For the many, not for the few? Climate-related mega projects and Human Security in Pakistan

For the many, not for the few? Climate-related mega projects and Human Security in Pakistan

Bahawalpur, October 2017 - 'Kamran'

This week, Dr Amiera Sawas and Prof Nausheen H. Anwar are writing to PaCCS about climate adapation-focused development projects, and human security in Pakistan

Climate change has been at the epicentre of global diplomacy at the end of 2017, with the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) on global climate change in November, the One Planet Summit on 12 December and the United Nations Security Council Arria Formula debate on “Preparing for security implications of rising temperatures” on the 14th. Due to the US administration’s decision, earlier this year, to pull out of the 21st COP’s Paris Climate Agreement on reducing emissions, a significant focus of the COP was around whether coal could be envisioned as part of the future energy mix needed to keep the world on track for of under 2 degrees Celsius warming. While the majority of states are calling for a phase out of coal by 2030, several, including Poland, USA, Australia, China and India refused to commit to such a pledge.

The debate regarding what a development future looks like that is both growing and ‘green’ is not just taking place in global forums like this. In Pakistan, there has recently been an explosion of large-scale lower emission energy projects. Energy load-shedding has been a major problem in Pakistan for over a decade; around 140 million Pakistanis experience very little access to the power grid, many experience 12 hours of electricity load shedding per day which interrupts businesses, public services, quality of life and even contributes to conflict and insecurity . This is one of the most pressing issues in citizens’ lives. So, there was mass excitement when the government struck a deal with China to develop the China Pakistan Economic Corridor – a bilateral initiative that includes 33 Billion dollars investment into energy projects across the country over 3 years. Most of these projects have been in renewables, some in coal mining, and they span all four provinces.

The CPEC not only creates hope for the country’s energy security, but also for its mitigation of climate change. Across the span of renewables options, Pakistan’s new projects are impressive – the Qaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur, Punjab has been labelled one of the world’s largest solar projects. With Pakistan currently at the forefront of climate change impactsand on track for up to 6 degrees warming – these efforts are sincerely welcomed.

Green for the many at the expense of the few?

However, despite the dual promises of energy security and climate change mitigation, the CPEC was agreed without public consultation, stoking fears that the poor and marginalised will be left aside, or worse made ‘necessary victims’ of these mega-projects. Our project investigates how CPEC energy projects are being implemented – in particular, how local citizens face differentiated experiences of these developments. This is particularly important in a global context where green development is being pushed at unprecedented speed and scale; and frame in highly positive terms. An emergent literature raises concerns about how renewable energy projects are being implemented in many countries, across Latin America, Africa and South Asia in particular.

All development projects are assumed to be implemented according to the United Nations principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC); which means indigenous peoples affected by the projects are consulted in advance of the work, they consent to it and their needs are considered in the implementation. In order to achieve such an objective, Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) must be conducted, in accordance with national laws. However, there have been repeated examples where citizens have complained that FPIC has not been obtained, and furthermore, the developments have violated their land tenure, security, culture, and basic rights.

This is not a new story – this has been happening in traditional development for many decades. Indeed, what is more concerning about climate related development is the rapid speed in which it is being pursued and the positivist narrative that this must be done to save the planet. Bringing the globe to under 2 degrees Celsius warming does not need to be done by further marginalising the marginalised – especially considering their almost non-existent role in creating this global problem. Land tenure becomes a crucial issue – especially in states like Pakistan where post-colonial land rights are ‘fuzzy’ and large portions of rural citizens hold customary rights to the land on which their livelihoods are based.

Participatory Research at the intersections of climate related development, gender and security in Pakistan

Since November 2016, we have been researching how ESIAs are conducted and how citizen’s lives are impacted by CPEC funded mega energy projects in two provinces of Pakistan: Sindh and Punjab. Using participatory and ethnographic methods, we are documenting:
• If and how citizens have been consulted, displaced or dispossessed by such development.
• What compensation processes are available and what are citizen’s experiences of them?
• What access do citizens have to legal mechanisms of accountability and redress? For example – what corporate and legal grievance mechanisms are available? How can indigenous citizens use them and with what success?
• In a context impacted by multiple overlapping security issues; what are the security implications of the development?

A gender lens is central to all of these inquiries – hence we are documenting, in partnership with indigenous women and men, how these experiences and avenues are mediated by gender.

In the first year of our research into Geothermal in Kot Addu (Punjab), Solar in Bahawalpur (Punjab) and Coal and Reverse Osmosis in Thar (Sindh), we have elicited some very interesting findings, which raise urgent questions around how climate-related development is implemented and for whom. In particular, we have learned the crucial role of the private sector as change agents in promoting citizen’s basic rights and security.

