From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi,

May 17 - 23, 2004

After a briefing on the various stalled water storage dams in the country and the looming shortage of electricity and irrigation water, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared in Islamabad last week that "the work on a big water reservoir will start this years come what may".

The President was told that the feasibility study of Bhasha Dam will be ready by next month while Kala Bagh was ready for action for the last many years. Besides work on many small dams is going on at various site in different province to augment the present supply of water & power. But this will not be sufficient to growing demand in the near future work on Kala Bagh or Bhasha should start without any further loss of time.

The construction of new dams and water reservoirs is of vital importance to meet our growing demand of electricity at affordable cost and water supply for our land irrigation system as the storage capacity of Terbala Dam is decreasing with every passing day because of silting process.

Out of the three big potential water dams, Kala Bagh, Basha and Katzara (Skurdu) which on completion, can adequately meet our water and electricity requirements for the next 50 years; feasibility of only Kala Bagh is ready for the last many years. Work is in progress in case of Basha while for Katzara the World Bank has already offered up to $10 billion in soft loans for water and power sector. It seems that despite its best efforts the present government has not been able to build a consensus on Kala Bagh, which has become highly politicized issue hampering its construction.

Last year, President Pervez Musharraf, with some experts, undertook tours of Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP and had detailed discussion with politicians opposing Kala Bagh Dam and took pains to convince them of its colossal advantage for country's agriculture and power generation requirement. While inaugurating the first turbine of Ghazi Brotha project in September last, the President declared that Kala Bagh and Basha dams will have to be built in order to provide water to our farmers and electricity to our masses at on affordable cost. "These dams will have to be constructed at every cost" he declared adding "we will prevail upon elements who are politicizing the issue and accomplish our mission". The pledge has, however, remained unfulfilled so far.

A parliamentary committee on water resources, headed by Senator Nisar Memon was setup by the federal government to develop a national irrigation water strategy with national consensus. This committee also could not make any headway as far as developing a consensus on Kala Bagh. On the other hand the NWFP Provincial Assembly dominated by MMA an ally of Jamali's federal government has passed a resolution recommending that the idea of Kala Bagh may be abandoned for the time being and instead construction on Basha Dam be started on a fast track basis. The country should be grateful to President Musharraf who through his personal efforts not only expedited completion of Ghazi Brotha bat got initiated over a dozen small dams and water reservoirs to be completed within the next three years on a cost of Rs. 75 billion which would augment water and electricity supply to some extent.

The WAPDA vision 2025 envisages construction of both Kala Bagh and Basha to overcome water shortage feared during the next 10 years in the country. According to WAPDA's assessment, Pakistan would become an extremely water short country by 2012 with per capita water availability of only 1000 cm which will go down further 885 cm by 2020. WAPDA recently announced its readiness to commence construction of Kala Bagh this year (2004) to be completed by 2010 and on Basha to be completed by 2013. These two mega projects will cost $ 5 billion each. It will add to our electricity by about 8000 megawatt at a low cost and enhance country's water supply by about 30 percent. World Bank offer to finance 2 mega projects is being seriously considered and the government may accept the offer provided it is made under the international development assistance terms, which carry an interest rate of about 1.5 to 2 percent.

According to experts WAPDA is in full agreement, Kala Bagh should be given priority. Why is WAPDA focusing on Kala Bagh and is not so sanguine about Bhasha? The truth is that the dam in the Northern Areas has many rather dicey aspects. A study made by Pakistan's top experts pointed out that Bhasha involves tougher environmental and economic problems than Kala Bagh. Bhasha has a proposed height of 660 feet compared to 260 feet in the case of Kala Bagh and is located in a highly active seismic region. There is no road access for transporting heavy machinery and the project site is far away from centers of high power consumption. It is also far from the country's 500 KV transmission network. Additionally, it will end up submerging a long stretch of the Karakoram Highway and the entire Chilas valley, which might prove troublesome.

Due to high importance being given to the water and power sector, the federal government is preparing a separate contingency plan worth Rs. 210 billion outside the normal budgetary funding to launch mega water projects like Kala Bagh and Basha dams after consensus among the federating units.

This is in addition to what has been provided in the normal budget under Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) last year's for water and power sector was around Rs. 72 billion out of Rs. 160 billion allocated for PSDP. Provinces are demanding Rs. 80 billion in the coming budget for the water and power sector out of anticipated Rs. 200 billion for PSDP.