The Crisis in Balochistan

What is the protocol for a Prime Minister or a Member of National Assembly when contracts are given to foreign investments? Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attests that he will end the energy crisis that we are currently facing but his steps to overcome such a crisis are extremely dubious and are raising alarm bells all over environmental agencies. One’s first point of concern must be the recent revelation of a coal power project to be unveiled in Gadani, a coastal village in the South of Balochistan. Coal is used as a fuel as when it is burnt, it provides electricity and heat. The Prime Minister, his finance ministers and the Chief Minister of Punjab have frequently visited Gadani to ensure that all matters regarding the 6600 Mega Watt (MW) mega project are covered. The question one must ask is, how well has the Prime Minister done his homework regarding Gadani?

Financial Concerns

The aim is to set up 10 plants, powered by coal, each of 6600 MW; each power plant requires a cost of $14 billion to be spent on its production and other factors. Pakistan is currently in an economic crisis and spending such a heavy amount on the production of coal plants will not only leave us with a heavy dent in our State accounts, but will also plunge us further into the black hole of recession. Moreover, such a process usually entails of an International bid but this project has been very generously handed to China. The reasons for singling China out are extremely confusing especially when there are several other countries who are willing to offer more, in terms of finance and outcome, to Pakistan in exchange for the power plant.

Environmental Impact

Whichever project is undertaken in Pakistan, it must not be at the expense of the society, yet this project is proving to be as costly as the many other projects undertaken. The Chief Minister of Balochistan, if not the Prime Minister himself, must surely be aware of the grave environmental dangers that such a project will cause. Coal is a dangerous pollutant; when it is burnt, a toxic yellow chemical gas is released which is likely to spread and affect not only Balochistan, but neighbouring areas of Sindh too. The release of such a toxic waste product into the atmosphere will cause respiratory diseases, acid rain, global warming, water-borne diseases, and various forms of cancer; this will not only affect buildings, but also the residents, the agriculture and animals. Has the Chief Minister of Balochistan been made aware of the damage that such a hefty project will have on the environment and his people?

Further on, water is produced as a waste product but where will it be disposed? Surely the Environmental Ministry, either central or provincial, if not both, should probe into such a sudden but deadly decision being taken by the new Government to address the increasing concerns of the Gadani project, as well as researching what precautions will be taken to prevent the toxic gas from spreading far and affecting neighbouring cities. On a wider scale, International organisations are currently watching Global Warming and it must not be mistaken that the Gadani project will speed up Global Warming at an alarming rate and damage the Ozone Layer more so than it already is.

Power plants that are to be introduced are first studied and an Environmental Impact Assessment is undertaken to measure the extent of the social and environmental impact; however, according to Asif Shuja Khan, the Director General of Pakistan Environment Protection agency, no such assessment has been undertaken in relation the Gadani project; environmentalists are concerned that the usage of coal will cause pollution of Sulphur Dioxide, Carbon Dioxide, Greenhouse Gases and Carbon Particulates which already exist in our atmosphere.

The American Lung Association published a recent report in which it is declared that in 1 year, 13,000 people die on average, due to coal pollution. Furthermore, in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, findings show that the United States spends approximately $500 billion per year on health problems related to coal. The study also discovered that over $185 billion is spent per year on cancer, lung disease, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma and heart attacks which are caused by pollutant emissions. Perhaps this is why America has closed over 280 coal plants and has taken measures to prevent premature death. Has our Government taken the time out to assess these issues? Does our Government, and our Environmental ministries not realise that a coal plant must use a supply of excess water, without which the coal plants cannot function? Where does the Government plan to extract such a large quantity of water? And once it has been used, where will the toxic waste produced, be disposed?

Who will benefit

Are we to be duped once again like the Saindak project where several gold mines were given to a Chinese company and from the returns of which 50% was taken by China and 48% to Islamabad, leaving Balochistan with 2%, taking their rights and their gold simultaneously. The residents of Balochistan did not benefit once more and it seems as though they are to fall prey to the Government’s plans once again.

More than the financial impact is the pressing concern of the health risks; Gadani is approximately 52 km away from Karachi, and Karachi has a population of 20 million. The technology which is being brought in to initiate the coal-powered Gadani project is inevitably Chinese and it is significant to note that China was itself preparing to build a 2000 Mega Watt coal-power plant, at Shenzhen, which has a population of 10 million (half of that of Karachi) and is 50 km away from Hong Kong (around the same distance as Karachi is from Gadani). Such plans were met with vehement objection from the people of Hong Kong, the Parliamentarians, and the Congress who were extremely irked at falling subject to the environment hazards, as well as the people of Shenzhen; so much so that the Chinese government had no choice but to scrap the project due to the pressure. Hong Kong later passed a ban which forbade any further coal-based projects from being set up within Hong Kong or its neighboring areas. It is ironic that the very country who had to terminate a project in fear of the damage it may cause its citizens is now opening a power plant, three times more intense, in Pakistan. Is it fair that the people of Pakistan become victim to such an unhealthy decision made by its own Government? Senior Analyst Shaheen Sehbai says that, “After 6 months, Karachi will be blackened; its buildings will be blackened; people’s faces will be blackened.” Perhaps Sehbai forgot to add that our morals have also been blackened and we fail to take an interest of issues that are a matter of deep concern to our fellow citizens.

Unfortunately, these issues are not being raised on a National or an International scale, yet the extent of the damage it may cause is extremely disturbing to environmentalists and a handful of members of the general population who are aware. The supply of coal is diminishing and the rest of the world is moving towards Solar, Wind and Hydroelectric powered energy supplies which are more feasible and cause less pollution. The Government must take into consideration renewable resources and needs to make environmentally friendly decisions if it is as truly concerned for the benefits of the people, and the State at large, as it claims to be. Otherwise not only will we be as sooty as Shaheen Sehbai states, but we will also be witness to a mass environmental and atmospherical crisis.

If this is not a conspiracy and a betrayal with the nation then what is it? We became silent witnessed to the corruption that took place in General Elections which brought the new Government in and similarly, our continual silence has become an approval to allow the elected Government to do as much corruption as it pleases.

by Mariya Qadri
Team Operation Pakistan


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