Quantifying Connectivity with Geospatial Data

Usman Mohammad
Sep 25, 2017 · 3 min read

A study of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, has been characterized as one of the flagship projects under China’s New Silk-Road initiative. Announced in 2015, the investment has been sized at greater than $50 billion, with a big chunk going towards connectivity infrastructure.

In Pakistan, there’s tremendous political rhetoric surrounding the project. From being characterized as a “game-changer”, to a new form of “imperialism”, it is hard to discern fact from rhetoric.

This article makes an attempt to evaluate the connectivity aspect of the road infrastructure. It uses the ArcGIS’s tools, and uses LandScan data from 2006 to layout numbers of people within a certain radius of the roads. The motive behind the approach is to evaluate:

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 arguments around provinces getting an equitable share by seeing how well their people are connected

3) Road connectivity by route — to evaluate which routes past through the least populous areas and therefore are bring infrastructure to the area

Connectivity and population

Connectivity projects are aimed at facilitating transfer of goods to spur economic activity. In federations like Pakistan, where this construction happens can be politically contentious.

Data collection

To answer the question of equity, the first step in data collection was to download shape files of Pakistan and its provinces from the Global Administrative Areas website and import them into ArcGIS. The second step was to construct the CPEC network. This was a challenge in itself. While there are road data sets available for Pakistan, these will not include future construction projects. The approach adopted in this case was to overlay the Google Map image on ArcGIS, and then construct using the tools available. However, a simpler approach, that I realized from my time doing similar analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies was to geotag entire paths in Google Maps, save as KML file and then import that into ArcGIS and subsequently convert it to a Shape file. The last step was to import LandScan data. Since this was part of a university project, I used 2006 data available to me from the Tufts GIS department. However, there are more recently versions available to purchase and can be used to conduct a more up-to-date analysis.

GIS Analysis

Once the data was collected, buffers were generated around the highway network. And then using raster calculator, told population within the buffer was calculated. This analysis was conducted at a national level first. Subsequently, it was conducted by province, so as to find out how many people fall within the buffer of the network within each province. And lastly, it was done by how the governments have defined the routes, i.e. Northern, Eastern, Western and Central.


On average, 86% of Pakistan’s population is within 50 KM of the radius. All provinces and administrative areas, with the exception of FATA, have over 25% of their population within a 5 KM radius of the highway network.

While the Eastern route clearly passes through the most populous areas, the Western Route is where the political ambitiousness of the CPEC plan is manifested. The road network will pass through a less dense area, but most of the road construction will also be new, presenting the government with the greatest challenges.

Population Proximity to the CPEC Highway Network

By Region, In Kilometers (KM)

Population Proximity to the CPEC Highway Network

By Route, In Kilometers (KM)

Usman Mohammad

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