Project Management Institute

Sand storm

land reclamation projects in Asia face unpredictable stakeholder and regulatory challenges


The Jurong Island and Tuas View reclamation projects in Singapore


HKD150 billion

Cost of new Hong Kong runway project


The amount of Singapore built on reclaimed land


Scheduled completion date of four new Malaysian islands

Land reclamation projects don’t usually make international headlines. But China’s construction of islands in the South China Sea sparked a geopolitical dispute earlier this year after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations criticized the project for threatening other nations’ sovereignty.

Tense as the moment was, land reclamation projects have a long history in Asia. The entire Hong Kong airport is built on reclaimed land, as is 20 percent of Singapore and some Malaysian islands. Border dispute risks are rare. The more common obstacles practitioners face during these costly and lengthy projects are resource limitations, environmental concerns, local resistance and legislative obstacles.


“The mutual understanding and allocation of the operational, environmental, financial and political risks will result in a smooth execution with fewer surprises.”

—Jack HC Kerklaan, Akuna Dredging Solutions, Brisbane, Australia

A land reclamation project requires one thing above all: sand. Reclaiming 1 square kilometer (0.39 square miles) of land takes up to 37.5 million cubic meters (1.3 billion cubic feet) of sand from rivers, lakes or seas—desert sand is ineffective. As a result, some areas experience shortages.

Singapore’s government is the world’s largest sand importer, having expanded its land area 22 percent over the past 50 years and exhausted domestic sand sources decades ago. Worried about environmental damage, running out of the resource or protecting sea access rights, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have banned or severely restricted sand exports, which has led to higher prices and alleged black markets.

Even when project managers do secure enough sand, stakeholder protests can threaten a reclamation project. A HKD150 billion project to add a third runway at Hong Kong’s airport received official confirmation in March and is slated to be completed by 2023. But environmentalists oppose the project, saying it will disrupt the habitat of the endangered Chinese white dolphin.

Some local resistance can often be anticipated, though the magnitude of opposition is hard to predict, says Jeroen Overbeek, ports and marine leader in Asia for engineering company Aurecon, Singapore. “These issues will crop up even if you’re operating fully within the law,” Mr. Overbeek says. “Anticipating specific project challenges is extremely difficult.”


The artificial island of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

Reclaim to Fame

Asia is the world’s largest continent—and it’s getting bigger. Here are a few of the largest land reclamation projects underway to push shorelines farther out to sea.

SINGAPORE: In recent decades, the tiny nation-state has spent more than US$10 billion on two major reclamation efforts to expand its size. Expansion of the Tuas Peninsula began in 1984, with the most recent phase of the project set to finish in October. Jurong Island was formed through a program that linked multiple islands, an effort that began with a US$5.6 billion project in 1991. In 2013, another expansion of the island began. The US$800 million project is slated to be completed in 2018.

CHINA: The country is reclaiming tidal areas along the southern Yellow Sea in the country’s mostly densely populated province, Jiangsu. The project to reclaim 1,800 square kilometers (181,700 hectares) of new land began in 2010 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

The Chinese government has also embarked on one of the largest land reclamations in the history of Macau. It plans to add 350 hectares (3.5 square kilometers), or nearly 12 percent, to the entertainment peninsula’s land area for residential and commercial use. Public consultations began in 2009, and a master plan is now being finalized. Construction should begin by 2017.

Avoid Assumptions

Stakeholder opposition led to a scaled-back reclamation project in Forest City, Malaysia this year. The project to reclaim land for mixed-development use in Johor Strait began in June 2014 but was halted over environmental concerns expressed by area fishermen. A public review resulted in a revised project plan, in which four islands will be built by 2045 at a cost of RM450 billion.

Regulatory obstacles can also complicate projects. In countries like Indonesia and India, it’s not uncommon for project managers to encounter situations where the central government grants environmental permits or permission to use land but local authorities don’t recognize those decisions, Mr. Overbeek says. The best way for project managers to prepare is to work with local technical and legal consultants to develop an inventory of current rules and regulations as well as a scenario-planning document that anticipates legislation under consideration.

“You can only mitigate a risk if you know the risk is there,” Mr. Overbeek says.

Once a reclamation project does get the official go-ahead, it’s crucial to involve the contractor early on, says Jack HC Kerklaan, director, Akuna Dredging Solutions, Brisbane, Australia. Mr. Kerklaan, who in the late 1990s executed a large reclamation project in Singapore with JTC Corp., says geotechnical and geophysical investigations during the planning phase of a dredging project are instrumental for avoiding surprises during the execution.

“The mutual understanding and allocation of the operational, environmental, financial and political risks will result in a smooth execution with fewer surprises and the best opportunity to complete the project in time and within the budget,” he says.

Mr. Overbeek sums up the risks and challenges project managers face in land reclamation projects with simple advice: Resist the urge to make assumptions, check the facts and keep updating. “Past experience can only take you so far,” he says. —Ambreen Ali

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Managing Software Development Projects for Success member content locked

    By Butler, Charles W. | Vijayasarathy, Leo R. | Roberts, Nicholas In general, project complexity and project dynamism are recognized as potent characteristics that influence, usually in a negative way, the outcome of software development projects. However, with…

  • PM Network

    Edge of Infinity

    Clean, limitless energy is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Nuclear fusion is very real, with the potential to generate an inexhaustible supply of zero-carbon energy, without the intense…

  • PMI Thought Leadership

    PMI 2020 Signposts Report

    By Project Management Institute Project leaders can’t truly deliver value if they’re operating in a vacuum. In the PMI 2020 Signposts Report, we assess six of the most pressing business trends around the globe—climate change, AI,…

  • PM Network


    By Bishel, Ashley | Hermans, Amanda Healthcare leaders have to stay ahead of a lot of pain points: rising costs, new models of care and data security concerns—to name a few. And as the industry continues to inch toward digitization,…

  • PM Network


    By Bishel, Ashley | Hermans, Amanda Mounting cyberthreats will likely guide hiring decisions for 2020 and beyond. One-third of global CEOs pointed to cybersecurity as the top threat to their organizations' growth, according to a KPMG…