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By the year 2009 or 2010 Pakistan will have a water short fall of over six million acre feet

Jul 24 - 30, 2000

The Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf initiated the process of developing a national consensus on the construction of Kalabagh Dam when he personally presented before a gathering of Sindh newspapers editors, generally hostile to the dam, how important it was for the national economy to start work on the dam and how any further delay in its construction would be an invitation to a disaster for the country in the near future.

The Chief Executive warned against the perils of depleting water reservoirs and the need for construction of not only Kalabagh Dam but many other dams to meet the future water requirements of the country specially of the Sindh Province. Pointing out that our existing dams are depleting, Gen. Musharraf informed the editors of Daily Sindhi Newspaper coming out from Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur that by the year 2009 or 2010 Pakistan will have a water short fall of over six million acre feet which is equal to water stored in Mangla Dam and this shortage will continue to increase with every passing year and the biggest sufferer will be the province of Sindh. He said the depleting capacity of the existing water reservoirs call for at least one dam like Kalabagh, Bhasha or Bunji every 10 years. We have been neglecting this dire requirement and did not construct any new dam during the last 30 years and the country is today suffering for this criminal neglect in the form of drought and acute water shortage throughout the country specially Sindh and Balochistan. He explained that Punjab Province has plenty of sweet sub soil water and in case of shortage it can meet its requirement by sinking more tubwells. But Sindh has brackish sub soil water which cannot be used for irrigation purposes. The water shortage in province will be much more acute in the coming years and this disaster can be averted only by undertaking construction of new dams on warfooting, he added.

General Pervez Musharraf was right when he said that big dams take a long time to build, and that even the feasibility study for a major dam can take several years. He was also right when he said that Pakistan urgently needs to build more dams to boost the country's water-storage capacity, citing the example of Turkey which has built 40 dams on the Tigris River and other rivers over the last five decades, while Pakistan, during the same period, has built only two. Mangla Dam on the River of Jhelum (completed in 1968) and Tarbela Dam on the River Indus (completed in 1974). He said "If we take a decision right now to go ahead with the construction of a dam, it will be completed in the year 2010, by which time the water shortage in the country will rise to 6 million acre-feet, and by the year 2014 or 2015 the shortage will go up to 8 million to 10 million acre-feet. "Would it not be stupidity if we keep losing our water and our people keep longing for it. Do we want to give our people a concept that they should go on longing for water," Gen. Musharraf rightly posed a question.

The feasibility study of Kalabagh Dam was prepared long ago and lot of preliminary work has already been done on the project. Its construction can be started in few months hoping to complete it by 2009/2010. In the meanwhile work on feasibilities of Bhasha and Nunji should be taken in hand with a plan of action to start work on these two dams in 2005, and 2010 and completing by 2015 and 2020 respectively. If we want to meet the water requirements of next fifty years, we will have to build all these dams besides identifying new sites, he added.

The Kalabagh Dam has become an absolute necessity for the country and delaying or abandoning its construction would be an invitation to a disaster. The water situation has become precarious and the provinces are going to each other throat over the issue of water supply. Pakistan is one of the unfortunate country which has not built a major dam in the last three decades. No wonder, today the country is facing a serious water crisis. Millions and millions of rupees have been spent on the feasibility report of the Dam, alterations have been made in the plan to remove the apprehensions of those who have opposed it for one reason or the other, but all these have proved futile exercises and the project has not moved an inch forward. The unnecessary politicisation of the issue has been the major hurdle. However, it would be advisable for the Chief Executive to allay the genuine fears, if any, of the critics of the Dam. It would be suicidal to let the Dam become victim of a political controversy. Those who are using the issue as a political ploy to do politicking are advised not to do so as it amounts to playing with the destiny of the country. The government would not find it easy to build up a consensus on the issue. They need to muster support of politicians who matter. And it would require patience, imagination, good sense and finally power of persuasion. It is good that the Chief Executive has already initiated a process of dialogue with the politicians. The governors should also become a part of it at their level. Secondly, the opponents of the project have become allergic to the name of Kalabagh Dam. There is a lot of merit in Imran Khan's suggestion to change the name of the Dam to Indus Channel. Apparently this may appear a gimmick, but surrounded by a peculiar political controversy as Kalabagh Dam is, this gimmick may deliver, as it could provide a way out to those staunch opponents who had gone too far in their opposition of Kalabagh Dam, but would accept it if given another nomenclature.

Alternatively let a national conference of all our leading water and power experts be called by the Chief Executive. Let the experts go over every aspect of the proposed dam and let them arrive at a clear decisions: yes or no. The deliberations of this conference should be held away from the glare of publicity so that there is no playing to the gallery. After the experts arrive at a decision it should be presented to the government and made public at the same time. And then let us have the wisdom and courage to abide by the considered opinion of the experts. If they conclude that the Kalabagh Dam is imperative for the good of the country, then work on the project should begin without the fear of any adverse reaction. If, on the other hand, the experts deliver a negative answer, let the feasibility study be buried without any tears being shed over it. Further shilly-shallying on this issue we cannot afford. Let us get a clear answer and then stick to it.

It would be a great achievement of Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues if they could make a breakthrough on this explosive issue. If they do it, they would not only carve out a name for themselves in the history of the country, but also win the abiding gratitude of the nation.