Gwadar Poised To Become Regional Economic Hub, Its Growing Pains Include Water Woes

— The city will soon have the country’s largest airport and the largest gated community with a golf course.
— Taking cognizance of the scenario, the military, whose former chief had said, “CPEC and Gwadar Port will be built and developed as one of the most strategic deep sea ports in the region at all costs,” took the initiative to tackle water problem head-on.

April 25, 2018 (BE2C2) — Emerging from the scratch, the small port city of Gwadar in Balochistan and currently facing 50-60 per cent water shortage is expected to soon have the country’s largest international airport and a dedicated mega oil city spread over 80,000 acres, including 160,000 acres for residential needs.

The secluded port city of 216,000 population happens to be strategically located at the mouth of Straits of Hormuz witnessing more than 70 per cent of the world oil trade.

But in recent years, Gwadar has been thrown into the spotlight as the center-piece of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The humongous program provides the warm waters and easier access to the Middle East that the Chinese crave. Pakistan, its “iron brother”, is its host with massive windfall of geoeconomic benefits expected, concurrent with geostrategic dynamics to its favor. So sooner it’s operational the better it is for all.

Thought-leaders (civil & military) therefore fast-tracked the CPEC understandably. However, it appears that capability and capacity issues underline growing pains associated with it– a huge initiative dubbed larger than the “Marshall Plan”.

Despite its huge significance to the country’s socio-economic uplift, and therefore immense media attention being given to it locally and worldwide, the water crisis Gwadar has been facing and continues to face, have been either overlooked, mismanaged or unmanaged. In all cases, it needs to be resolved both on short-term and on long-term basis.

The reservoir in Water Works Town that stores all of Gwadar’s water.

The situation as it stands is in stark contrast to the images of a pulsating sea and a bustling port that are often used to describe the new port city. Truth be told, Gwadar’s water emergency puts any gains to be made out of CPEC and its associated projects in apparent jeopardy — after all, how can an industrial city survive without potable water?

Water currently comes to Gwadar through pipelines from the Mirani Dam. It is delivered to the Water Works Town, and from there, it gets supplied onward to the rest of the city. All water is stored in a large underground tank and tankers are filled from this point.

Ironically, in July last year, the PCSIR Laboratories Complex in Karachi ran water quality tests on samples collected from the Mirani Dam. The investigation was commissioned by the executive engineer of the PHE department in Gwadar. The test report, dated July 4, 2017, and signed by Director General Dr Khaula Shirin, declares: “The provided sample of water is microbiologically not fit for human consumption, within the scope of analyzed parameters, according to the WHO guidelines.”

Speaking to Dawn months later (September last year), Dr Sajjad Hussain Baloch, the chief engineer at the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) said that the population of Gwadar needs “six million gallons of water while supply is zero.” “Residents have to pay at least 17,000 rupees per tanker. That means about six rupees for one gallon of water. This is more expensive than bottled water.”

These are mostly owned by private enterprises, which means that the government pays them for a service. “So far, our department has paid one billion rupees to these water trailer operators,” said Shakeel Baloch, executive district officer of the PHE department in Gwadar.“And we still owe them a huge amount.”

Are residents compelled to use water brought to them by trailer operators?

“What else can we do? There is not a single drop of water to drink,” said Hafeez Baloch, a resident of Bakhshi Baloch Colony that is situated in proximity to the seaside.

Water used to be supplied to homes once upon a time but today, there is no water in the pipelines. That is why citizens are mostly dependent on water trailer operators, and they buy water from them.

This is Gwadar’s only source of potable water, a clerk from the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department told Dawn in September 2017.

“Notwithstanding the fact that there are 380 big and small seasonal rivers in Makran, there is extreme shortage of water in Makran, particularly in Gwadar, all because of criminal negligence of the government officials,” argues veteran journalist Siddique Baloch.

“Due to alleged corruption by the state-owned National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK), the dam silted up in less than 15 years,” he says. “Desilting takes place by trucks but it is a very slow process.”

Why is Gwadar’s groundwater not an option to meet existing and future demands? The current water supply is no more than 2.5MGD, leaving a shortfall of almost 4MGD, according to Dr Sajjad, and the demand would increase to 12MGD by 2020, he said.

The fast emerging port city’s water table is brackish and hence unfit for human consumption and sweet water sources are too far such as the Mirani dam, insufficient and dependent on rainfall besides having been tested as unsafe for drinking according to tests.

In January, a small step in the right direction was made. A desalination plant was installed at the port by China Oversees Port Holding Co­m­p­­a­ny which is managing and operating the CPEC related deep-sea port. The plant will also supply drinking water to the surrounding residents of the city. But the newly-installed desalination plant has the capacity of producing only 254,000 gallons of clean drinking water– woefully lower than the existing demand for 6MGD water and expected to rise to 12MGD by 2020.

A family lies in wait on the main road for a trailer to donate some water to them.

Taking cognizance of the scenario, the military, whose former chief had said, “CPEC and Gwadar Port will be built and developed as one of the most strategic deep sea ports in the region at all costs,” took the initiative to tackle water problem head-on.

LAst month, the Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa laid foundation stone of a desalination plant which will be completed in six to eight months and will provide 4.5 million gallons water per day (existing shortfall) with the capacity later to increase to almost 9m gallons per day, a press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations said.

The PR said the plant will help end the scarcity of drinking water in the area, reducing hardship of the local people who fetch water from far-flung areas.

Being built with the assistance of the United Arab Emirates and Swiss governments, the plant is not funded under CPEC nor was it considered an early harvest project critical to Gwadar’s growing residents.

The things would get going once the Gwadar Master Plan is finally submitted to Pakistan authorities by their Chinese counterparts by Aug 14, Dr. Sajjad said.

Talking about the projects other than CPEC being implemented in Gwadar, he said the federal government was funding the construction of roads. Two fish harbors are also being funded by the federal government while a public sector technical institute was also under construction besides an underground electricity supply and distribution system.

An international airport would be spread over an area of 4,300 acres compared to 3,700 acres of Karachi airport, 2,800 acres of Lahore airport and about 3,600 acres of under completion new Islamabad airport.

Dr Sajjad, responding to a question, said that there were three government housing schemes in Gwadar besides about 100 private schemes. Out of the 100 private schemes, 75 have been suspended for being inactive for long time and would only be allowed to resume work after formal approval of the Gwadar Master plan.

All these initiatives add up to lots of potable water requirement and making its availability visible on sustainable basis– on most economic cost a challenge.

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