It has been a decade since China unveiled the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Ten years on, what has the mega project brought to the people of the countries along the BRI route, and what can we expect from BRI in the days to come? Pakistanis working on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a massive project under BRI to capitalize on Pakistan’s geographical importance and improve Pakistan’s socio-economic conditions, shared their views.
Increasingly self-supporting in energy
Pakistan is a country facing a severe power shortage. According to Ktrade Research, the percentage of the population in Pakistan that has access to electricity in 18 years increased by only 1.1 ppts. However, 9,740MW in capacity created by CPEC had fueled the number rose by 3.8 ppts in just 4 years.
CPEC power plants are providing cheaper electricity by utilizing coal reserves, which reduced Pakistan’s oil and gas bill burden.
Inside the Thar Block-1 Integrated Coal Mine Power Project, an open-pit coal mine with an annual lignite output of 7.8 million tons and a total capacity of 1,320MW, is providing the most cost-effective energy to millions of Pakistani households.
Gul Hassan, a mining engineer with Sino Sindh Resources (Pvt.) Ltd. (SSRL), said, “The Thar Block-1 project has been instrumental in transforming the lives of people in Thar.”
Furthermore, renewable energy projects of water, wind, etc. under CPEC are also optimizing the country’s energy structure.
Peerzada Zain ul Abideen, O&M manager of PowerChina HDEC Engineering Company Limited Pakistan, proudly said that the 12 projects in Jhimpir of his company have generated 1888.29 GWh of electricity so far.
In Gharo, Sindh, Muhammad Saleem Munshi, Chief Financial Officer of Hydrochina Dawood Power (Pvt) Limited said that the wind speed in the area is up to 7 meters per second. If properly developed, it can meet 5%-10% of the nation’s power demand.
Stimulating creation of local jobs
Data from the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan shows that till the end of 2022, CPEC has generated a total of 236,000 jobs in Pakistan.
Azim ul Haq is a HSE Engineer working at the 1263MW Punjab Power Plant in Jhang to ensure the project personnel’s safety and health standards are met. “Earnings from this job provide comfortable living for my families. Although living away from family and my newborn daughter is difficult, given that the power project’s location is far from my home town, the company provides me with all kinds of benefits and allows me to take vacations as needed,” he said.
“Locals find learning and working opportunities here. Most of the engineers, managers, and workers are from nearby areas”, Peerzada Zain ul Abideen said, adding, “I myself have also been offered a job that my family and friends are proud of and a good salary”.
Muhammad Waqas, Director Finance of the UEP 100MW wind farm in Jhimpir said the most worthwhile thing he ever did was to choose wind power as his career while he also holds certificates in computer programming, teaching, and accountant. “I can learn state-of-the-art technologies of one of the most promising sectors. Chinese brothers are transferring the advanced mechanism to Pakistan”, he said, adding, “Before the pandemic, I went to China every year to learn about power-related technologies and business know-how”.
Rejuvenating social & economic development
With total funds of $25 bn that have been invested in energy, IT, transport, etc. under CPEC so far, local social and economic conditions are being greatly improved.
“Since the start of construction, the project has actively contributed to the local construction of Thar, and its development is changing with each passing day,” Mazhar Ali Khan said. “I believe that the Thar Project will bring more vitality to the local social and economic development after its commercial operation date.”
In Gharo, Sindh, due to the 49.5 MW Dawood Wind Power Project, a closed school in a nearby village with about 600 families living in it can reopen and provide education to children. “We were surprised to find that the deserted school was used as a poultry storage house,” Muhammad Saleem Munshi said. They reconstructed and renovated the school to let more children get an education.
Breakthroughs in industrial cooperation have also been achieved. Samee Ullah said that with the completion of Rashakai SEZ Phase 1, the main tasks will be to make standard procedures, rules and regulations for enterprises. “To achieve the above goals, we have to go through a lot of technical, commercial and legal procedures which may take some time, but we are pretty much hopeful and determined for this. Right now, several enterprises entered into zone and are performing their own construction in the SEZ. So, this is just beginning!” he exclaimed.