THE CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW DAM

Judicious water manager is vital for economic harmony

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Jan 27 - Feb 02, 2003
 

Pakistan is the 7th most populous country in the world and the 4th largest in Asia. There is a broad consensus that the rapid population growth and poverty reinforce each other. In this context, the low fertility turns up as one of the keys to save the hard earned economic growth and reduce poverty in this country.

While the increase in population is impairing the economic growth, the shortfall in the availability of water both for irrigation and drinking purposes getting into a serious proportion with every passing year. Although the two years of negative growth, major crops maintained their customary largest share in the financial year 2002, contributing more than 40 per cent of the value addition. However, the decline in major crops not only overshadowed the progress of other sub sectors of the agriculture but also pushed down overall GDP growth.

On one hand the water shortage forces reduction in under cultivation of the major crops the backbone of the economy while on the other economy is suffering due to high generating cost of the thermal power. The situation thus demands for better water management to get optimum benefits of the available agriculture lands and to general hydroelectric which is again the cheaper source for power production.

During the last two years, among the four most important crops with a 90.7 per cent share in major crops declines were recorded in the production of rice, cotton and wheat. With a worsening of the water shortage in the later half of Kharif and the entire season of Rabi, the area under rice and wheat dropped and thus loss was compounded by yield declines.

There has been a significant relationship between water availability and the area under cultivation of important crops.

Everybody knows that Pakistan has vast barren lands in the province of Balochistan. Highly valuable agriculture lands going un-utilized due to shortage of water in the country. The situation demands for ways and means to overcome this challenge through better management of the available water resources.

In this respect, the present government is considering to take practical steps to go for construction of smaller dams in the province of Sindh and a mega project of the proposed size of Kalabagh or Bhasha dam in the upcountry.

In this respect the government would take final decision regarding construction of Kalabagh dam or Bhasha dam next year, as Pakistan "directly needs one such dam" after every 15 years to keep the national economy on track.

The government had conducted a study on Bhasha dam project two years ago, which is now in its final stage as its last winter reading is underway. President Pervez Musharraf has recently stated "We could have built Kalabagh dam, if it was not politicized. There was strong resentment in Sindh against the construction of Kalabagh dam and we adhered to the policy of "Pakistan First" which means that every decision should be taken after achieving the consensus."

It may be mentioned that the politicization of the Kalabagh dam has cost heavily on the economy of the country. On the feasibility report of Kalabagh dam, the country had to bear expenses running in billions of rupees and owe to pay back to the World Bank.

The reservations of the people of Sindh on the construction of Kalabagh dam were genuine and justified especially in view of their apprehensions of the dry bed of the Indus for most of the time in the year.

It is a sensitive issue but pertinent for survival of the economy. To avoid fragmentation of the national consensus on account of construction of Kalabagh, the economic managers have come out with a substitute of Bhasha dam. It is suggested that after going through all pros cons of the project taking special care of all the provincial interests, we should go with the dams aiming at bring prosperity to the people of every province without any discretion. Prior to the construction of larger dam like Bhasha dam the economic managers should initiate the smaller dams projects on which the studies have already completed for the satisfaction of the people of the smaller province especially the tail enders.

Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has also said that his government has no reservation on Kalabagh dam or Greater Thal Canal Projects. We are determined to do everything in the greater national interest.

The completion period of any dam is at last ten years and in order to overcome drought situation, we are taking various steps, including raising water level of Mangla dam and construction of other smaller dams in the country.

In order to meet multi-faced needs of the economy ranging from irrigation, power generation and save the waste of the available water resource, the government has initiated "Vision 2025, which is a $32.5 billion development program for water and hydropower resources in the country.

This is certainly a mega project and if the proposed project under Vision 2025 were completed according to the schedule and the quality of the work was maintained the water related problems would be redressed to a greater extent. Water which is the source of life comes on top priority in the life of the human society. Its judicious management could bring relief in every aspect of life hence the issue needs to be treated above all individual or political considerations.