Pakistan fishing town fashioned as a new Dubai

The small fishing town of Gwadar, Pakistan, has been subsumed into the logic of China's Belt and Road Initiative. In 2015 the Gwadar Port and 2000 acres surrounding it were leased long-term and tax-exempt to the China Overseas Port Holding Company. The port is set to serve as a primary terminus for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, providing export capacity to Pakistan, to Iran for liquid natural gas, and to China via its western provinces and a refurbished Karakoram Highway.

The small town of 80,000 people is being fashioned as a new Dubai. Roads, highways links, and a runway for a new international airport have been poured, and subdivisions are being sketched into the desert. Developers suggest 500,000 to 2 million new residents will move to Gwadar.

For now, the old fishing town coexists with its uncertain future. The port is handling cargo for development of its own infrastructure. The city has been struggling to supply water to its residents, after the local Adra Kaur reservoir dried up last year.  Water is being trucked in with tankers. Two desalination plants at the port sell water to locals in three-liter jugs, but the plants themselves run on portable generators for lack of grid power.

Along with Gwadar and Port City in Colombo, Sri Lanka — itself touted as a new Dubai — sea ports and gleaming urban-industrial developments have been slated for Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, and Malaysia as part of China's Belt and Road. How many new Dubais, economically, environmentally, spiritually, can the region and the world sustain?  

Left to right:

Gwadar town jetty. Old town Gwadar. Gwadar Port.

Images courtesy of DigitalGlobe 7/29/18 7:00 UTC, coordinates 25.11 N, 62.33 E; 25.12 N, 62.33 E; 25.11 N, 62.34 E.

Left to right:

Adra Kaur Reservoir, nearly dry. Gwadar Roundabout. Expanding port facilities.

Images courtesy of Planet Labs 11/23/16 5:40 UTC, coordinates 25.37 N, 62.29 E; DigitalGlobe 7/29/18 7:00 UTC, coordinates 25.16 N, 62.32 E; 25.11 N, 62.34 E.

Left to right:

Adra Kaur Reservoir, in full drought. Lines in the desert: the Sangar housing development. Gwadar International Airport.

Images courtesy of Planet Labs 9/2/18 5:58 UTC, coordinates 25.37 N, 62.29 E; DigitalGlobe 7/29/18 7:00 UTC, coordinates 25.10 N, 62.30 E; DigitalGlobe 4/26/18 6:33 UTC, coordinates 25.23 N, 62.33 E.

Edward Boyda