With CPEC, hopes high for investment in 5 deserts


By Yasir Habib Khan

As Pakistan and China is heading toward shared destiny through CPEC, part of one belt on road (OBOR) initiative, another mega plan of introducing sand economy and green economy in the five deserts of Pakistan is in offing.

Chinese company, the Elion Resources Group (ERG), is eager to turn Cholistan desert, Thal desert, Indus Valley Desert, Thar Desert and Kharan desert into oasis by implementing ecological system, eco-environment infrastructure and mechanism of technological innovation.

Plan vision aims to reclaim land from sand by promoting vegetative cover, establishing forest (Afforestation and reforestation), controlling desertification, developing severe weather-resistant cultivable lands and uplifting the lives of locals through innovating husbandry, pharmacy and tourism.

ERG, being one of the largest desert ecology enterprises in the world, Dr. Javed Iqbal, PhD in environmental Sciences and Engineering says, is capable to change disadvantage of deserts into advantage. “It has done wonders by rehabilitating China’s ecology system, promoting China’s eco-civilization and green economy at the national level and boosting global green civilization, the betterment of eco-environment in desert areas, poverty eradication and green economy development by utilizing cutting-edgy scientific technology,” he says.

During an intensive talk with 8-member Pakistan delegation who recently visited Inner Mongolia China, He Pengfei, executive general manager of branding, Elion Resource Group shows avid interest in changing the fate of Pakistani deserts.

“Pakistan-China friendship is inseparable and we mulls over investing in sand economy and green economy in deserts. Commercial collaborations, joint-ventures, technological assistances and transformations are the possibilities to make things happen,” he says.

He cited the example of Kabuqi desert in Inner Mongolia, seventh largest desert in China which was once a barren land, uncultivable area with no water, no electricity and no future.

“Sand storms reigned supreme, survival rate of tree in the arid desert was even under 10 percent. Grasslands and farmlands were facing extinction. Livestock was depleting and living condition had worsened. However, ERG took on all challenges and today it has afforested more than 6000 square kilometer in Kabuqi desert and built up a comprehensive sand economy system worth over 30 billion Chinese Yaun based on six eco-industry sectors ranging from husbandry to desert tourism, pharmacy to photovoltaic power generation,” he explains,

The ecological industry, he claims,  in the desert has provided over 5000 employment opportunities for local peasants and herdsmen, while free professional training has also been provided to make them the new-generation ecological construction workers, tourist service staff and skilled workers of intensive breeding and planting.

The ecological industry in desert has increased the income of natives by over 300 million Yaun per year. The per capita net income of herdsmen has increased from RMB 2,000 in the past to 30,000  Yaun at present.

All five deserts in Pakistan have been confronting the same worst conditions, once Kabuqi desert in China suffered 28 years ago.  Cholistan desert sprawling over 10,200 sq mile is stripped off all civic facilities with scanty water and vegetation.

The Indus Valley desert covers an area of 19,501 square kilometers in northwestern Punjab Province between the Chenab and Indus rivers. The Indus Valley Desert is drier and less hospitable to forest cover. The Kharan Desert is a sandy and mountainous desert situated in Balochistan province in south-western Pakistan. This desert was the site of Pakistan’s second nuclear test, Chagai-II, which was carried out on 30 May 1998.

The Thal desert  is spreading between the Jhelum and Sindh rivers near the Pothohar Plateau, covering Bhakkar, Khushab, Mianwali, Layyah, Muzaffargarh as well as Jhang,

Thar Desert spans an area of 175,000 square kilometers. It is the seventh largest desert on the planet and the third largest in Asia.

Agriculturist Dr. Humayun Faisal says that Pakistan governments, in past, launched some projects to increase the prospects of irrigation and cultivation in the Thal desert by unveiling Greater Thal Canal project (phase I and Phase II) costing Rs. 30 billion in 2001 but unfortunately project stands incomplete so far. Under the current fiscal budget, Punjab Provincial Development Working Party again allocated Rs 6261.701 million for Greater Thal Canal Project (GTC) -Phase-II (Chaubara Branch). If Chinese company, the Elion Resources Group (ERG) and Pakistan concerned quarter agree for desert projects, including GTC and others will bring revolutionary changes in the region and uplift the lives of local people who are forced to lead a nomadic and semi-nomadic lives with meager avenue of livelihood, education , health and other civic facilities, he hopes.

Like other part of world, Pakistan is also suffering desertification that is damaging its agriculture cover. Mound of sand in the desert belt of Balochistan often keep flying and landing on fruit orchards in Quetta valley, particularly. Due to depleting forests, sand dunes deposit on the canopy of orchards which in turn leads to resurgence of mitepest on twit orchards requiring several sprays of miticides for its control creating unnecessary burden on the economy of the fruit orchard owners. Desertification is one of the most threatening ecological environment issues directly affecting people’s survival and development. So far, 65% of world land has been facing desertification in varying degree and desertification is expanding at an annual rate of 50,000-70,000 square kilometers, which inflicts a dozen billion people with poverty and starvation.

PML-N foreign affairs coordinator Muhammad Mehdi says that Pakistan is ready to welcome Elion Resources Group and its investment proposal in deserts of country. ERG has planted the seed of industrialization of desertification control in people’s mind, he adds.

All five deserts in the country will take advantage of green economy which gives birth to natural pharmacy. For anti-sand greening, Elion has been using an “economical” way: to plant liquorice that can well grow in the desert as the major plant for anti-sand greening. Liquorice, as a sand-and-draught medicinal plant, can both prevent sand and serve the medicine industry. It’s a natural pharmaceutical group that possesses complete industrial chains, rarely found in China.

By relying on desert resources, Eco-Green Society official Mehreen Bukhari says, Elion invested over 100 billion yuan (about 17billion USD) to develop desert green energy industry. “Since 2011, the group has introduced the integrative, intensive and clustered development mode of circular economy, strove to develop bio-energy, built up about 2000 square kilometers of carbon sink forests and took in CO2 alga breeding technology from the US to fully carbon-sink absorb the CO2 emitted from the industrial base,” he adds

Relying on natural desert landscapes and the green space created in the last more than 20 years, Pakistan may take advantage of Elion’s expertise to manage and develop desert tourist industry. Following the footsteps of Kubuqi Desert which built up resorts, including Kubuqi Desert Seven Star Lakes Hotel, Desert Museum and World Sand Plant Park that collected over 500 endangered sand plants on the earth, she illustrates

To make civilians in the desert area, who suffered from poverty for generations, live and work in peace and contentment, and to make desert industrial workers live as well as urban residents, Elion is planning to construct a low-carbon town for 100,000 people in Kubuqi Desert, integrating culture, tourism, business, medical service, education, ecology and residence. Same model or with some alteration, will change the fate of Pakistan deserts.