Pakistan’s to-be thriving port suffering from crippling water scarcity

Published: January 2, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Imagine a deep-sea port where, while so-called development experts enjoy a breath-taking view from their regal five star hotel rooms located on the grand Koh-e-Batil hill, indigenous fishermen are left with little choice except migrating permanently to far-flung harbours.

Imagine a place where one of the most expensive commodities is a bottle of fresh water and though every now and then one finds a convoy of trucks escorted by military vehicles, fresh water tankers are scarce and expensive. Yes, this is the new boomtown – Gwadar smart port city – a project that is expected to open new vistas of bilateral cooperation between Pakistan and China.

Gwadar’s development – misgivings must be addressed

Water crisis

Through sheer courage, native people of Gwadar have shown resilience as never exhibited before.  However unless the water problem is tackled with a head-on approach, Gwadar might end-up becoming a ghost town. The Ankara Kaur dam has dried up and the desalination plant has failed to work.

The Mirani dam built over river Dasht can help de-escalate the situation but it was never planned to meet the future water demands of this port city. Today Gwadar has a population of 0.12 million compared to a mere 5,000 back in year 2000 and if the population of Gwadar surpasses the 2 million mark in the next five years, average water requirements would be around 200 million gallons per day. Mirani dam, however, was intended to manage a demand of less than 10 million gallons per day.

Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) has already commissioned a study to plan expropriation and resettlement of old Gwadar population. At present, there is no strategic plan to improve socio-economic conditions of local population nor are any blue prints of a larger capacity –building programme to train them for future expected jobs.

Previously in the construction of coastal highway link from Karachi to Gwadar, hardly any local population was hired. The same episode might be repeated in future if appropriate steps are not taken to enhance the skill set of the local labour force.

The first phase in the development of Gwadar involves completion of an international airport and other port facilities by the year 2017. However, Gwadar smart port city master plan has not yet been finalised and recently GDA has stopped issuing any more NOCs to housing authorities last month after newspapers were flooded with residential schemes.

As tap water is accessible to only 5% of the population, urban planning in general and water planning in particular is extremely important to mitigate risks rising from a plethora of such housing projects.

The Gwadar master plan 2005 assumed an over simplistic view of these resource management problems – using a classic reductionist approach instead of a more inclusive and systems perspective.

Despite its rising status, Gwadar suffers from water crunch

Human trafficking woes

For hundreds of years, Gwadar has been a hub of smuggling and human trafficking but now Gwadar’s most trafficked areas are being dominated by new ‘development’ actors who tell a totally different story.

Thanks to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Gwadar port development project will benefit not only local people but masses at large living in China, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The venture might be the biggest one in its 3,000 year history but only a holistic approach to port planning will ensure that the tale of Gwadar will have a happy ending – helping locals transform their lives and those of other ordinary people living in Central and South Asian region.

The writer is a Cambridge graduate and is working as a management consultant.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2017.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Haji Atiya
    Jan 2, 2017 - 7:04AM

    Need to get that desalination plant up and running pronto with cost included in CPEC budget. And if those Pathan water truck mafias protest, arrest and deport them to India immediately.Recommend

  • Anz
    Jan 2, 2017 - 10:16AM

    I am building a two room house at my village. The daily water need requires me to hire two water tankers providing water in tandem from water source 5 km away. The costs for construction have multiplied.
    You guys plan to construct a smart city in water deficient area followed by sustaining a large population along with hectic economic activity.
    Good luck to you.Recommend

  • optimist
    Jan 2, 2017 - 1:43PM


    “You guys plan to construct a smart city in water deficient area followed by sustaining a large population along with hectic economic activity.”

    No need to worry. Our trusted Chinese friends are investing $50B on the CEPC of which Gwadar is the central piece. The Chinese friends will install huge desalination plants to supply all the water the future large city will need. Recommend

  • Subhaan Butt
    Jan 2, 2017 - 3:02PM

    This happened during new Islamabad Airport and now same story is being repeated at Gwadar !Recommend

  • Anz
    Jan 2, 2017 - 3:38PM

    @optimist:is there any other Islamic-communist country in the world today. Maybe you are going to be the first. Congratulations, you won the jackpot that will keep on giving. I am happy for you.Recommend

  • curious2
    Jan 2, 2017 - 7:55PM

    Major port requires thousands of high skill/high pay workers … how are you going to attract those to a town that lacks the basic infrastructure any well paid worker would demand to move his family. Would you move your family to a town which didn’t have running water, lacked housing, schools, toilets and the basics you have been accustomed to ….NOPE. Recommend

  • Arif
    Jan 2, 2017 - 7:57PM

    Good piece of writing but without touching master plan of this port…this includes sustainable water treatment plant which will use sea water for making drinking water ..Dubai also not having any fresh water river but they performing well…yes difficulties are part of package…stop spreading negative perception without substance..Recommend

  • delhuss
    Jan 2, 2017 - 8:26PM

    People please don’t be so pessimistic ! Gwadar is the future Dubai of the Arabian Sea so if you have money to invest, buy land in Gwadar NOW. It is in the interest of the Chinese economy to see Gwadar succeed as well as in the interest of Pakistan economy. Start investing in Gwadar and the means will be found to make it a success!Recommend

  • Saad ahmer
    Jan 2, 2017 - 10:46PM

    Planning disasters happen when u dont consult all stakeholdersRecommend

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