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26 Sep 2022

The Third Pole

Pamir Highway upgrade in Tajikistan a test of green BRI guidelines

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26 September 2022

... It is the only road that links the city with the Chinese border, and has the potential to be a major artery of trade. But it is also prone to landslides, floods and blockages from snowfall, and is in desperate need of renovation. The highway cuts through villages and sensitive ecological areas, making renovation a complex and contested task.

Last year, the Tajik government approved a plan to upgrade a section of the highway using a grant supplied by China. Work on the upgrade reportedly started in June. The Third Pole has learned that the renovation plans will adhere to Beijing’s latest guidelines on green development along the Belt and Road. Details on how environmental impacts will be minimised in line with the guidelines are lacking, however...

China’s grant for the upgrade of the Pamir Highway between Kalai-Khumb and Vanj, which will be carried out by the China Road and Bridge Corporation construction company, has been promoted as helping Tajikistan to overcome these problems by opening up new economic opportunities, particularly via trade with China...

The Pamir Highway passes through more than 20 villages between Kalai Khumb and Vanj, and some residents will have to move out of their homes and give up their land for the road’s upgrade...

Alice Hughes, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, described parts of the region the Pamir Highway passes through as the “Serengeti of the north”, due to its importance for many large migratory animals such as Argali sheep and saiga antelope...

Other environmental impacts from large infrastructure projects in mountainous areas can include changes to the water table, destabilisation of mountain slopes and increased risk of landslides, Hughes added.

When asked about the environmental impact of the road reconstruction project from Darvoz to Vanj, a representative from the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP, a Tajik government authority) told The Third Pole that the highway upgrade will be aligned with China’s green development guidelines for overseas investments, and that the route has been selected to avoid damage to areas of high biodiversity.

However, no information has been made publicly available on how the project will follow these green guidelines...