In Thar, Sindh, the government has marked out 13 blocks for coal and reverse osmosis expansion, and blocks 1, 2, 5 and 6 are underway, although one has stalled. This is leading to the displacement of a number of villages. While an impressive marketing campaign by the government would suggest the local inhabitants are fully behind this mega project, the voices on the ground often disagree.

Both the government and the companies involved have envisioned a consultative process, fulfilling the requirements of FPIC, yet the realities on the ground are much more complex. Just like any other local context in Pakistan – Thar region is marked by power hierarchies and patronage networks which mean that the most marginalised groups struggle to be heard and acknowledged. In one of the affected villages, a ‘focal’ gentleman explains:

“when Engro [one of the companies] started mining, they invited villagers for open discussions. In the discussions, the assistant commissioner, Detective Superintendent of Police (DSP) and other officers also attended. The DSP threatened the villagers, saying if they tried to stop the company’s work, they would be arrested”.

In discussions with government and Engro officials it was made clear to us that these sorts of threats are not their policy and they were shocked to learn of this. The CPEC portfolio is framed as a ‘game changer’ for the country and everybody has an opinion on it – in these scenarios it is a complex mixture of power imbalances playing out through individuals and groups who feel it is their role to ensure a minority do not disrupt this national vision. Companies like Engro are often framed as the bad guy in developments like this – some activists have engaged highly emotive language to position them as such, “this evil corporation will slaughter us like donkeys”. Yet, we have observed so far an attempt through CSR programmes to represent the needs of affected peoples. Nevertheless, with multiple layers of staff involved, the CSR vision does not always translate into reality. Secondly it is indeed the local governments (not companies) who are responsible for managing land acquisition and compensation processes. Across this range of stakeholders, we are learning that patronage and corruption is pronounced:

“Around 100 of residents of Village Sehnri Dars after protesting in front of SECMC’s gate (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company) blocked the road in Islamkot protest. A resident of the village Zulfiqar Dars said that SECMC is not ready to compensate us despite acquiring land from us. The promises of facilities such as education, employment, water and health haven’t been fulfilled yet. While the Land Acquisition Officer said that these claims are not true, and we are ready to compensate those in question. Around 45 Crore have been given to the District Government, which hasn’t been distributed” (Sobh Newspaper, March 2017)

In the cases of the Punjab – we are observing a different form of displacement and dispossession – namely ‘in situ’, where land that was being used for livestock grazing has been acquired by the Solar and Geothermal projects without consideration for the severe impacts on local livelihoods and culture. One security official, affiliated to the Solar park in Bahalwalpur noted:

“It’s a National asset for the country. We are not here to protect this National asset but we are here to protect foreigners, [namely] Chinese engineers… Livestock herders who used to be here before the solar park, are not allowed here anymore, because somebody disguised as a shepherd can be harmful for the state asset… son this soil is your mother and you have to be very cautious to protect your soil. Nobody can defeat the state today”

The securitisation of grazing lands has thus led to dispossessed livelihoods in the region, in particular by blocking off or removing ‘aalis’ which are areas constructed for grazing livestock. One of our participants narrates the impact on local livelihoods, as well as the securitisation of the space by the army, which has had additional negative effects on their human security,

“Recently the government has constructed the Solar Park, a result of which many aalis were demolished. So many people used to live there and their livestock grazed there. Initially, the authorities (guards) said our livestock creates a disturbance in the construction of roads. So the cattle were removed from those locations… People continue to struggle for subsistence and livelihood. People do not have much land here; therefore, they are suffering. Those who did not have land, they live in a wretched condition and have no respite from hardships. Livestock depends on grass and fodder, it cannot survive without that. I tell you that if someone grabs your house, then your situation will deteriorate as you will have no place for shelter. You may as well be sitting on roads. Such dislocation has a lot of psychological costs and you will remain upset all the time… The army’s presence is a problem because they have humiliated local people and beaten them quite often… We were concerned about our disappearing cattle; we wondered where the cows and buffaloes had gone? We thought maybe thieves had taken them away but later came to know that it was the army”

This is not a new tale, as we have learned by researching the additional case study of a geothermal plant, in Kot Addu – just 200 Kilometres away. Participants have told us of the negative impacts of – both – land acquisition and environmental degradation caused by the plant. In particular, the release of industrial waste has bled into the household drinking lines, apparently leading to diseases including tuberculosis, blindness and gastroenteritis. Local people feel very frustrated about the way in which the land was negotiated, and for some residents, taken by force by the army. Currently, there is speculation regarding the development of a further low emissions energy plant in the region, which is fuelling serious anxiety and resentment. One participant explains,

