Dec 27, 2004 - Jan 02, 2005

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.