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New dams on war-footing

To meet growing water shortage

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad

Aug 28 - Sep 03, 2000

In view of the mounting anti-Kalabagh Dam campaign by disgruntled politicians, the water and power development authority has prepared an alternate action plan to meet the growing demand for water of all the four provinces in the country. The alternate plan aims at bringing 22.5 million acres of land under cultivation in all the four provinces at an estimated cost of Rs.421 billion during the next ten years.

The present government has expressed its intentions to immediately start work on Kalabagh Dam to meet the rapidly depleting water resources in the country. The highly politicalised issue of Kalabagh Dam provided a forum to the ousted political parties to get together and agitate against the present government. To avoid any bitterness, the government seems to have decided to go soft on Kalabagh and in the meanwhile find out other solutions to meet the threat of water famine in the country in the near future.

Last month while addressing a gathering of Sindhi newspapers editors generally hostile to the Kalabagh Dam, the Chief Executive warned against the perils of depleting water reservoirs and the need for construction of not only Kalabagh 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 them 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 called 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 subsoil water which cannot be used for irrigation purposes. The water shortage in Sindh province will be much more acute in the coming years and this disaster can be averted only by undertaking construction of new dams on war-footing, he added.

Instead of considering the issue in its right perspective the disgruntled politicians who were looking for a common ground to agitate against the present government grabbed the General's inclination for the Dam as the golden opportunity to get to gather and use it as a forum to agitate against the present government. The Awami National Party (ANP) which had received a serious political setback because of Ajmal Khattak's departure got in touch with politicians of Sindh and Balochistan and even from Punjab and launched a campaign against the government and thereby restore the deteriorating image of the party.

Viewed in the overall perspective of the long neglected need of ensuring adequate increases in the supply of water, the Chief Executive's stress on addressing the worsening crisis becomes all the more understandable. For this has to be a part of the overall Herculean effort his government is making to correct the accumulated errors and omissions of the past decades. In so far as the development and management of the country's scarce water resources are concerned, these have remained stalled for nearly two decades. The gigantic dams built earlier at Warsak, Mangla and Tarbela, have continued emitting signals of wearing down, which have remained largely ignored. Not built to be of service endlessly, they had to be supplemented with new efforts to meet the needs of the times. One belated move in that direction was the Kalabagh Dam which, riddled with profound controversies, has virtually turned into a jinxed project. In the meantime, the growing need of water for irrigation and other purposes has acquired alarming proportions. In view of the mounting gravity of the developing situation, the Chief Executive did well to focus attention on the urgency of initiating a timely move to expedite development of adequate water resources to meet the increasing needs of the economy adequately, without any more loss of time.

According to reports Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf had fixed the deadline of December 2000 for finalization of the broad outlines of a water management strategy, which should be workable over a stipulated period. This decision was made at the conclusion of a series of meetings on a broad time-frame for implementation of the contemplated strategy with the federal and provincial government departments and agencies concerned, including the federal food and water and power ministries, besides the Water and Power Development Authority.

The alternate plan of action which has been prepared by WAPDA Engineers in the light of the directives of the Chief Executive was presented before the chairman of Wapda, Zulfiqar Ali Khan, last week. It envisaged construction of Munda Dam and left canals in NWFP, Sehwan Barrage, Chotiyarion Dam, Thar Ranee and other canals in Sindh, Mathan Kot Barrage and a canal for Balochistan and an irrigation canal for Cholistan area in Punjab.

The plan will be implemented in the next 10 years and on an average Rs.40 billion will be spent every year, Member Water Wapda Sardar Tariq told newsmen. Besides these schemes Wapda will also carry out surveys to upgrade studies on Bhashah Dam and other potential sites for developing more reservoirs. "We will have to carry out these studies on war footing", he said.

The country in the next 10 years will lose water storage capacity equivalent to Mangla Dam, as approximately 500,000 tonnes of sedimentation are flowing into Tarbela dam every day. According to an estimate within the next 10 years the country's water storage capacity would deplete by 5.8 million acre feet (MAF). The total capacity of Mangla is 5.9 MAF, he said.

The water resource development programme is primarily focused on conservation and efficient utilization of available water. In Sindh, particularly in southern districts where ground water is saline Wapda plans to develop more reservoirs.

Wapda has decided to construct Chotiyarion dam through its own resources. The work on Chotiyarion dam which is being constructed as a part of Left Bank Outfall Drainage (LBOD) was stopped as the World Bank had refused to provide funds. Later Saudi government was approached to provide 55 million Riyals required for the dam but they also turned down the request.

At present southern Sindh, he said, is being supplied irrigation water from Sukkur barrage, through 250 to 300 miles long canals. A lot of water is lost over such a long distance. After the construction of Sehwan barrage, three canals will be drawn for the left bank and three for the right bank. He said the Manchar Lake would also be replenished through these canals.

Thar Ranee canal is also included in these schemes, which would irrigate desert area in Thar. He said two sites at Thar Ranee canal are also identified where small reservoirs could be constructed to store water. In the northern parts of Sindh 480 tubewells would be installed to exploit ground water reserves.

In Balochistan Mathan Kot barrage would be constructed and a canal would be drawn from the barrage to irrigate exclusively katchi area in Sibi district. It would bring an 261,000 acres of barren land under cultivation. "This canal will totally transform the whole area," he said.

For southern NWFP, Wapda has planned to construct a Chashma left canal to supply irrigation water to D.I.Khan. Munda Dam would also be constructed on Kabul river which would supply water to southern N.W.F.P. besides producing 480 MW of electricity. It would also act as bulwark against floods in Kabul river.

Boths N.W.F.P. and Balochistan would become self-sufficient in food with the completion of all these schemes, it is claimed