Construction of dams and barrages are expected to come around soon

Nov 29 - Dec 05, 2004

The decades old controversy over the construction of Kalabagh dam seems to have arrived at a point where a final word "yes" or "no'' about the fate of the project has become inevitable in view of the aggravated water crisis which may seriously affect the winter crops.

According to expert opinion, the climatic change in the Northern part of the country has slowed down snow melting at the mountain peaks due to unusual drop of the temperature. Consequently, the river flows has declined and reduced water level in the two major dams of the country.

The low water level in the reservoirs may not suffice to the water needs of the winter crops not only this year but as a permanent feature because of the climatic change, as earlier said. Besides reduction in water supplies for the irrigation purposes, the water shortage was also adversely affecting the hydro power generation at Tarbela and Mangla dams.

In the backdrop of the prevailing situation, construction of dams and barrages are expected to come around soon, as the shortage of water is badly felt by the population and the farm sector. Pakistan, it is feared to face a shortage of water to irrigate its winter wheat crop because of lower than-usual monsoon rains in July and delayed snow melting which have reduce water levels at the two main reservoirs.

According to official figures, Kalabagh dam would have a storage capacity of 6.1 million acre feet and a power generation capacity of 3600mw. Bhasha, which is another proposed dam to be situated in Chilas, would have a storage capacity of 7.3 million acre feet and power generation capacity of 4500 mw. Akhori dam, the third proposed dam would have a storage capacity of 6 million acre feet but its power generation capacity is just 600mw. Katzara Skardu dam would have a storage capacity was estimated at 35 million acre feet and power generation capacity of 3500mw.

According to informed sources, the escalated cost of Kalabagh dam has now touched the level of $5.65 billion as against the original cost of $1 billion some ten years ago. While the estimated cost of other proposed dams was $6.7 billion for Bhasha, $1.6 billion for Akhori dam.

If the present government, which seems to be determined on the construction of dams, as a long-term remedy for water crisis, decides to go ahead, one of the most beneficiaries of the construction of dams would be cement sector in Pakistan.

According to an estimate, the cement sector would be required to produce at least 3 million tons of cement more per annum to meet the cement demand for the construction of high dams. Since all these water reservoir projects were located in the Northern part of the country, the cement units of the Northern areas would be the real beneficiary of the decision.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, unlike the politicians who shelved the projects of economic significance owing to political considerations, has time and again warned the crucial issue of water shortage and the construction of dams to save the country from future disaster.

President Musharraf, it is learnt is likely to undertake an extensive tour of the province of Sindh to spell out the merits and demerits of Kalabagh dam to the people of Sindh who are strongly opposing the construction of Kalabagh dam. The people of Sindh have their own apprehensions over the issue as they feel that construction of dam in Punjab would render the province of Sindh at the mercy of Punjab. The concerns expressed by the people of Sindh in the light of their previous experiences. They allege that Punjab does not allow judicious distribution of water resources and takes away the major share of the cake.

According to informed sources, in order to off set the apprehensions of Sindh, legal cover may also be there to ensure judicious distribution of water among the federating units of the country.

Experts in power sector were of the opinion that the construction of high dams especially means to mitigate the adverse effect of costly fuel imports for thermal power generation in Pakistan. The oil imports during the current year are likely to exceed $4.5 billion due to record increase in international oil prices. More than 65 percent of power is generated through oil-fired system which has becomes the costliest way of generating power all around the world. Due to high oil prices, even the developed countries are shifting towards coal or other cheaper source of power generation such as hydro power generation. If the three-four under hand high dams were developed they are estimated to produce around 10,000 of hydel power which would greatly help to a drastic cut in exorbitant electricity prices in Pakistan, the experts feel.

Under the policy, the government has decided to discourage new thermal power projects in Pakistan obviously due to high cost of fuel causing increase in power generation cost.

It may be mentioned that high dams are the largest contributor of the economic development of the developed economies of the day including United States of America, however, large projects are always opposed by political forces and other pressure groups in almost every country of the world. It is hoped that a consensual decision would be preferred to resolve the issue amicably.