| By Usman Mohammad

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Announced in 2015, CPEC has expanded to include as much as $62 billion of investments. In Pakistan, there have been a range of reactions. CPEC advocates have characterized it as a “game-changer." Others have warned that it is a new form of Chinese “imperialism."

This analysis attempts to evaluate CPEC’s road infrastructure. It uses mapping tools and LandScan data from 2006 to layout the number of people within a certain radius of the roads. Specifically, it measures connectivity at three levels:

  1. Road connectivity at a national level — to measure how well the population is placed around the network;

  2. Road connectivity by province — to evaluate whether individual provinces are getting an equitable share of infrastructure development based on how well their people are connected via CPEC routes;

  3. Road connectivity by route — to evaluate which routes pass through the least populous areas and are therefore bringing new infrastructure to lesser-connected populations.

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Data Collection

Connectivity projects are aimed at facilitating the transfer of goods to spur economic activity. In federations like Pakistan, the location of new construction can be politically contentious given competition for the associated economic gains.

To address the question of equity, the first step was to collect data on the CPEC routes themselves. This was challenging because, while there are road datasets available for Pakistan, these sets do not include routes for future construction projects. The approach adopted in this case was to overlay Google Map images in a mapping software called ArcGIS, and construct a layer for the CPEC routes based on official government descriptions. The last step was to import LandScan data, a form of spatial imagery developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to estimate global population distribution. This project uses 2006 Landscan data made available by Tufts University's GIS department and would benefit from being updated with more recent datasets.

Analysis

Once the data was collected, buffer zones were generated around the highway network and the raster calculator was used to find the approximate population density within each buffer. The raster calculator function uses an algebraic expression to analyze the image and compute the approximate number of people per square kilometer. This provided a very rough estimate of the number of people potentially affected by CPEC highway development at the national level. Next, the same analysis was used to find the population within the buffer zones for individual provinces. Lastly, the process was repeated to find the population within each buffer zone along CPEC’s individual routes as defined by official government designations (i.e. Northern, Eastern, Western, and Central.)

Conclusion

As the table above shows, 86 percent of Pakistan’s population lives within a 50-kilometer radius of a CPEC route. All provincial and administrative areas, with the exception of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and FATA, have over 25 percent of their total population within a 10-kilometer radius of the highway network.

While the Eastern Route clearly passes through the most populous areas, the Western Route is where the political ambition of the CPEC plan is manifested. The road network will pass through an area that is less densely populated and where most of the road construction will be new rather than rehabilitated, presenting the government with the greatest challenges.

Usman Mohammad is a strategy consultant at Oliver Wyman.