The environmental crisis is an existential threat to all life both animate and inanimate. Goats, lambs, dogs, and apricot trees cannot think and don’t know how to respond to the shifts in the natural environment. Human beings who have caused most of the trouble should take responsibility and tackle the problem. There is real danger that the increase in temperature could cause illness, a decrease in biodiversity, and would deplete the capacity of the earth to produce food for of all of us. In such a time we are forced to rethink our most important beliefs about who we are in relation to other creatures and how humans ought to live. There is certainly a need to radically re-interpret human intellectual resources to generate new values and a new understanding of the human role in nature. The anthropocentric notion that ‘Hashrat Ul-Arz’ and other ideologies both secular and religious now should be re-conceptualized to return to an understanding that human beings are no better than other creatures, who inhabit this planet.
The Pak-China Economic Corridor is Pakistan’s fortune-changer, but is also important to the environment and ecosystem of Gilgit Baltistan. Gilgit-Baltistan is a region with a large glaciers and water resources. The CPEC would pass between the glaciers and heavy traffic will pass through this route, however the effects of this have not been given any thought in the project. To make matters worse, Pakistan is listed among countries highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change due to its diverse topographic and demographic settings.
During the twentieth century areas along the Silk Route witnessed redrawing of boundaries on the basis of modern nation-states. As a result, mobility between these areas became difficult. At the same time new road and railway networks further reduced the significance of this route. Before 1978 Gilgit-Baltistan was cut off from the rest of the world due to harsh terrain and lack of accessible roads. Similarly, before the abolishment of the State Subject Rule by Z.A Bhutto and advent of AKDN in GB, all the socio-economic indicators including health and educational attainments, and civic amenities were not accessible to all the GBian but a selected Mirs and Wazirs in Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat and the hill states of Hunza and Nagar.
Despite restrictions on mobility, a small amount of barter trade between Pakistan and China continued informally on the borders. This helped maintain a symbolic continuum of the Silk Route in the mountainous regions of China, Wakhan and Pakistan. In this process the region of Gilgit-Baltistan remained an important conduit of trade. The informal nature of historical trade became formal and expanded exponentially with the construction of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in 1979. It has opened both countries to trade and commerce and helped connect the mainland with the peripheries. Now the KKH has been upgraded and expanded to accommodate the increasing volume of trade between China and Pakistan.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has been hailed by policy and decision-makers as a ‘game changer’ for Pakistan’s economy and for a major geo-strategic shift in the region but it may place a strain on the people's’ life and social system. Now that Pakistan and the People's Republic of China have principally agreed and started work on CPEC, a planned $46-billion network of roads, railways and energy projects linking Pakistan’s deep-sea Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with China’s far-western Xinjiang region, it can be easily inferred that this package of projects will have transformational and game changing impacts on Gilgit-Baltistan. By going through this picturesque and geopolitically important region of Pakistan there will exist new vistas of opportunities in regional trade and investment, micro enterprises development with special focus on transportation, tourism, energy conservation and the service sector.
The general overview about the CPEC and its impact on climate change in Gilgit Baltistan are emerging issues. But discussions and research on climate change, and the long term impacts need to be addressed on a priority basis in this region as well as in Pakistan and China. Without any environmental planning and progressive development in the environmental sector, the CPEC project will result in a loss of habitat, species extinction, less grasses in pastures, more diseases in wild animals, pest attacks, increased frequency and intensity of melting of glaciers, high turbidity in water bodies, heat waves, cold spells, droughts, could bursts, land sliding, waterborne epidemics, avalanches, heavy rain falls, heavy snow falls, lake outburst floods, disrupted social infrastructure as well as a moribund economy.
Furthermore, the environmental impact of roads include both noise and water pollution, habitat destruction/disturbance and the wider effects which may include climate change from vehicle emissions. The design, construction and management of roads, parking and other related facilities as well as the design and regulation of vehicles can change the impacts to varying degrees.
Gilgit-Baltistan, being a mountainous region, has been facing challenges related to climate change for many years. To make matters worse, the provincial government does not have sufficient resources to deal with these challenges because of the scattered topography of the region. However, a sum of PKR 200 million had been allocated in the fiscal budget 2015-16 for strengthening the capacities of the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GBDMA) to deal with disasters and climatic hazards effectively.
In conclusion, the environmental problems faced by GB include the pollution of air and water sources, erosion of soils, melting of glaciers, increase of temperature, and the rise of flood by global warming, as well as the loss of biodiversity. An increasing population and its subsequent consumption and waste generation are among the main causes of these and other environmental damages, as well as land degradation. If the CPEC is to be shown to the world as a prologue to holistic development, then the governments of China and Pakistan should need to provide environmental protections and facilities to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Otherwise, a voiceless danger zone will emerge in one of the most important areas for the future development of Pakistan.
Hadaitullah Ullah is a student of International Relations at Preston University Islamabad.
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