|Thar Coal Development. Photo Credit: Amar Guriro|
Thar Development Projects:
The Tharparker District or simply the Thar Desert is located in the southeastern province of Sindh. It is receiving a lot of attention because the desert sands hide an estimated 175 billion tons of coal underneath.
In December 2015, China agreed to invest $1.2 billion to develop Thar coal and establish a 660 MW coal-fired power plant.
The coal deposits are divided into 12 blocks, each containing approximately 2 billion tons. In the first phase the Sindh provincial government has allocated block II to Pakistan's Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) to excavate 1.57 billion tons of coal and build a 660 megawatt power plant. The plant is expected to provide power to the Pakistani national grid by June 2019. Later expansion to produce 1,320 MW of power is also planned.
Muhammad Makki, a doctoral student at the University of Queensland in Australia, recently visited the region. Makki saw "signs of a resource boom already animating the dull landscape of the region – roads, airports, site offices, power lines, guest houses and rising real estate price are evident".
Some of them are now being employed in development projects. Makki saw an underground coal gasification pilot project near the town of Islamkot where "workers sourced from local communities rested their heads after long-hour shifts".
In the first phase, Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is relocating 5 villages that are located in block II. SECMC is paying villagers for their homes and agricultural land.
SECMC’s chief executive officer, Shamsuddin Ahmed Shaikh, says his company "will construct model towns with all basic facilities including schools, healthcare, drinking water and filter plants and also allocate land for livestock grazing,” according to thethirdpole.net He says that the company is paying villagers above market prices for their land – Rs. 185,000 ($ 1,900) per acre.
Impact to Date:
Islamabad-based Pakistani economist Dr. Pervez Tahir recently visited and found that "the impact of the road, augmented by mobile connectivity, is multidimensional" Here's an excerpt of what he wrote in The Express Tribune:
"Walking long distances has given way to motorbikes and overloaded buses have taken the place of kekras, the rickety shuttle truck-bus of the World War II vintage. Children suffering from malnutrition and other ailments are reported directly to the media as well as the hospital in Mithi on mobile phones. The high numbers of the suffering children had always existed; only the media was late in discovering these cases. The media attention did bring politicians and bureaucrats to the region, facilitated of course by the road. The hospital in Mithi is now much better staffed and well-stocked with medicines. It is now a thriving town with a good number of schools and a college. Even an English-medium private school was in evidence. A sub-campus of a university is also coming up. Locals complained about the lack of girls schools, especially at the post-primary level. This is a sign of growing awareness. There was also frustration that the locals are not given the party tickets for the National and Provincial assembly seats. Mobile connectivity and the road have linked the famous craftswomen of Thar with the main markets much more effectively. At a community meeting in Islam Kot, women were quoting prices that broadly corresponded with the prices charged in Karachi’s Zeb un Nisa Street."
Thar development boom is part of Pakistan's efforts to solve its energy crisis as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. It is stimulating a lot of economic activity in Tharparker region that will impact the local population and the environment. Sindh government and the companies working there claim that they are trying to maximize benefits for the region and the country while mitigating any problems associated with it. It's important that they live up to their claims.
Here's a video report by Amar Guriro:
Pakistan’s coal expansion brings misery to villagers in Thar desert from thethirdpole on Vimeo.
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