trucks that are packed with goods. Axle breakdowns, sinking and busted transmissions are common on the barren desert stretches and repair facilities are few and far between for truckers. Soft shifting sands that are covered with a thin crust of mud are also very common resulting in trapped tires. Because of these problems, truckers frequently run out of cash and are forced to leave valuable trucks and goods behind in the desert result in an irreversible loss of property. As the desert has extreme climates, it’s not unusual for temperatures to drop well below freezing at night. Drivers frequently have to light fires below their tanks to prevent the diesel or fuel from freezing up in the subzero winter temperatures.
4. Competition — For truckers, the competition means that they usually get paid better. However, larger trucking firms and smaller firms with a shady reputation have now started to cash in on the local market. As more and more local countries have opened out their borders and their ports, there is heavy competition for the local trucking contracts resulting in cost cutting, agents who bid for contracts and smaller firms.
However, it’s not all bad. Business and shipping in the Middle East are booming. Local conditions are also improved with cessation of internal problems in Lebanon, an open port in Beirut, new barge terminals in Saudi Arabia, new ports in Jiddah, Dammam and Jubail, largest commercial ports in Bandar Abbas, Iran and new ports at Sharjah and Khor Fakkan. The Gulf and Middle East will easily remain the best area for truckers and trucking companies like Aramco and Hungarocamion are expected to hire more than 200 trucks to hit the Asia/Europe/Middle East route in the coming decade.