A basic issue of life that needed to be decided on the basis of technical and financial analysis has been embroiled in emotional and political controversy due to misgivings and mistrust.

Feb 06 - 12, 2006

Ratifying the recommendation of the federal cabinet on the issue of water reservoirs, President General Musharraf has changed his priorities about the construction of big dams.

He announced to start construction work on Bhasha and Munda dams first and defer Kalabagh until the reservations of Sindh and NWFP are addressed.

It was, however, made clear that all the proposed high dams including Kalabagh are of vital importance to the economy and hence will have to be build by 2016 to ensure adequate water and electricity supply to the nation at an affordable cost.

President's address to the nation on January 17 was notable for its pragmatic, resolute and yet cautious approach on such sensitive issues as the construction of major dams and the NFC Award. He made a convincing case in favour of big dams, quoting copiously from expert opinions and examples of Western countries as well as Pakistan's immediate neighbors - China and India - to show how important it is to build water reservoirs to meet the country's irrigation and electricity requirements and ensuring sustained economic growth. He offered a comparison between the controversial Kalabagh dam (KBD) and Bhasha dam, pointing out that the former would have access to 90 million acre feet (MAF) since it would have the advantage of being in the monsoon area, while the latter could access only 50 MAF of glacier water. It is a measure of his political sagacity that even though he had earlier announced his intention to soon give the go ahead for the KBD construction, he has postponed the project because of fierce Sindh's opposition to it.

A basic issue of life that needed to be decided on the basis of technical and financial analysis has been embroiled in the emotional and political controversy due to misgivings and mistrust. 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 water 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 for 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, Bhasaha, Akhori and Skardu. Punjab insists on Kalabagh 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 Kalabagh are complete and in case work starts next year construction of the dam can be completed by 2012. Bhasha needs more time.

President Musharraf is offering watertight constitutional guarantees to pacify Sindh's people . He has assured them that their province will not only have its full share of water (inclusive of 2 percent presently denied to Sindh) as per 1991 ISRA accord, it will also get water six to eight weeks ahead of Rabi and Kharif crops. Further, a new storage at Chokoti will be constructed to feed in the canal to Sehwan and 3.6 million acre feet of water downstream Kotri will be available every year instead of 2.5 million acre feet availed by Sindh once in five years. He rightly asserted that no government could stop the work on Kalabagh - once it starts. It is precisely the power of Punjab that cannot just be wished away. Moreover, in a federation, no unit can have a veto. There has to be give and take. Let there be additional storages in Sindh, besides the four-mega dams, and leave to Islamabad to address the feeling of deprivation and injustice in Sindh with a more representative government in Karachi.

According to sources in the Ministry of Water and Power, President Musharraf is all set to unveil the plaque to mark the ground breaking of $ 6.5 billion Bhasha dam on February 4 in Chillas district. A senior Wapda official told that "Wapda Chairman Tariq Hameed and Member (Water) Ch. Mushtaq are very active these days and spent most of the time last week at Bhasha site to make arrangements for inauguration of the dam".

With the commissioning of Bhasha dam, non-perennial canals of Sindh and Balochistan would receive regular water supplies. Large tracts of presently barren lands in all the four provinces would receive life giving irrigation water from new canals.

President General Musharraf, in his address to the nation, had vowed that he would himself unveil the plaque in the first week of February marking the initiation of this mega water reservoir of paramount importance. "We will set up required laboratories, colonies and upgrade 323 km roads including the alignment of the existing Karakoram Highway (KKH), as 110 kilometers KKH will be relocated," the official said. However, work on the foundation of the dam will be started once the geological study, review of feasibility study of 2004 and detailed engineering of the project are completed. The concerned authorities and experts are vigorously working to complete these tasks as soon as possible so that formal work could be started on the foundation of the dam.

Based on geo-technical assessment and evaluation of alternate dam axis, the consultants have now developed a conceptual project layout at axis C, located about one kilometer downstream of axis D. The consultants would check the structural stability of Bhasha dam and also select a preferred location out of the alternate dam axis, besides assessing the optimization of the project layout, including its various components. Experts are already working to reduce the proposed height of the dam by 10 metres (from 281 to 271 metres) to ensure structural stability of Bhasha dam, which is an RCC (roller compacted concrete) dam of unprecedented height in a highly seismic zone, particularly in view of the catastrophic earthquake of October 8, 2005.

The sources said that with the reduction in height of the dam by 10 meters, Bhasha dam will lose its storage capacity by one million acres feet (MAF) of water and have a storage capacity of 6.34 MAF as against the earlier proposed 7.34 MAF. "However, there will be no impact on its power generation capacity that stands at 4,500 MW," he said.

The experts of Wapda and Nespak (National Engineering Services of Pakistan) are vigorously working on the project. The cost of carrying electricity from the dam to load centers will cost $ 1 billion. The World Bank would decide to fund the dam after its appraisal, which is possible only when Pakistan has detailed engineering, economic and geological feasibility of the dam.

Prime Minister chaired a high level meeting in Islamabad last week to review the status of Bhasha project and the related issues. After the meeting he told newsmen that the government is in the process of completing all formalities to start construction of Bhasha dam and it will ensure completion of the project by 2016 as decided by the cabinet. He said the government will take care of the legitimate demands of all stakeholders and will address issues related to the dam in judicious manner.

The Prime Minister observed that completion of the project will usher a new era of development and prosperity for Northern Areas as it will lead to opportunity creation, generation of economic activities and overall economic uplift of the area.

The history of Northern Areas is undergoing a revolutionary change as the construction of Bhasha dam will provide enormous economic benefits to the people of the area, he said, adding that the project which will cost $6.5 billion is expected to add about 3 to 4 percent to country's GDP as it will give a boost to agriculture and industrial sectors by increasing electricity generation capabilities and better irrigation facilities.

About Munda Dam, the Minister for Water and Power Liaquat Jatoi told newsmen after chairing the 60th meeting of Private Power and Infrastructure Board (PPIB) in Islamabad that the federal government has set May 2006 deadline for Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) to complete Dam's feasibility study after it failed to meet the previous deadline of December 2005.

"The five month delay in the feasibility report of Munda Dam may also cause subsequent delay in commencement of the project," he said and added that this project was one of the largest hydel power and water storage projects being implemented in the private sector. As a follow up to the announcement made by the President, the board reviewed the Munda Dam project in detail.

The meeting was informed that with the expected investment of over $ 1 billion, the project would provide 740MW electricity and would have water storage capacity of 1.3 MAF for irrigation and other needs.