Planners need to maintain fragile socio-economic and political balances while mulling over economic benefits of development projects
Development is not an innocuous process. It brings hopes for a section of society and inculcates apprehensions and even fears among the others depending on their position in the power diagram of a particular society. Experiences of mega development projects in Pakistan reflect the same reality.
Replete with myriad political and social implications, large scale development projects are often rejoiced and resented by different segments of society at the same time. Projects like construction of large dams, reservoirs, motorways, mineral exploration and hydrocarbon extraction are only few examples where a section of society has prospered at the expense of marginalised groups.
For example, large dams generated much needed electricity and sprawled croplands to feed industry, market and population but at the same time they also deprived coastal fishing communities of their fisheries-based livelihood and affected the communities surviving on riverine forestry and subsistence agriculture in the margins of riverbed called kacha area.
Another example is exploration and production of oil and gas resources. These vital energy resources are contributing enormously to augment local industry and trade, however, local communities are disgruntled for not receiving even a fraction of the largesse harvested from the reserves stashed underneath their ancestral abodes. In an ironic paradox, hydrocarbon resources producing areas are found shackled by abject poverty that potentially leads to explosive political ramifications. Pakistan is no exception to this phenomenon.
Aphoristic phrases "resource curse" and "the paradox of plenty" were coined to depict the phenomenon. There are countries endowed with plethora of resources yet mired in poverty, conflicts and violence. Nigeria is a widely cited example of the resource curse. Agonised tribes ran berserk and a series of violent incidents crippled the oil extraction and transportation business in the oil rich Niger delta. Since 2006, militant groups mainly the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) started abductions of foreign employees of oil companies. More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped since 2006.
In 2012, Nigeria experienced a rapid spike in piracy incidents. Within a few months, Nigeria became the second most-pirated nation in Africa, after Somalia. The MEND is believed to be involved in these attacks. Since October 2012, the MEND is accused of having hijacked 12 ships, kidnapped 33 sailors, and killed 4 oil workers. The situation resulted in a massive military crackdown and subsequently an amnesty scheme.
Diamond producing countries of Africa are yet another example of the same phenomenon. The term "blood diamonds" explains this enigma. Sierra Leone, once infamous for its trans-Atlantic slave trade, exports half a million carats of diamonds annually, worth an approx. $78 billion dollars, yet the World Development Report ranked it as one of the poorest countries globally. Other countries in the region aflush with minerals are Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola and the Democrat Republic of the Congo which have witnessed the similar turmoil. The Temne and the Mende people of West Africa have endured lamentable human suffering since the initial discovery of natural resources by the British.
Wealth generation and associated development projects often trigger new conflicts if not managed diligently. Any cavalier attitude to local communities dwelling around the natural resources can eventually snowball into stormy rivalries.
Pakistan provides a great deal of learning on the conflicts stemming from mega development projects and extraction of natural resources. Oddity of an appalling poverty juxtaposed with abundance of natural resources is not an uncommon scene in the country. Oil and gas producing areas located in Khairpur, Dadu, Jamshoro, Dera Bugti, Sukkur, Karak and Badin depict a pitiable state of human development whereas oil and gas worth billions of rupees is being pumped out from these areas.
The settlements surrounding these areas are deprived of even very basic facilities of health, education and drinking water. While hydrocarbon and minerals extracting companies are often criticised, public policy flaws are overlooked. Similarly, a toothless public policy and spineless regulatory environment are the key culpable elements, but companies cannot be absolved of their nonchalance and flippancy. They often flout regulations and ignore seething local communities. Similarly, governments earn hefty revenues from those areas but they do not return even paltry sums of such incomes to the communities living in those areas.
For example, no province in Pakistan has any policy provision to dedicate a certain percentage of the revenues generated through royalties, duties and taxes of oil and gas resources for development of those areas. Both politicians and bureaucrats conveniently deflect public wrath towards the companies and liberally berate them for not investing in the development of local areas. These areas are scarcely populated and investing only a minuscule of revenues can bring visible changes in their lives that can result in goodwill and acceptance for investors and governments.
Responsible use of mandatory allocation under corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund by companies and the annual development plans of the local governments can substantially assuage miseries of local communities and extend benefits of development to them.
The second major cause of conflict between communities and private companies is ignoring local communities and areas in job opportunities. Considering the magnitude of prevalent penuary and unemployment, priority consideration for local communities in jobs and supporting local businesses is another concern that merits serious attention.
Local communities often groan for not getting even menial jobs in these companies. While companies justifiably insist for maintaining their quality standards that untrained local people often lack, neither government nor companies make serious investments in building local capacities to qualify for jobs and businesses. As a corollary, the local people are dismissed unfit for their lack of skills. Local communities see people from other areas getting lucrative jobs and business opportunities in their areas. Similarly, local talent is not given priority for mid-level jobs.
Universities in each province are churning out a large number of graduates in various disciplines every year. These young professionals have to jostle against a handful of career opportunities in the job market. Frustrated youth turn adversary to such business entities when they find non-local people getting preference in jobs.
Both government and the industry ought to have unambiguous policy to promote local talent and invest in their capacities without compromising on quality standards.
The third important issue entailed with mega development projects is disturbance to local demography. This issue arises out of cumulative impact of a number of large scale projects attracting huge streams of non-local population. The phenomenon takes years and decades to unfold but its political implications are for more catastrophic. This particularly happens when local communities are disregarded in jobs and business opportunities emanating from large scale projects. These two reasons are the key cause behind influx of non-local communities in any area.
With the entry of a large number of non-local people, the host communities experience varied social, economic, cultural and political stresses and anxieties. Demographic accretion causes cultural distortions and local communities are likely to lose their livelihood resources and political power. Ultimately they are rendered disenfranchised and marginalised if the process is extended over several years in absence of any robust mechanism to protect their rights.
Development planners have a huge responsibility to maintain fragile socio-economic and political balances while mulling over economic benefits of development projects. Lax attitude of government results in adverse consequences of development for marginalised sections of society. Making development beneficial for everyone is the real challenge for development planners and implementers.