ISLAMKOT, PAKISTAN — As the car speeds along gleaming blacktop highways in Pakistan’s southern desert of Tharparkar, it is clear the new roads were not built to serve the poor herders and nomads who live in cone-shaped straw homes and subsist on herding sheep and cattle.
Indeed, a few decades ago, the Tharparkar desert in Sindh province bordering India was accessible only by crab-shaped vehicles that crawled over sand dunes by day and under star-studded skies at night, to reach the people of a forgotten century.
That changed as international feasibility studies sanctioned by Islamabad found that nearly half the desert covered coal. The turning point came as China offered to excavate and convert the fuel to help Pakistan cover its electricity shortfall of 25,000 megawatts.
So while the world turned away from coal to cleaner fuels, the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) began digging a layered, rectangular trough near the town of Islamkot.