Gwadar: Where is the Water?

Spearhead Analysis – 30.12.2016

By Farrukh Karamat
Senior Research Coordinator, Spearhead Research

Gwadar WaterGwadar, Baluchistan, the proverbial jewel in the crown of the CPEC project. Grandiose real estate developments are being projected around Gwadar by some leading developers, who are advertising the area with images of a Dubai-like coast- and sky-line. The ground reality is that the people of Gwadar face an acute water shortage after a long drought of almost three years in Baluchistan. By some estimates around a 100,000 people have no access to clean drinking water, with the locals forced to purchase water at exorbitant rates through a tanker mafia, with scarce availability of government subsidized water that is transported over a distance of around 80 kilometers. This is the second time that the city of Gwadar has faced a drought like situation in a span of six years. Unfortunately, the first drought did not trigger any response from the government to take remedial measures and the situation continues to worsen.

The main source of water to the area is the Ankara Kaur dam, which is all but dried up as a result of the ongoing drought. The dam has been supplying water to the area for over 20 years, but is now proving to be inadequate to meet the local requirements. This coupled with the anticipated increase in water demand as a result of the ongoing development of Gwadar, points towards a potentially catastrophic situation in the near future. While there is much hype around CPEC being a game-changer for Gwadar and the country, there is hardly any mention of the present water crisis in the area or planning about resolving this crucial crisis. There have been many CPEC-related promises around Gwadar, how many will be delivered remains to be seen.

Water is a basic commodity needed for survival and if there is a delay or failure in meeting the water requirements, CPEC efforts could be severely impacted. Within the sphere of CPEC Gwadar is being projected as the jewel that will change the destiny of Baluchistan. For the time being it seems that CPEC is providing greater benefit for other areas while Gwadar lacks basic facilities such as water. Large high-profile metro projects in the metropolitan cities with billions in investment are taking center-stage, while basic amenities are lacking in the port city of Gwadar.

It has been announced that work is in progress on building two dams under CPEC, which are to be completed by 2018. However, in an area that hardly receives any rain and faces prolonged drought-like conditions, dams do not seem to offer the optimal solution. Perhaps, the government needs to look at a desalination plant to tap the abundant sea-water source. But for that to happen planning and priorities need to be in place, which like the dwindling water in Gwadar seem to be rare commodities.

It is the responsibility of the government to provide water to the citizens of Gwadar. The water crisis is not a situation that developed overnight or one that could not have been anticipated. So, it is rather alarming that development of the port city is being hyped around the world but adequate measures not being put in place to provide a long-term sustainable solution to the water problem. For the time being provincial ministers visited and convened meetings on Gwadar and “directed officials concerned to make a plan” to overcome the crisis. Karachi has suffered the fate of a water-starved city of decades with no solution having been implemented by successive governments. It therefore seems a far cry to expect that the water situation in Gwadar would improve. Perhaps the Chinese need to step in here as well and devise a solution.