China commits $1bn for 20 social sector projects

Updated March 08, 2019

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The two sides agreed to have six burn centres built across the country — in four provinces and two special areas. — Dawn.com/File
The two sides agreed to have six burn centres built across the country — in four provinces and two special areas. — Dawn.com/File

ISLAMABAD: A 13-member expert group from China has shortlisted around 20 projects for implementation within a year in all the four provinces and special areas — Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — to be funded with Chinese grant under socioeconomic cooperation.

The Chinese government has agreed to provide up to $1 billion grant for socioeconomic development and poverty reduction projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on the request of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf government. The socioeconomic development and poverty reduction initiatives were earlier part of the CPEC long-term plan.

The expert group, led by Du Zhenli, has been in Pakistan since Feb 26 to explore possible areas of grant assistance and held a wrap-up session at the Planning Commission on Thursday. The two sides agreed to select 20-23 projects in the first phase which could be implemented in the first year. For this, the two sides decided to prioritise interventions where infrastructure was already in place, a senior official told Dawn.

Therefore, it was agreed to have six burn centres across the country — in four provinces and two special areas — where space and infrastructure could be made available at the existing hospital buildings so that Chinese grant could be utilised to install equipment and modern ventilators etc. The project is easy to execute and can be completed within few months since the infrastructure is already available in the hospitals.

Responding to a question, the official said the burn centres already exist in major hospitals of Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar and hence it was decided to have one in Hyderabad or Sukkur in Sindh, Bawalpur in Punjab and Dera Ismail Khan or Swat in KP. The centre for Balochistan will be developed in Quetta as patients with burn injuries were currently being transported to Karachi.

Besides health sector, other projects for grant assistance were shortlisted in areas of water supply, education and fisheries and agriculture. The four provinces and AJK and GB had come up with more than 100 projects in various sectors but the two sides decided to focus on around two dozen with shortest possible gestation.

The expert group visited various parts of Punjab and KP and held meetings with other provincial governments in Islamabad as their field visits to Sindh and Balochistan had to be cancelled owing to the closure of airspace. The Chinese side would submit their input on project concepts and estimated costs on their return to Beijing before finalising formal agreements for implementation, a senior official said.

According to the officials, projects proposed by the provinces and AJK included those in agriculture, fisheries, health, solarisation of water supply schemes, telemedicine, smart schools etc. However, the shortlisted projects were mostly smaller in size involving $3-10 million because the Chinese wanted to move to the next phase on the basis of success of the first phase.

The Chinese expert group discussed the implementation of the newly introduced socioeconomic sector under CPEC in detail, the sources said, adding the two sides’ finalisation of action plan to help launch pilot projects in the selective districts of the country. China has agreed to extend Pakistan a grant for socioeconomic development through China International Development Cooperation Agency.

During the 8th Joint Coordination Committee meeting of CPEC held in Beijing during last December, a joint working group (JWG) on socioeconomic development was established to devise an action plan. A memorandum of understanding in this regard as well as on poverty reduction was signed during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China in November last year.

The JWG had identified six areas for future cooperation including education, agriculture, poverty alleviation, skill development, healthcare, water supply and vocational training projects. The action plan will provide guidelines in the development of these six areas. The initiative will be focused on less developed parts of the country particularly Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, southern Khyber Pakhthun­kha, Northern Sindh and Southern Punjab.

Soon after the formation of working group, the federal government asked recommendations of the provinces regarding the identifications of districts, areas of cooperation that were then shared with Chinese socioeconomic development expert team.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2019