Nov 24 - 30, 2008

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) which met last week in Islamabad under the Chairmanship of Shaukat Tarin, newly appointed financial advisor to the Prime Minister, approved the construction of Hydle project Diamir Bhasha on a fast track basis by 2016 at an estimated cost of $12.6 billion.

It is going to be the biggest Hydle project which would generate 4500MW of electricity besides considerably enhancing country's water storage capacity badly needed for irrigation purposes, Train told newsmen after the meeting. While this renewed approval is welcome, it may not be out of place to mention that this is the third approval of this project by the ECNEC. For the first time it was approved in 2004 with an estimated cost of $6.4billion.

Its upward revised cost of $8.5billion approved in 2007. Further the ground breaking ceremony was performed by former President Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf in 2006 but nothing is visible at the site so far. Only the cost has almost doubled or the name of dam has changed from Bhasha to Diamir Bhasha since 2004.

Speaking on the occasion of ground breaking ceremony of the dam on April 26, 2006 Gen. Pervez Musharraf once again reiterated his pledge to the Nation that besides $6.5 billion Diamir-Bhasha, all other dams including Kalabagh will be built under 2016 water vision of his government to meet the country's growing water and energy requirements. 'Water and energy are matters of life and death. We have to build all dams. We have lagged behind and now we have to work at a fast speed to catch up with the rest of the world, he added. The Diamir-Bhasha project is part of Musharraf "water vision" that also envisages construction of Kalabagh, Akori, Munda and Kuram Tangi dams by the year 2016. There is nothing visible on the screne of this vision.

Raja Pervez Ashraf, Federal Minister for Water and Power, echoed the approval given by the Ecnec for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam amidst much fanfare in a press conference. The minister did not appear to have been properly briefed about several aspects of the project and was heard to repeat the promptings by the officials seated next to him. Be that as it may, there is no denying the fact that the dam, if constructed, will have a significant impact on our economy by: (i) making available about 6,400,000 acre feet annual surface water storage that would supplement irrigation supplies during low flow periods, (ii) harnessing a renewable source of clean and cheap energy through installed capacity of 4500 MW, (iii) reducing dependence on thermal power, thus saving foreign exchange; (iv) employment generation, particularly for the locals, during the construction and operation of the dam, and (v) creating infrastructure leading to overall socio-economic uplift of the area and standard living of its people.

It is pertinent to note that former President Pervez Musharraf, on 17th January 2006, announced his decision to construct five multi-purpose storages in the country during the next 10 to 12 years with Diamer-Bhasha Dam Project targeted to be undertaken in the first phase. Work with respect to formulating a detailed design, scheduled to be completed by March 2008, commenced soon after the ground breaking ceremony by Musharraf. Construction was to begin by November of this year. Thus the Ecnec approval may be seen as an ongoing project that merely received a rubber stamp of approval from the new economic managers.

The cost of the dam has been estimated at $12.6 billion. An amount of 27.824 billion rupees is required for the acquisition of land and resettlement of the people tobe affected in the wake of the construction of the dam. Under the proposed project, 10.76 billion rupees will be spent for the acquisition of barren land, tree and nurseries and 1.638 billion rupees will be utilized for building properties and infrastructure, 8.8 billion rupees for establishment of nine model villages, 62.119 million rupees for pay and allowances for administrative personnel, and 17.7 million rupees for contingent administrative expenses.

Buddhist artifacts, possibly numbering in thousands, have been recovered at the site of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and they would have to be shifted to a museum at a considerable cost. The project also includes an escalation cost of 2.234 billion rupees at the rate of 6 percent per year for five years and interest of 4.309 billion rupees during the implementation at the rate of 9 percent.

The obvious question is: given Pakistan's current abysmal foreign exchange reserve position, with the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Finance Shaukat Tarin admitting on the floor of the House that the country is in desperate need of at least 5 billion dollars to manage its balance of payments, where is the money for the dam going to come from? This matter is further complicated by the fact that the international financial institutions would be unable to extend assistance for the project because the location of the dam is in what is considered 'disputed territory'.

Additionally, the budget deficit is likely to be greater by at least 2 percentage points, reflecting serious domestic resource constraints as well. The critical question remains: where does the government expect to generate adequate resources to enable it to construct the dam? The WAPDA Chairman 'commented that any firm receiving a 5 billion dollar contract will automatically get credit; economists would no doubt point out that with the world reeling from a credit crisis, the optimism expressed by the WAPDA Chairman maybe misplaced at best, but the more important question is where would the government of Pakistan get credit to pay the firm? The WAPDA Chairman indicated that the organization had received a very encouraging response from China and the Middle East.

Details were not forthcoming and one wonders if this 'encouraging' response can be defined the same way as the 'successful' trips by the country's top executives to secure assistance from bilateral sources and failing to get a single penny thus far. The only hope is that the government would be able to procure funding for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam from some investors from China, Saudi Arabia or UAE --- leading members of "Friends of Pakistan" Club" who really want to help us.

The country's biggest reservoir, Diamir-Bhasah Dam would generate 4500mw of electricity with a gross storage capacity of 7.3 million Acre Feet of water, and located on Indus River about 315 km upstream of Tarbela Dam and 165 km downstream of Northern Areas Capital Gilgit and 40km west of Chillas and 210 km north of capital Islamabad. The dam would have a maximum height of 270 meters and impend a reservoir of about, 7.4 million acre feet (MAF), with live storage of more than 6.4 MAF. The Dam will preserve 15 percent of annual flow of the River Indus, covering an area of 110 square km and extend 100km upstream of the dam site up to Raiko Bridge on Karakorm Highway.

Following are key facts of the Diamir Bhasha Dam.

Dam Type: Zoned earth-rock fill with central core
Location: Chilas on the River Indus
Height: 200 meters (660 ft.) (above river bed)
Length of crest: 3,018 feet
Reservoir Area: 27,700 acres
Catchment's Area: 152,100km2
Gross Head: 145 m (476 feet)
Average Flow: 1,970 m3/sec (69,600 ft3/sec)
Design Flood Discharge: 19.300 m3/sec (682.000 cusecs)
Total Storage Capacity: 9.0 km3 (7.3 1VL\FJ
Live Storage Capacity: 7.0km3 (5.7 MAF;
Total Volume of Dam: 5b million yarcls
Total Volume of Fill: 44 million m3
Installed Capacity for Hydropower: 3.360 MW from 12 units
Energy Generated: 14.1 GWh
Spillway Type: Overflow, with concrete lined chute, flip
Spillway Gates: bucket and plunge pool
  6 - 16.6 x 20 meters (54,5 x 65.6 ft)