“We are getting worse instead of getting better despite having these huge projects near us. We cannot get a job in those projects. There is no benefit for us. We are just getting loss. Everybody is sick, small kids are sick, they promised us to give electricity, build houses, rooms etc. in the radius of 5KM but we have nothing… We have announced that when they come (again), we do not care whether something remains or not, we will stand and fight. We are a hundred thousand people, not just a few thousand. It is not easy to fight the police but still we were more in number at that (last) gathering. There was media, there was police, Patwaris and other government officials. Army was also there and all of them were saying to bulldoze us. But public has much more power”.

The private sector as a force for promoting citizen’s rights and security in Pakistan?

The private sector, as key developers in the low carbon development agenda, can position themselves as a conduit for more sustainable, equitable and secure development. We are seeing some signs of this in the expansive development being undertaken in Thar. Until early 2017, the most well known company working in the region– Engro – was fairly disjointed from local citizens, apparently paying little attention to their building concerns about the development. This, combined with broader sentiments across the country about the lack of consultation for CPEC, led to some major protests and discontent in the region. There was little hope amongst the local populace for any constructive response from the company. However, the company made a step change when it hired a Sindhi activist and political commentator as the head of Corporate Social Responsibility, who, himself had been critical of the CPEC project in the media.

Naseer Memon, has since actively tried to embed a more consultative and locally grounded approach, which has started to dismantle anxieties about the ‘colonisation’ of Thar’s land and cultural identity. He explained:

“Let me tell you my anxieties first; I don’t know if there is a masterplan with regards to how the culture or demographic of Thar will change, and that is sorely needed. Thar won’t be the same, 10 years will really change it. The important thing is though that the basic rights of the people are not taken away from them. Also, the environment should not be damaged beyond repair… In terms of our part of contributing to the communities needs we have already opened a primary school in Senhri Dars, for the affected families, and two schools are already under construction in Islamkot and Mithi which was in partnership with the NGO, The Citizens Foundation. Aside from that, our plans also include making schools in all 7 talukas of Tharparkar, in partnership with the NGO Compassion for Change… we have big plans for CSR in the region, which we will share soon. We are not legally obligated but we want to make a benchmark with regards to how corporations operate in Pakistan.”

However, corporations are only able to operate so far as the state will enable them. For example, the issue of compensation for those displaced by the developments is one of the most critical for citizens. However, this process is handled by the local government Land Revenue Departments. Citizens regularly complain that they have not been fully compensated by the departments, if at all. They argue that this is down to corruption. This is not an issue which corporations can get involved, so citizens are left to fend for themselves, or take up legal battles which are expensive and rarely resolved in court. Given how crucial the matter is to displaced citizens’ human security, this remains a highly contentious and anger-inducing matter for those affected. More needs to be done by the state to ensure there are checks and balances on these processes, to prevent the simmering frustration bubbling over into anything more sinister.

Our research project continues until May 2018. More details can be found by contacting and

Amiera Sawas is a researcher working with, both, Imperial College London and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Amiera has a PhD in water governance and her post-doctoral position at the Grantham Institute (Imperial) focused on the linkages between climate change and security. She is interested in the intersecting issues of climate change, access to infrastructure, gender and security, and has explored this through several projects, including a 3 year project called ‘Gender and Urban Violence in Pakistan’. Amiera believes in the transformative potential of research, and so focuses on working with a range of stakeholders from government, to development actors, to the private sector and activists, using novel participatory and multidisciplinary methods. Amiera is currently leading projects on the intersections of gender, climate change and security, in Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sweden.

Nausheen H. Anwar is Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning, Department of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts (SSLA), Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi, Pakistan. She received her PhD from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), Columbia University. From 2008-2009, Nausheen was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, and from 2012-2014 a senior research fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore. Nausheen’s work focuses on policies, plans and ideas that sustain urban and regional inequality and the role planning plays in the production of space/place. She has authored a book: Infrastructure Redux: Crisis, Progress in Industrial Pakistan & Beyond (2015, Palgrave Macmillan), which explores, through detailed cases of Sialkot and Faisalabad in industrializing Punjab, the double-edged narratives of development that frame infrastructure in post-independence Pakistan.

Amiera and Nausheen have been working together on 2 research projects since 2013. Gender and Urban Violence in Pakistan examines the intersections between infrastructure, vulnerability and violence and related reconfigurations in the gendered politics of everyday urban life in Pakistan.The latter is this AHRC – PACCS funded project detailed above.