China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Sun Weidong, visited the Hunza Valley on 19th October 2013 and addressed a public gathering held in his honor at Karimabad, Hunza. He said that Hunza Valley is going to be the Gateway for all mega projects in the region. No doubt that is going to impart very positive effects on natives. I foresee an economic boom in the area with the introduction of such huge projects including the train service via Hunza valley, the gas pipeline from Iran to China, the idea of transportation of raw material from copper mines to china from Pakistan and Afghanistan, the idea of fiber optic communication between the two countries and much more. These will change the economic status of the local resident and will make them more prosperous but few negative impacts are unavoidable with this economic boom which includes the environmental degradation of the area and the impacts on the social and cultural setup of the natives. Being a narrow strip and having small corridors in between the giant mountains, this valley may be very prone to environmental degradation. A little increase in any pollutant caused by such projects may cause severe impacts on the local ecology. Before the start of such mega projects the local government and federal governmentshould take steps to safeguard the interests of the local communities.
The natural beauty of the area is an asset for the local communities. The fresh air they breathe in, the spring and glacial water they drink, the biodiversity they see and the social setup they live in, are considered to be the greatest blessings from the almighty.The whole area consists of small patches of land between the mountains and the river Hunza. Usage of excessive land for building such huge project will fade away many villages of the area from the map. For hundreds of years the local communities have worked hard to turn this mountainous region into an Eden and mismanagement of land may lead these villages to desertion. Any project on such a large scale is going to affect all of them directly or indirectly. Starting from the initial construction phase to the operational phases, these have specific environmental impacts on the area which should be addressed by the GB government and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of GilgitBaltistan. Unlike other parts of the country we should ensure the implementation of environmental laws and regulations because our area is more sensitive and delicate.
For an instant take the train project as an example; it may cause serious air contamination in narrow corridors of the valley where the width is hardly few meters. Such areas may trap the pollutants causing public nuisance and damage to the quality of the local environment. Emission of CO2 from the train may cause greenhouse effect increasing the temperature which would directly affect the surrounding glaciers. Noise of the moving trains will cause public nuisance and the vibration due to the moving trains will affect the local geography of the area, Which already has experienced a lot of loses due to land falls, Attabad incident is the worst example of that. These vibrations may trigger many similar incidents in the area. The overuse of land for these projects is another big issue. The width of many small villages including Aliabad cannot afford this much land use in a row. The giant road KKH, the train rail, then the huge gas piping and the right of the way for all these projects would consume the whole villages leaving the people homeless. .
In order to safeguard the environment of GB the local bodies should ensure the development of Proper “Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA)” and “Environmental Monitoring and Mitigation Plans (EMMP)” ensuring their full implementation For this purpose proper companies should be hired which should visit the area and make these reports and plans, based on surveys and field visits rather than data available on internet. Each project should have separate EIA and EMMP to ensure the security of the local flora and fauna. The projects shall be designed in a way that they would use the minimum land in the villages by introducing bypasses and other engineering means, We, GBians have a great literacy rate and now it is time to prove ourselves well educated by safeguarding the environment and ecology of the area.
Steps to be taken
- Proper environmental assessments of all projects and formation of Environmental Impact assessment (EIA) reports
- Formation of Environmental Monitoring and Mitigation Plan(EMMP) and ensuring its implementation
- Avoiding Unmanaged land use patterns for the projects
- Use of bypasses and flyovers to reduce disturbance in the villages
- Usage of environment friendly transport systems for the transport of raw material from mining in future
- Separate transport system for local residents, if the transportation of raw material via Hunza is planned
- Use of land near the Hunza river for such large projects to save the villages from desertion
- Consideration of future threats for environment if transport of raw material from and to China is planed via Hunza
- Consideration of social issues which may be caused by the projects i.e. road accidents etc.
- Campaigns and disseminate environmental awareness among the GBains
Although these precautions cannot stop the environmental degradation I foresee, but, definitely, these will help to minimize the impacts.
We, GBians, celebrate 5th June every year chanting the slogans of “Save Our Environment” but it is pretty weird that we are ignoring the environmental catastrophes which may be encountered by our motherland, due to the upcoming mega projects. Let’s save our mother land!
The contributor is an Environmental Engineer ( NUST ) hailing from Karimabad, Hunza. He works for Hagler Bailly Pakistan, based in Islamabad.