GILGIT BALTISTAN: ON THE TRACK OF REVERSE DEVELOPMENT

By: Arif Hussain

A report published by world’s Bank South Asia Climate Action Plan 2021-2025 unfolds that not corruption, incompetence or state negligence but climate change is the biggest challenge for development in Pakistan. The report further states that quality of life in Pakistan is set to decline 4pc to 5pc by 2030. It explicitly states that natural disasters in 2010 have cost Pakistan $ 14 billion, thus reversing the development of past 15 years. The stats appear correct as burning of unchecked fossil, unplanned development and rapid urbanization are putting several regions of the world on the track of reverse development. If zoom the picture and closely study the region of Gilgit Baltistan in this context, the situation becomes clear. Gilgit-Baltistan- region where highest number of world’s non polar glaciers exist- is prone to negative consequences of climate peril. This region is under reverse development which is governed by three key factors, meagre developmental budget coupled with slow pace of development, extreme weather events and poor planning from the higher echelons.

Out of Rupees 119 billion budget of Gilgit Baltistan in 2022-23, merely 47 billion is allocated for development. Not to forget that the region is stretched to 72000 sq.km having scattered population of 20 million people. Given the rough and difficult terrain of the region, the amount utilized on development is like a drop in ocean. In other words, the per capita development in Gilgit Baltistan is Rs.2350 per annum. Comparatively, average developmental spending in Punjab Pakistan is Rs.6227 and in Sindh is Rs.9787. Clearly, the pace of development in the region is slow which isfailing to counter the natural disasters brought by the burgeoning climate change.The global Climate risk index formulated by German-Watch, a global climate watch-dog ranks Pakistan as 5th most vulnerable country. Gilgit Baltistan, unfortunately is a major receiver of the climate events such as GLOF, floods, land slidingand earthquakes. It is an admitted fact that destruction brought by climate events are speedier than the pace of development in the region. Take a look at Badswat District Ghizer. In this area the GLOF event of 2010 has almost undone the spending of last 20-30 years. People in this area still lacks road, telecommunication and various other basic necessities of life. In fact, the developmental resources are unable to put Gilgit Baltistan on track of positive development.

Similarly, the weather pattern in GB, like in my regions of the world has changed drastically. The German Watch report, quoted earlier states that Pakistan has observed 297 extreme weather events in last decade. Gilgit-Baltistan contributes some major disasters such as Attabad lake formation, Badswat GLOF event and Saichen Glacier movement. There is no doubt that glacial melting in the region is unprecedented high. Streams are high, flood are visible every now and then blocking roads and destroying infrastructure.In such scenarios, the investments are unable to yield benefit despite of crossing itsestimated time. Take a look at Juglot- Skardu road. It is unknown that whether it is completed or not but it was inaugurated in year 2021.Since its inauguration, flashflood, earthquakes and rock sliding have been continuously augmenting the cost of the project. Less hopes are there that this project will cross the break-even point on cost-benefit graph and generate revenue. Climate change has inflicted the region which will further deteriorateinfrastructures in future as response to climate change are abysmal around the world. Thus development in Gilgit Baltistan are on backtrack.

Last but not least, the higher echelon is seriously not serious about environment friendly and climate resilient projects. Like in rest of the country, environmental protection agency,EPA, is just a rubber stamp in Gilgit-Baltistan. They have no say in planning process and selection of sites for projects. Adding wind to the whirl,the successive governments have no idea of on establishment of climate change ministry which is mandatory according to the commitments made by Pakistan on global environmental summits. Consequently, designing, site selection and execution of projects are left in the hand of quacks. Easily the contractors- who are stack holders in political dynamics of GB, manipulate the tyros. For instance, the recent increase of water in streams of district GhizerIshkoman has washed away several government installments. A hydro-power house which was constructed at the cost of 0.5 billion was built at the mouth of a stream without studying the history and discharge level of the stream. A little increase of water in the stream has undone the whole investment. Basically, ignoring the protocols of environment, developmental projects in Gilgit Baltistan are none other than encroachments in nature. If the process continues, the day is not far when nature responds in the same coin. In words of Griffith Taylor, the founder of Neo-determinism school of thought, “Human can change the environment through various innovations and activities, but there is a limit to change by a human, the environment compels them to stop. The real image of the sayingis visible in Gilgit-Baltistan where nature is pushing back humans and putting the region on the track of reverse development.

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