The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been underway for almost two years but the political leadership has yet to take into consideration its societal and environmental impact. While the physical infrastructure and energy generation projects to be completed under the CPEC have the potential to boost economic activity, they will also result in degradation of the environment. Not too long ago, the Karakoram Highway had supported only a handful of trucks that traversed its narrow route to move goods between markets in Pakistan and China. The highway is expected to carry up to 100 trucks a day when CPEC reaches its full swing.
The highest paved surface in the world already has more than a dozen diesel powered semi-trailer trucks chugging along it every day. The ugly dark fumes released by these trucks stand out in striking contrast to the pristine landscape alongside the highway. These dark fumes will eventually settle on glaciers, causing them to melt and form lakes. Installing catalytic converters in the trucks that use the highway can serve as a quick-fix and economical solution to reduce emissions.
This is just one of the cases where the environmental impact of CPEC-related projects needs to be tackled. A comprehensive assessment is needed for damage likely to be done to the environment. Some of the projects will need corrective measures but others might have to be abandoned for more sustainable initiatives.
The authorities must realise that blind faith in CPEC’s ability to turn around the economy can bring more harm than good. These projects need to be reviewed for sustainability and equity to ensure that benefits outweigh costs and that the benefits reach marginalised areas and population groups.
The government should realise that the effects of reckless development are challenging to recover. The plans it implements today have the potential to harm Pakistan tomorrow.
First published in Daily Times on November 09