Last year, China and Pakistan signed MOUs and agreements for a regional mega infrastructure development programme (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC) worth 46$bn. This programme is part of a Chinese master plan titled “One Belt, One Road” including a planned network of road, rail, oil & gas pipelines and maritime routes stretching from China to South and Central Asia, to increase Chinese influence in the region and bridge the region’s infrastructure gap. The proposed CPEC economic corridor will connect the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang with the Pakistani port of Gwadar through a network of roads measuring around 3000 kms, providing Pakistan its much-needed economic infrastructure. This road network will reduce the distance between China (Kashghar, 4376 km from Beijing) and the Arabian Sea to 2500 km as opposed to the existing distance of 13000 km and reduce the shipping time from 45 days to just 10 days.
The proposed roads under this programme will pass through the areas of Pakistan which are rich in biological and ecosystem diversity. These areas contain the nation’s most important natural forests, diverse ecosystems, extensive mineral reserves, a wealth of biodiversity, and a rich cultural and archaeological heritage. These roads will pass through world’s famous mountain ranges (Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush). These mountain ecosystems contain nearly 50% of the total floral and faunal diversity of Pakistan. After that, these roads will pass through plateaus of Potohar and Balochistan which have unique topography and biodiversity. In future, there are plans to extend this road network to the Central Asia and Iran by building additional roads which will pass through the Western provinces of Khyber PakhtunKha and Baluchistan increasing the pressures on biodiversity of these areas.
Road networks present challenges for biodiversity by land take, loss and degradation of habitats, habitat fragmentation, increasing pollution and road mortality, barrier effects, noise, land use impacts and emission of green house gases. On the other hand, road verges also provide a vegetated cover along the length of the road. This may act as a corridor for flora and fauna to move around the landscape, and is considered by some to mitigate/compensate for the effects of fragmentation. The combined effects of CPEC road and rail infrastructure development programme pose large scale conservation and ecological consequences including serious threats to biodiversity and ecology of different regions of Pakistan. In this paper, the potential impacts of large scale road development projects under CPEC programme on the conservation of biodiversity in different regions of Pakistan and ecosystems are presented. It also includes recommendations for a longstanding programme of scientific research, monitoring, evaluation and communication to mitigate negative impacts and enhance positive impacts of road construction and operation projects under CPEC programme.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, road infrastructure, impacts on biodiversity