By Sher Jehan Mir
Ex.Chief Minister GB
GB is spread over an area of 72000 square kms.578 The total cultivable area is about 2% out of which only 1% is under cultivation. 4% area is covered under forests and the remaining area is comprised of high rugged mountains. Mountainous area is divided into three main ranges i.e. Himalaya Range, Karakorum range and Hindukush Range. The area is quite famous for scenic beauty, lush green valleys, sky high peaks, glaciers, rivers, and lakes. The area is full of natural resources such as water, minerals and Tourist spots.
Natural resources play a vital role in the overall development of an area, region and the country. The exploration and utilization of their natural resources enabled number of developing and developed countries to assume a respectable status among the comity of nations.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was considered to be a poor country till the end of world war-II. But now it is the 2nd largest oil producing and top exporting country, and is impacting world economies through its oil strategy. God has gifted GB with abundance of natural resources but among all, the following three resources are very important for its development:-
- Water Resources
- Mineral Resources
Now let us discuss the above resources in seriatim below :-
- Water Resources/ generation of hydroelectric power:
Hydro-electric power is considered to be economical, renewable and causes minimal pollution. According to a Norwegian survey the run of the river capacity of generating hydro-electric power of Gilgit-Baltistan is around 50000MW, whereas the total requirement of electricity of the country as a whole is around 25000MW. In order to fully reap the dividend of our water resources it is quite essential to focus on the run of the river Hydro power projects and building a Regional Grid Station,so that it could be further connected with the National Grid gradually . By the time, the construction of Diamer – Basha Dam will also be completed. Once the Hydro Electricity of GB is produced at the optimum scale it would definitely prove to be a great source of cheapest power supply to Pakistan. It would not only suffice the electricity needs of the general public but will also ensure un-interrupted power supply to the industrial sector. Besides this, it would also enhance the income generating capacity of GB and will provide enough financial sources for its development out lay.Here it may be worth mentioning that Canada has ample water resources and it has been exporting surplus Hydroelectricity to the bordering states of USA. i.e.New York, Detroit and Buffallo etc. The annual export of power to USA by Canada is around 2.5 billion dollars.
Thus, it greatly contributes to its annual budget. In the wake of this direction the water resources of GB need to be harnessed properly, so that maximum benefits could be
derived from this natural gift. This alone, would be sufficient to offset the financial budgetary deficit of GB forever. It would be too good if the Federal government takes the initiative and start Hydro power projects in GB out of PSDP allocations or through a joint venture with private or public companies from china as per past practice. This project would definitely start paying dividends within a few years, besides making the environment friendly and conducive for health.
However, owing to climatic changes and melting of glaciers at a greater speed in GB the impending dangers of Glacial Lakes Outburst Floods “GLOF” have increased. Hence, the Federal government should also take the following pre-emptive measures in tandem:
- Check dams and water reservoirs to be built at various potential sites.
- Advanced Flood Warning System should be made more accurate and active to avoid loss of human lives, animals and property.
- Awareness campaigns also need to be initiated through NGO’s and NDMA to mobilize public in general.
As discussed in the preceding lines, the mountains of GB are full of minerals such as Marble, Gold, Ruby, Diamond, Molybdenum and Uranium. Among these minerals, molybdenum and uranium are too costly and such metal deposits are rarely available in the world. However, in the case of GB, we have ample deposits of both of these metals in upper Gojal- Hunza and Darel sub-division of Diamer district. Molybdenum is reportedly sold in the world market at 75000 dollars per ton in crude form. This metal melts at 2623 centigrade and is used in nuclear installations and aviation industry. There is an urgent need of carrying out a geological survey of all mining sites of GB, so that a realistic assessment of actual deposits could be made. This would also facilitate ways to start mining projects in collaboration with local and foreign companies. Although extraction of precious stones through indigenous methods by local miners and traders has become a common practice, due to lack of hi-tech equipment and expertise mining industry has not been able to make any major contribution in local and national economy. There should be a comprehensive and candid mineral policy to support local mining industry.
Once the geographical survey is carried out, the GB government may invite local and foreign companies to install various mining projects at various sites of GB on public and private partnership basis, so that maximum benefit could be derived from these projects. However, care should be taken while undertaking such ventures as to avoid recurrence of incidents like “RakoDiq Mines” of Balochistan. Nevertheless, extraction and export of precious metals and other minerals can be a great source of income for GB. South Africa which got proper freedom only after the freedom movement led by Nelson Mandela. After becoming the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela paid due attention to exploration and export of his country’s mineral resources. As a result, South Africa is now one of the largest diamond and gold exporter in the world.
Nature has endowed GB with lot of scenic beauty, lush green valleys, lakes, sky high peaks, glaciers, water falls and a number of archaeological sites. There is a need to promote tourism by creating tourist facilities through out GB. The tourist department of GB has been making some visible efforts for attracting the tourists but a lot yet needs to be done in this direction. We must introduce tourist-friendly policies and ensure their stay safe and comfortable in GB. The tourist facilities created so far are quite insufficient and need to be enlarged to all tourist destinations. There is shortage of food supply chains and proper hotels for tourist in the upper reaches of GB. All tourist sites are required to be developed properly and secured to ensure un-interrupted flow of tourists. Similarly, the tourist destinations in the upper reaches of GB lack communication, First Aid and rescue facilities for incoming tourist, there is a need for integration of tourist support facilities through use of technology, collaboration with “Digital Pakistan” initiative can be helpful in this regard.
For the convenience of foreign tourist, the tourism department should have complete information regarding the places of tourists’ interest with their historical background. Small booklets/brochures containing details about GB’s tourist sites along with facilities available thereof. These brochures should be handed over to the incoming tourists at the entry points of GB by the tourist facilitation section of GB’s Tourism Department.
The abolishment of NOC requirement for foreign tourists to visit GB is likely to have positive impact in this regard. Visa policy is also needed to be relaxed a bit on the analogy of other countries like Thailand, Nepal, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan.Tourism has a major contribution in the overall revenues of the above-mentioned countries. Here, may be added that in the wake of recent Covid-19 pandemic Tourist industry has received a serious set back. In order to mitigate its financial losses it is suggested that it may be given a subsidy package for two years. It would help pave way for its restoration again. I am sure, promotion of tourism will not only enhance the income generating capacity of GB but also prove to be a great source for earning valuable foreign exchange for the country.
The contributor is a former caretaker Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan. He also heads the Karakoram Cooperative Bank Ltd.