IMPORTANCE OF DAMS IN AGRARIAN ECONOMY

FOZIA ISHAQUE
Apr 06 - 12, 2009

Pakistan is an agriculture-oriented economy, with water being the lifeline for its agriculture and any paucity in its accessibility can be catastrophic for the national economy. With a large arable land, Pakistan has the potential of bringing several million acres of virgin land under irrigation. The impediment that hinders the way for this development is insufficient control over floodwater of the rivers. Large quantities of water are left liberated to flow into the sea while there is virtually no limit on availability of land.

Since the commissioning of Tarbala i.e. 20 years, an annual average of over 38 million acres feet (MAF) escaped below Kotri. Out of this, an average of over 26 MAF per year could be effectively controlled and efficiently utilized to bring about prosperity to millions, particularly, in backward areas of Pakistan through national water resources development approach. This recurring irrigation water shortage is coupled with periodic calamity caused by the phenomenon of floods. Monsoon rains lead to blown up rivers which spill over their banks, generating the wake loss on enormous scale. Floods are devastative in financial terms as well as in the form of severe undermining of productive system, which should logically be free from uncertainties and frequent dislocations.

Water resources development and management is imperative for sustainable agriculture in water scarce areas. Punjab constructed over 32 small dams, in the Pothwar region, to store and conserve water for agricultural production. After the construction of these dams and irrigation canals, cropping intensity and crop yield increased. Due to availability of irrigation water there has been a shift of cropping pattern from wheat and forage crops to vegetable crops. If properly managed, the storage is sufficient to irrigate all the crop lands within the command area. The area has potential for expanding both land use and cropping intensities, if innovative irrigation and agronomic practices are adopted. Moreover, mobilizing local water user associations, proper maintenance of irrigation infrastructure and technical support of the agricultural and extension services can enhance the productivity in the area.

There are potential threats to the water resources of Pakistan which are to be addressed on war footings. A worrisome problem lying ahead is that India has started building three more small dams on the Indus River - the sustenance of Pakistan's agriculture - and according to reports, substantial excavation, and concreting work has already been completed. The design of Indian dams being built on river Indus is practically nefarious and aims at monopolizing and controlling the flow of Pakistani water resources, and so threatening to throttle our national economy. These include 45MW "Nimoo Bazgo" project at village Alchi, 70Km from Leh, 130MW "Dumkhar" project located 128km on Leh-Khalsi Batalik road and "Chutak" on River Suru - a major tributary of the Indus River - in Kargil district. It is now feared that by constructing these dams on the river Indus, farmers of Pakistan will have to bear the brunt as India will be in a better position to control the water flows in late rabi and early kharif hence destroying agriculture in the Pakistan. India having a dismal dam failure record, with as many as 9 of its dams collapsing over the past few years with the latest casualty being the Jaswant Sagar dam which collapsed in July 2007. Being a low riparian side, Pakistan faces mass annihilation in case of the three dams meeting the same fate. The Government has a weak and ineffectual policy towards the water-belligerency on part of India.

OUTLOOK

Pakistan is projected to become the world's fifth-largest country by 2030, with a population somewhere between 230 and 260 million people. Its water statistics are worsening rapidly and over the next two decades i.e. by 2020 per capita availability of water is expected to drop by more than 37% from 1100 to 700 cubic meters per person. It regularly faces up to 25% water shortage even if both dams are filled and it rains normal during winter. Above 30 MAF (million acre-feet) of water flows down into the sea unutilized each year because of insufficient storage capacity. The Tarbella Dam, which used to serve the nation right up to mid-June, when next filling starts, now hits the dead level by February-end or early March. Silt has eaten up 28% capacity of both dams and eats more every year. Subsoil aquifer has dropped even to 300 to 400 feet in the cities due to heavy pumping.

The country's current water-storage capacity is barely 12 MAF. This figure represents only 10% of the country's annual river flow; the world's average for storage capacity, on the other hand, is 40% of a country's annual flow. The storage capacity of, Basha dam has 7.3 MAF, Kurram Tangi dam 0.914 MAF, Munda dam 1.30 MAF and Akhori dam 7 MAF capacity. Construction of all these dams to some extent gives relief to the masses in terms of agriculture and hydro power sector. Besides

Pakistan has many identified sites on Indus River that include Skardu Dam (2maf), Diamer-Bhasha Dam (gross 8.1maf), Akhori dam (gross 7.6maf) and Kalabagh Dam (gross 7.9). But successive governments have ceased to move on any one of them, except for Diamer-Bhasha, which was taken up only three years ago and its contract may be awarded this year. All other projects may be junked if current unreceptive attitude of authorities persists.

Possessing one of the largest and most inefficient networks of irrigation, Pakistan faces a complex challenge of managing water resources. There is unending clash on water distribution at head and tail of water courses. These conflicts are continual and across the provinces are older than the country itself. Construction of series of dams, link canals, and barrages has caused deep rooted mistrust among stakeholders. This has been worsened by non-professional attitude of water managers coupled with ceaseless corruption and institutional inefficiencies.