Despite over a decade of hearing that Gwadar will soon become the next “Dubai”, conditions on ground do not support the optimism of Gwadar becoming a bustling trade hub any time soon. The government has failed to resolve the water and electricity issues of the area. Residents are compelled to collect water from distant areas of the district and many people have left the port city because of the water crisis.

The major source of water in Gwadar is rainwater, collected and stored in the Ankara Daur dam. Completed in 1993, the dam was built at a time when Gwadar’s population was far smaller than it is today. The reservoir is not enough to serve the needs of the current population of the district. Due to long droughts, the reservoir often dries up and there is no other source of drinking water. While the PML-N has been busy making roads upon roads for buses and trains, building some dams should have been a more urgent priority.

The Federal Minister for Planning Development and Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal, while expressing his views about delay in projects in Balochistan in a Parliamentary Committee on Saturday, said that no project in the province could be completed unless the capacity of the local governments and provincial departments were enhanced. While the federal government and Ministry seem impotent to catalyse efficiency, we must look to China to pressure local departments to make sure facilities are present and working. It is unfortunate that we are unable to keep our house in order, and have to rely on an outside power to tell us what to do, whether is the US, China or IMF. Yet what must be remembered is that for China this project is to generate wealth, not generate development of the people of Pakistan. It is up to the government to make sure that the there is some opportunity for locals, whether through better facilities like roads, water and power, or through making sure that CPEC creates job for the people of the region rather than putting them out of work and trapping them further in a poverty cycle.

If this is how it’s going to be until China completes the CPEC, we will see unrest among the people of Gwadar, and Balochistan in general. Just like all other development projects in Balochistan, the CPEC may just turn out to be another way to take advantage of the region, fill the pockets of the businessmen and the elites, while the local population starves as usual waiting for the wealth accumulation to trickle down to them. The externality of this mega-project must not be to further widen the income gaps in Balochistan, and this water crisis is this externality unfolding in front of us.