China's New Strategic Port Faces Water Shortage

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Courtesy Gwadar Port Authority

By MarEx 2017-01-02 13:54:46

The brand-new port of Gwadar, Pakistan holds great promise for its Chinese investors: it is handling millions of tonnes of supplies for the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and in future years it will host a 2,000 acre free trade zone, an oil terminal and an LNG export plant.

However, its developers will have to overcome one major hurdle in order to keep the port growing. Gwadar is in the middle of a desert, with average annual rainfall of 3.5 inches – about one third the amount found in San Diego. With increased economic activity from the port's construction, Gwadar's population has increased by a factor of 20 over the past 15 years, and its water supply is under severe pressure. To make matters worse, its existing reservoir has silted up, reducing its storage capacity by two thirds, and it no longer provides the full 15 million gallons per day that the city needs. 

The Pakistani government is attempting to address the problem through costly, energy-intensive desalination systems. A two million gallon per day desalination plant for Gwadar's new industrial zone was completed in 2015, after nearly a decade of delays. However, government officials diverted its water into the municipal water supply due to the general shortage, and as of early 2016 it was only working intermittently. 

Pakistani development officials blame the supply problem on a long-running insurgency in Balochistan: The completion of two new dams has been delayed for years due to a series of kidnappings, but now that the Pakistani government has assigned a special security force for CPEC projects, authorities say that these new reservoirs could be ready as early as 2018. In addition, the government recently approved a second, five million gallon per day desalination plant, which would provide for about one third of the city's current demand. 

In the interim, port officials say that visitors and investors are bringing their own bottled water, and that locals subsist on a combination of trucked-in supplies, hand-carried well water and home-distilled seawater. Local journalist Behram Maloch told the Pakistan Tribune that the government provides water tankers only intermittently, and for those who can afford the investment, private water deliveries may sometimes be purchased for about $100-150 – well out of reach for most residents.

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