ENVIRONMENTAL COST OF DEVELOPMENT IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Sep 24 - 30, 2007

The environmental costs on biological and ecological health in turn impose high costs on national economy. The decline of environmental resources results in reduced output. As the amount of raw materials available to generate output diminishes, the amount of output itself declines. Environmental degradation implies loss of essential goods and services and thereby imposing direct economic cost in terms of replacement cost. Economic activities impose indirect economic costs. For example, high reliance on chemical inputs to produce food generates agro-chemical pollution. There are costs associated with the loss of biodiversity.

The environmental standards in Pakistan are below the international standards, hence the country is facing a number of challenges at national and international level particularly in the WTO perspective that call for prompt action in this context. The development of environmental economics as an effective strategy may conserve resources over a time in a sustainable manner. Pakistan's current environmental spending is about $18 million per year against the requirement of $85 million to tackle environmental problems. There is a pressing need to allocate more financial resources for the protection of environment.

Balochistan is the most backward and least developed province with 5% of total country's population. At least six mega development projects including Gwadar deep-sea port, Mirani dam and copper mining at Saindak and Reko Diq in district Chaghi are in execution stage in Balochistan. There is a high need to collect the valuable data and statistics about environmental economy of the province and devise a strategy for conservation, protection and efficient management of environmental resources in Balochistan.

There is a need to review in detail the expected impacts of the ongoing Mega projects on the environment in Balochistan. It analyzes the issues related to the sustainable development of the province must be analyzed, Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the ongoing Mega projects should be carried out for identifying the environment sensitive projects. In fact, Balochistan needs a master plan to face the environmental challenges in near future.

According to one estimate about 60% of the area in Balochistan as totally barren. The remaining area, about 30% falls in rangelands. Rangelands in the North receive high rains and about 75% of the livestock are dependent for grazing on this zone. Southern rangelands receive less rain and about 25% of the livestock depend on grazing.

At present, GwadarPort, Mekran Coastal Highyway, Mirani dam, Saindak copper& gold project, Reko-diq copper mining, Kachhi canal, Quetta water supply and sanitation project and several oil & gas exploration projects are underway in Balochistan.

What environmental cost the province would pay for its development process, provided no preventive and protective measures were taken to save the environmental economy of the province? It is an undeniable fact that ecology and development are closely linked and thus in sustainable scheme of the things, Eco-friendly and Eco-sensitive development projects should be identified through a process of EIA before execution in a region. The initial environmental Scoping and environmental Screening tasks should be carried out for the ongoing Mega projects in Balochistan.

Undeniable fact is that a healthy natural environment and the adoption of sustainable development as a guiding principle are vital to any long-term strategy for economic development in Balochistan. It is a fact that the public sector organizations and agencies do not carry out EIA before starting work on a project , given the bureaucracy's lack of sensitivity in such matters. A number of major projects around the country, including the Gwadar port, have been initiated without carrying out an EIA.

EIA is aimed at determining the impact of the project activities upon the environment. It is carried out through Scoping and Screening processes. While Scoping identifies the potentially significant impacts using environmental and project information, the screening excludes the project or site from the environmental impact assessment process on the basis that there are unlikely to be significant impacts on environment.

The environmentalists are of the view that, Socio-economic Impact Assessment (SEIA), Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Environmental Economic Assessment (EEA) are closely linked with EIA. SEIA involves assessment of the subsistence and livelihoods may be affected by a mega project. It provides the economic costs to the affected poor populations. SEIA assesses impacts on the social environment.

SIA involves assessing aspects of the social environment, which are not strictly economic like cultural, historical, spiritual and religious aspects of the people in their natural environment. EEA involves assessment of the economic costs and benefits of a proposed mega project. EEA through economic valuation of environmental goods and services determines the appropriate 'prices', which brings the environment back in the picture.

A master plan to assess the environmental effects associated with execution of Mega projects in Balochistan should be framed by the economic planners and experts. They should also devise a mitigation strategy in line with the provisions of Pakistan Environmental protection Act. Protection measures for important habitats and wildlife should be taken and environmental issues satisfactorily addressed before launching any mineral development project in the province.

In wake of execution of Mega projects, a provincial environmental action plan and mechanism should be developed for inter-ministerial coordination in Balochistan. In this context, the key areas to be focused by the development planners include:

Design, development of engineering methods;

Management, governmental policies;

Societal impacts of wastewater collection and treatment;

The fate and transport of contaminants on watersheds, in surface waters, in groundwater, in soil, and in the atmosphere;

Environmental biology, microbiology, chemistry, fluid mechanics, and physical processes that control natural concentrations and dispersion of wastes in air, water, and soil;

Non-point-source pollution on watersheds, in streams, in groundwater, in lakes, and in estuaries and coastal areas;

Treatment, management, and control of hazardous wastes;

Control and monitoring of air pollution and acid deposition;

Airshed management; and

Design and management of solid waste facilities.

Located on the mouth of Arabian sea, Gwadar is exposed to serious threat of oil pollution after the development of deep-sea port. The oil tankers, fishing boats and merchant vessels are considered major sources of oil pollution in Arabian sea. The waste from future industrial estates, to be established in Gwadar, also poses threat of water pollution. It is therefore inevitable to put all the economic activities and development projects going on in coastal Balochistan subject to review under entire provisions of Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997.

The coastal areas of Balochistan will become the worst polluted unless and until the entire ongoing development activities and projects- Gwadar deep-water port, coastal highway, oil and mineral exploration, development of transportation corridors to the interior Balochistan, communication development, Mirani dam and other water resource development schemes- are subject to the provisions of Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997.

Following environmental protection measures should be planned by the government at Gwadar:-

a) Government must procure the environmental friendly cargo handling equipment of the latest technology at Gwadar.

b) Operations training of workers and operators should be conducted, followed by a certification for implementation of environmental and safety awareness programmes in the port.

c) Government should strictly enforce the environmental rules and regulations in future port city of Gwadar

d) For Gwadar port project, there is a high need to determine the impacts of the project related activities upon environmental components and develop a system of analysis identifying full scope of site development impact including the primary, secondary and tertiary implications of this Mega project activities.

e) The seaport operations can have a negative impact on the environment. Many examples of unacceptable noise, dust, water and soil pollution and smell nuisance in ports are available worldwide. Unmanaged economic activity leads to the imposition of environmental costs. There is an immediate need to undertake environmental, economic and social assessment of mega port project at Gwadar in Balochistan.

f) There is a high need to take into consideration the potential impacts of Gwadar port project like hydrology changes, pollution, sedimentation rates, physical displacement, threats to wildlife, vegetation loss and human population displacement.