Gwadar: Fifty Shades of Development

Gwadar: Fifty Shades of Development

Photo Credit: Feroz Jamali

Gwadar is a relatively small coastal town in South West Balochistan, which rose from being a fishing harbour in the 1990’s to a port city in 2007. After the building of the port, fisheries still remain the main product or industry of Gwadar. The anticipation regarding its development as a port town and a world class tourist heaven still remains an aspiration. It is being projected as the next Dubai, which would bring prosperity and opportunity to its locals, the people of Balochistan and the entire Pakistan. However, to date the building of the port has only brought misery for the local population, majority (up to 70%) of whom are directly engaged with the fishing industry and belong to the working class.

First of all, the area for fishing shrank due to a major portion of the sea and land being allocated to the port. The fishermen now have a lesser area to fish in and their economic condition has worsened subsequently. Secondly, the building of the port brought many federal institutions, including military and paramilitary forces like Pakistan Army, Navy, Coastguard and FC, who received a significant share of the land and the sea. This has further restricted the fishermen’s movement in the sea and along the coast. Fishermen are not allowed in many, if not most, areas of the city. People are being treated with discrimination at every checkpoint by law enforcement, especially if they are Gwadaris. Perhaps the worst form of discrimination experienced by the locals is that they are neither allowed to protest nor is the press allowed to report their side of the story.

Starting with the announcement of the port and continuing with the announcement of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the people are being forced to wither by their economic conditions or by powerful groups of developers to sell their lands near the sea and to settle away from it.

The movement of ships on the port and the oil spillage has resulted in the declining number of fish. Many people are forced by their economic conditions to sell off the land and move somewhere else and try to adopt some other profession, but not everyone can do so.

Gwadar is divided between the old Gwadar, and the new Gwadar. The old Gwadar consists of unplanned constructions and is devoid of any proper infrastructure. Clean drinking water is a luxury, which costs up to 30,000 PKR per tanker! The streets are very narrow, some of them merely allowing the passage of one motorbike at a time. The city lacks decent public schools and colleges and is devoid of healthcare facilities. People have to travel 500+kms to Lasbela or Karachi for the treatment of illnesses like Malaria. There is no proper sewerage and sewage/drainage system. It is impossible for an outsider to bear the smell of the open disposal of household drainage and waste.

The old city is located on the narrowest strip of land on the map and ends on both sides where the map starts to expand, one end being the famous “hammerhead” and the other being the mainland. Since the building of the port, almost all government and private resources have been directed towards the development of the “new city”, which is owned by developers, local elites and the government. The new city is very well planned. The roads are new, widened and with street lights, just like the DHAs in many cities of Pakistan. Although only a small fraction of the population lives there, it is the most focused area when it comes to allocation and direction of resources.

Gwadar’s development is glossy and picture perfect when viewed from afar but as we get closer, it is, in fact, ugly, bitter and extremely smelly! It stinks of slums, disease, ignorance and suffering.