Pakistan needs new dams and any further delay would bring grave consequences for the economy and welfare of the country in near future

Feb 06 - 12, 2006

Water is one of the three most essential elements of nature after sunlight and air to sustain life on our planet. It has shaped the course of the human history and made countries powerful and prosperous where nature is generous. Areas and countries where there is lack of water the growth of civilization had remained stunted. These areas had remained poor and plagued with war and internal conflict. Five major civilizations of the world grew close to big rivers like Indus, Nile, Euphrates and Tigress and Yangtse.

The great civilization of Mohenjodaro in Sindh prospered on the banks of life giving mighty Indus five thousands years ago.

The river along with about seven major big and small rivers is lifeline of Pakistan, basically an agricultural country where eighty percent of population in the rural areas depend on it.

Annual floods, rains and underground water over the past many centuries had provided areas falling in Pakistan sufficient water. However, during the last 20 years the life giving commodity was decreasing due to shortage of rain water, natural droughts and as storage capacity shirks in two reservoirs constructed in sixties after Pakistan signed a water accord with India to share water of five rivers flowing through the Punjab.

So acute has water shortage become that there was panic among the rulers. They realized that never has been the need of new water reservoirs more in Pakistan than now. After the two political governments failed to take a decision on the construction of new dams, the onus fell on the government led by Gen Pervez Mushrraf who made a bold effort to mould the public pinion but so deep was distrust and suspicion in NWFP and particularly in Sindh that the government had no alternative but to drop construction of dam at Kalabagh and put construction of Bhasha and Munda dams high on priority list.

His announcement to defer KBD cooled down the regional tempers but it started a new debate about the economic feasibility of Bhasha dam on Indus River high in the mountains of Northern Areas.

About to be 908 feet in height Bhasha dam to be built in the rugged terrain of Northern Areas will have projected storage capacity of 7.34 million acre feet of water and would generate 4500mw electricity and would cost around $6.5 billion. Sindh which is most affected by shortage of water is expected to get additional 2.2 million acre feet of water from the dam.

These are the rosy and heart warming facts but the depressing and harsh reality is the cost of the dam, which is expected to be initiated in 2009.

Before the first ground work on the dam to begin three years from now, the government had to save a 110 km portion of Karakorum highway which will come under water when the reservoir is filled and had to upgrade 325km of the Karakorum highway.

The estimated cost of Bhasha dam had gone up to $6.5 billion and it would be spread over 32,000 acres, displacing 24,000 people which is far less than 120,000 that Kalabagh dam would have forced to leave their homes and hearth.

Bhasha dam would be build in Daimer district of Gilgit and Baltistan and it would follow Munda dam which would be build on further high ground on River Swat. The 700 feet high dam is expected to be completed by mid 2006 and it would have the capacity to generate 700 mw electricity.

The Bhasha dam site is located in between the mountain ranges of HinduKush and Himalaya between the main city of Dassu and Chilas on River Indus. The proposed site of the dam is located on the last boundary of NWFP and the areas coming under water are spread up to Jiglote. As the areas where the dam would be located is a part of the Kashmir dispute but administered by Government of Pakistan, the one sided decision of the government to construct Bhasha dam there would be against the spirit of a temporary arrangement till the dispute is resolved.

Situation of the dam would trigger rivalries between the Northern Areas and NWFP. As the power house of the dam could lie in NWFP while 10 percent of land under water will be in the Northern Areas, the royalty of power generation would go to NWFP.

Among many fears expressed for the selection of site for Bhasha dam is that it is highly active seismic and volatile zone. The site is earthquake prone and in 1975 there had been earthquake in Kohistan.

Water shortage was a perennial problem for the areas that now constitute Pakistan. Soon after independence this country had signed a river water accord with neighboring India. To avoid this shortage Pakistan constructed Mangla and Tarbela dams but these two have outlived their designed life.

Pakistan needs new and big dams to store water and keep the lands irrigated and green throughout the year with water taken from these reservoirs.

The life-sustaining commodity is most essential for areas that form Pakistan, which lies in the desert and arid zones of the world. Three of provinces NWFP, Balochistan and Sindh are perennial water shortage areas. Punjab is also affected by water shortages but as there is a number of rivers flowing across the landscape and the underground level of water is high, the province known as granary of the sub continent is seldom affected by shortage of water.

Three fourth of areas comprising Pakistan fall in the arid zone facing water shortage. Provinces of Balochistan, Sindh and NWFP are areas where there is constant water shortage year in and year out. Agriculture in these provinces relies on monsoon rains or water provided through canals linked with dams.

Countries like former USSR, USA, Peoples Republic of China, which have excessive water and where the economies were not dependent on agriculture, have constructed huge dams. The three Gorges dam in China, though it may prove an ecological disaster, is being constructed to benefit that country.

Pakistan which lie in the arid zone of the world needs new dams and any further delay would bring grave consequences for the economy and welfare of the country in near future.