Chief Ministers of all the four provinces who met
last Monday in Islamabad on the invitation of Punjab Chief Minister, Ch.
Pervez Ilahi to resolve the conflicting issues like NFC and new dams
agreed that construction of one or two big dams should start immediately
in view of the growing shortage of irrigation water and consequent
threat to the agriculture potential in the country. The technical
committee which is in session in Islamabad will decide as to which dam,
Kalabagh, Bhasha or Satgra should be taken first.
While talking to the newsmen after a WAPDA briefing
about under construction Mirani Dam at Turbat Balochistan, President
Pervez Musharraf declared that new major dams are a must for country's
economy and will be built despite opposition. He said, "I will be
failing in my duty if I do not start construction of one or two dams,
without wasting any further time. Kalabagh dam has already been delayed.
The government is committed to start construction on new mega dams
despite opposition from certain quarters.
As far as question of national consensus is concerned
about 95% people of Pakistan including experts and professionals
belonging to different provinces are convinced that construction of new
mega dams including Kalabagh and Bhasha is necessary to save the country
from acute water and power shortage in the coming years. Immediate start
of work on Kalabagh and Bhasha will save the country by 2010 from the
developing dreadful scenario. People are asking what the present
government is waiting for. Has Musharraf taken so much time to develop
national consensus for taking initatives in other fields. If he is
convinced that construction of mega dams is a must for the country why
he does not go ahead with it. He is right when he says that he will be
failing in his duty to the nation if he does not immediately start work
on one or two mega dams. It will be simply unfortunate if President
Musharraf is equated with General Zia ul Haq for inaction on the dam
issue at the end of the day.
Speaking at an international conference on micro
finance in Islamabad last week, President Musharraf enumerated various
steps his government has taken to reduce poverty in agriculture and
industrial sectors. He reiterated his emphasis on the construction of
major dams to promote economy and generate employment to fight the
menace of poverty.
Understandably, the President has a vision for
poverty alleviation. He deems industry and agriculture as the two
important sectors, which can generate job opportunities and contribute
towards poverty alleviation in a big way. The irony, however, is that
nothing tangible is evident on the ground in these sectors to
substantiate his vision. Hardly any new industry has been established in
the country in the last five years, while the construction of major dams
is also in doldrums. Paradoxically, the government is taking cover
behind the rhetoric of national consensus on the issue of new dams, but
nothing practical is visible to build the consensus. The tragedy is that
even the state functionaries are not picking up courage to take an
objective view of the situation vis-a-vis new dams due to the over
politicization of the issue and polarization in the country. Another
half a decade is thus lost in this process. There is a consensus on the
fact that the construction of a new dam has been delayed inordinately.
President Musharraf's persistent emphasis on the construction of new
dams has certainly made no headway. He had committed to begin work on a
new dam by June, 2004 but June, 2005 is fast approaching without any
movement on the redemption of his pledge. Grave water shortage is
starting in the nation's face. Wheat production is falling short and the
country is once again pushed to import food grains to meet the domestic
needs. The nation, which is the ultimate loser of inaction on the part
of its leaders, is justified in asking as to how much more time is
needed to build the national consensus. About three decades have already
been lost in the so-called process of building the 'national consensus'.
The Meteorological Department told the federal
government and provinces that drought conditions would continue to
prevail in the country for next 15 years with varying intensity.
"The drought can continue to hit the country in
next 15 years though its intensity can vary from year to year,"
what the sources quoting Director General Metrological Department Dr.
Qamaruzzan as telling a high level meeting held here at the Planning
Commission and was participated by the provinces. The sources maintained
that the federal government issued immediate directives to the provinces
to make necessary arrangements to counter the drought situation.
"The provinces were asked to submit their respective plans to seek
grants to meet the situation".
To put, matters in perspective, at present the
country is experiencing a 'mild to moderate' drought. There has been an
exceptionally mild monsoon, followed by an unusually warm November, with
rain far below average. The reservoirs failed to fill, but were not
empty. The canals therefore, are running, but not at full capacity. The
immediate impact is on irrigation resources, not potable water. These
drought conditions have not just come out of the blue. They started in
2000, and were initially predicted as manifestations of a weather cycle
in which six to eight years in every 30 to 40 are drought hit or drought
like. Under that hypothesis, the drought like conditions would have
eased as early as 2005, or at the most after 2007. Now, if the Met
Office is right, they are likely to last until 2019, for a cumulative 20
years of drought conditions.
The costs will be immense. Some areas will be worse
affected, with Balochistan the most vulnerable. Rainfall shortage will
mean milder winters with less ice forming on the glaciers, and thus less
glacial melt exacerbating the water shortages caused by less rain. This
will place greater tensions on the Federation. The next 15 years of
drought conditions are thus the greatest danger to Pakistan's integrity
since the secession of East Pakistan. It is now essential to stop
dilly-dallying and go ahead with both of the current mega dam projects.
Since Kalabagh would be ready in 2011 if started next year, and Bhasha
not before 2013, they should be started simultaneously, to save time.
Meanwhile, other rain shortage dams, particularly in Balochistan, should
also be given priority. The government must also remember that the
population will have grown by 2019 from the present 150 million to
180-190 million. Are these extra mouths to be fed from our own crops or
by imports paid for by manufactured goods? Either way, the government
must decide, and formulate policies to meet the situation right now, for
the way things are going, next year will be too late.