Fresh water is globally a scarce commodity and a
deficit has already emerged in the country and growing rapidly in recent
times and although remains in notice of all the stakeholders, it largely
The Allah blessed Pakistan this year as heavy winter
downpour in arable stretches coupled with snowfall in northern hilltops
invited an interim complacency for planners.
They expect to reap bumper crops of food grains due
to recent spells of rainfall, however, medium to long-term water needs
still pose a big threat to the future of this largely agro-based
economy. In the month of February alone average rainfall rose to double
almost across the country feeding standing crops with much needed water,
which scarcity becomes imminent in winters in semi-arid Pakistan.
Rainfalls and heavy snowfall in catchement areas have lifted the hope of
filling water reservoirs.
Hopes of good crops this year, however, do not offer
any sense of complacency to the planners because of the looming water
paucity. "We are aware of the future water shortage which calls for
constructing some large dams at any cost," said Pakistan's State
Minister for Water and Power Ameer Muqam.
Punjab, the largest province of the country in term
of population and effectively in charge of the water resources, while
sitting on the upper riparian, is blamed for the long prevailing water
scarcity in southern parts, situated at the tail of once a glorious
"We have seen repeated breach of
inter-provincial water accord and that very fact has created an
atmosphere of distrust and discomfort among all the remaining three
provinces," said Shazia Mari, a member of provincial parliament of
southern Sindh representing opposition. The agriculture sector relies 90
percent on irrigation water, which abundantly available at the rate of
131 million acres feet (MAF) but sheer mismanagement of watercourses and
severe inter-provincial disputes over its rationing make peasants look
at the heaven for rains.
The government is pursuing about a dozen large
projects at cumulative cost of $2.7 billion, which would provide
additional reservoirs of 4.44 MAF that could irrigate additional 2.88
million-acre arable land. The completion of these projects is expected
by 2007. "We have just got approval of Koram Tangi dam which would
cost Rs17 billion having 3 MAF capacity, and Gomal Zam dam of 1 MAF,"
said Muqam. "But need of Kalabagh Dam still remains there," he
quickly added that meeting increasing electricity demand is cited to be
another main reason for taking up large dams.
"We want to switch on hydel power generation
because we need more but cheapest electricity to cater the industrial
and domestic electricity need," said the minister.
Although descending, agriculture still contributes
largest share to the GDP, accounting for 23 percent of it. A ruthless
and unjust use of abundantly available water has already sparked a
severe inter-provincial bickering.
A grand rally of Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement
(PONM) on last Friday, which mustered over four thousand Balochi,
Pashtun, Sindhi, Sariaki nationalists unequivocally opposed the proposed
While political resentment against Kalabagh goes on,
experts also don't count on the proposed dam's existence. "Water is
abundantly available from the upper riparian of the river but
mismanagement and ill-will on the part of regulators create acute
scarcity to the lower riparian not because of non-existence of any large
dam," said Idrees Rajput, a technocrat and civil engineer, who
represented Sindh province in the capital for water accords.
As an only solution for the looming water scarcity
Islamabad and Punjab, vehemently pursue the idea of constructing
Kalabagh dam. The proposed dam carrying 6.1 MAF capacity is opposed more
vehemently by rest of the three provinces.
"Imminent water shortage is the biggest reality
of this country but Kalabagh dam is of no benefit to the three
provinces," said Mari, who belongs to Pakistan Peoples Party. The
opponents of the dam have many alternative proposals to offer including
a 35 MAF dam near Skardu, a northern town in the Karakoram mountain
range at the eastern bank of Indus. Carry-over dams across the country
are also proposed. However, the government is not willing to buy any
other idea except Kalabagh dam.
"Yes we are convinced of small dams' need but we
must have at least two large dams," said the water minister.
President Pervez Musharraf, is one of the staunch
supporters of the dam. In a public address in Nowshera, a town in North
Western Frontier Province, and the proposed site of the dam where it
would cause a mass people dislocation, vowed the construction of the
dam. He cautiously said the decision would have to be taken by the
people. "Musharraf can do whatever he wants to but we shall never
allow him to construct the dam," the nationalist leaders told the