Majority of the people believe that the fears and suspicions arising out of Kalabagh dam issue should be settled through dialogue and consensus

Dec 19 - 25, 2005

Substantiated with the reports of technical experts and parliamentary committee on water resources recommending the construction of Kalabagh, Bhasha and Skurdu dams on urgent basis, President Musharraf considers high dams including Kalabagh dam as being in the supreme interest of the country.

The parliamentary committee and technical committee headed by eminent people of Sindh domicile have recommended construction of major water reservoirs including Kalabagh dam to meet the growing water and power needs of the country.

President said, "I am convinced that the construction of new reservoirs is a national imperative and can no more be ignored for any expediency". He said he would not only construct the Kalabagh during his tenure but also provide any kind of guarantees, even constitutional safeguards to remove the reservations of Sindh in this respect. Not only Kalabagh on which work can be started without any delay, we will have to build three more mega dams by 2025 to avert a catastrophic water famine, the President added.

After six years of technical investigations, deliberations with experts as well as political forces across the country, President Pervez Musharraf appears to have made up his mind to give the green light for the construction of Kalabagh dam, hopefully with simultaneous approval for Bhasha as well Akhori and Skardu dams.

With the overwhelming endorsement of Kalabagh as the most suitable site for the construction of a big water reservoir by the Inter-provincial Technical Committee on Water Resources formed by the President, the way has been cleared for the government to undertake the work at the earliest possible time. The Abbasi committee's seven to one verdict, with the dissenting member being only one of the two who represented the Sindh province should also make it easier for political leaders of disagreeing provinces to shed their reservations about the project on which, the committee believes, the construction work can begin within six months to a year. It would take six to seven years to complete, provide storage for 6.1 million-acre feet of water and generate up to 3600MW of electricity. On the other hand, Bhasha's feasibility study and the required infrastructure would not be ready before six years and the actual work cannot commence till then.

The committee's report goes into convincing details for giving priority to Kalabagh over Bhasha and Skardu dams, both of which it also favors for construction afterwards. With the hindsight provided by the recent earthquake and the location of Bhasha on a seismic faulting, the project would need careful study and is the second viable option. Kalabagh would have the least environmental, resettlement and logistic problems. It is the only project from where a right bank irrigation canal for Dera Ismail Khan would irrigate 500,000 acres of the NWFP by gravity flow, and a left bank canal for central Punjab, which is the only possible provision for replacing Mangla dam's supplies when it ultimately silts up.

These observations, along with the statistics of the total flow of the Indus Basin irrigation system, the capacity of available and future storages and the quantity of water at present passing down to the sea, should provide the government with sufficient data to bring round dissenting politicians. According to available information, the Indus River brings down from the mountains 90maf and the Chenab and Jhelum around 45maf. International standards demand an overall storage capacity of 54maf. As against this, the existing capacity is just 20maf and on an average 35maf is allowed to go waste to the sea. Not that these figures were not known before, but their acknowledgement by a high powered technical committee would lend them greater validity.

Discord on sharing water is not uncommon between nations as well as between provinces within a country. History is replete with wars having been fought over water. International laws were thus evolved to peacefully settle the water sharing problems between upper and lower riparian regions. Across our eastern border, only court interventions settled the disputes. In Pakistan also, issue of water sharing hits a sensitive nerve. Misgivings and complaints are voiced by the lower riparian province for not getting its legally due share of water.

A basic issue of life that needs to be decided on the basis of technical and financial analysis, due to misgivings and mistrust is embroiled in emotional and political controversy. Unfortunately, politicians in rural Sindh have turned Kalabagh into "a do or die issue." This is precisely the reason that for 30 years no new dams have been constructed and now the country is faced with a nine million acre feet shortage. This will rise to 30 million acre feet by 2025 if new storage is not built, the President warned.

New storage is indeed needed to conserve water during the high flow period for utilization during the dry months. The debate is about where the storages need to be constructed and which dam has to be constructed first. The four places identified for mega dams are" Kalabagh; Bhasha; Akhori and Skardu. Punjab insists on Kalagabh as it would have the capacity to hold 90 million-acre feet, followed by Bhasha with a capacity of 50 million-acre feet. Secondly, the technical drawings of Kalagagh are complete and in case work starts next year construction of the dam can be completed by 2012. The technical drawings of Bhasha are yet to start and the earliest it can be completed would be 2016.

Ever since he took office, the President has been working to stress the importance of the issue of new reservoirs. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz too has stressed the importance of dams and has been working to forge a consensus among all the four provinces on this issue.

The primary reason why there is a need for such reservoirs is the rapid rise in population and the need to grow more crops. There is also an acute need for electricity to satisfy growing demands from industry and domestic consumers. Violating the Indus Waters Treaty, India has illegally started construction of dams on the rivers Chenab, Jhelum and Neelum to fulfill its water and energy needs that could reduce Pakistan to a barren desert. Because Pakistan has been slow in constructing, it has been unable to launch any hydroelectric projects to generate electricity. The private electric companies, meanwhile, have been providing highly expensive power much to the chagrin of consumers. This in turn has created impediments to the country's industrial development. Experts believe that if no new dam is built, there will be a shortage of some 20 MAF of water by the year 2020. Meanwhile, the storage capacity of the Mangla and Tarbela dams is rapidly depleting.

While no new dam project has been undertaken in 30 years, there has also been no effort to stop the wastage of water in canals, although the present government has taken the important step of spending 77 billion rupees on lining of canals. The World Bank and other foreign consultants have declared the Kalagabh dam as a feasible and essential option. In fact, several crores of rupees have already been spent on initial work.

Meanwhile, the President has been working hard to take all the four provinces into confidence and remove their reservations on this count. He has assured Sindh that it will not only receive its fair share under the 1991 water accord but has also said that the province will receive water for the Rabi and Kharif seasons six to eight weeks earlier. The construction of dams will also help produce 15,000 megawatts of electricity. The president also told the people's representatives and others that he would never take any step that went against the interests of Sindh. The majority of Sindh's population depends on agriculture for its livelihood and the construction of new dams will benefit this section the most. It is therefore essential that the representatives and leaders of public opinion in the province accept the President's assurances and a work to remove obstacles in the path of building new dams. The people of the NWFP had also once objected to the Kalabagh dam because they believed it would submerge some cities, such as Nowshera. However, certain technical changes have been made in the dam's design ensuring this would not happen.

The people of Sindh should not dismiss the views of former World Bank officials and heads of Wapda such as Shamsul Mulk and other experts as reflecting ethnic, provincial or linguistic prejudices. The World Bank would not have agreed to fund the project and sink its investment were it not technically feasible.

The majority of the people of the country believe that the fears and suspicions that the issue of the Kalabagh dam has aroused should be settled on the basis of dialogue and consensus. The manner in which President Musharraf has worked to argue the case for the dam suggests that he will not only succeed in persuading people of the need for building this dam but will also gain their active support for it. Projects of this nature will not only strengthen the agriculture sector but will also boost industrial production and generate employment. The availability of cheap electricity will help boost Pakistan's exports and increase competitiveness. It will speed up the process of agricultural and industrial self-reliance.

The manner in which the President has launched a drive to convince people of the importance of building new reservoirs and removing their reservations is impressive and unprecedented. It is hoped that the nation will support him in this drive for the sake of the welfare and prosperity of future generations.