Apr 06 - 12, 2009

When we talk of dams, here in Pakistan, we generally have many political and regional benefit concerns in our minds. These concerns mainly refer to the fair and equitable distribution of water between the provinces of Pakistan, which is an agrarian country. The Indus River is the biggest source of water in the country and that passes across the country regions and finally submerges into Arabian Sea in Sindh.

The largest dam on the Indus is Tarbela Dam, which forced almost thousands of people to be relocated at different places. The Government has planned to develop five more dams and even bigger projects by 2016 that would increase energy productions. The projects include; Diamer-Bhasha, Kalabagh, Munda, Akhori and Kurram Tangi dams.

Today Pakistan has a 19,505MW of installed electricity generation capacity, of which thermal generation represents 65% with 12,580MW, Hydel 33% with 6463MW and Nuclear 2% with 462MW, however, the contribution from alternate resources is quite low. Thus, dams being the major source of energy productions are very critical for the country.

The dams are used to control the flow of water and to use the rain drains for energy and agricultural productions. Dams are, however, also a source of conflict between countries and people of the regions. The question of how to harness rivers for hydropower generation and commercial irrigation is an issue of great concern and a source of controversy.

On the other hand, many large dams of the world have wiped out species, flooded huge areas of swamps, forests and farmlands, and displaced millions of people. The "one-size-fits-all" approach to meeting the world's water and energy needs is built on huge humanitarian costs for the benefit of humanity.

On our side, the Indus River basin is the most important yet heavily polluted river system in Pakistan. Environmental degradation of the river is fast increasing, and that threatens the livelihoods of millions of Pakistanis who depend on its ecology.

In addition, the most of the dams are built along Punjab province's vicinity and hence the natural flow of water, flowing from all the provinces, is now more tilted towards the Punjab's agro areas. This has created many political and regional conflicts between the people of the region.

Another concern for building dam in Pakistan is its initial cost. Pakistan is already a heavily debt financed country and the new dams are to be built on foreign aid from foreign banks like World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

The government has planned the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS), which is the world's largest irrigation system, which will involve world donors to finance the projects for Pakistan. Many protests have been launched and registered and the Government has many times delayed their implementation plans. These projects have widely been rejected by all the provinces except Punjab.

Building new dams are also causing new dents into Pak-India relationships. The Kishanganga (India) and Neelum (Pakistan) have increased differences over water distribution between them and Pakistan claims it to be a violation of the Indus Waters Treaty. The project envisages construction of a 100-foot dam and diverting the water into an underground powerhouse near Bandipur. Pakistan has already sought a World Bank nominated expert to adjudicate on the Baglihar hydroelectric project in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir. While India rejected Pakistan's request to stop construction, Islamabad rejected New Delhi's plea for time to consider its technical objections. Pakistan's objections to the Kishanganga project are also on the same lines.


Dams are a cheaper source of energy production and water distribution. There are huge complexities and environmental irregularities in the system. These conflicts can easily be averted if we start exploring the alternates to energy production and water distribution systems.

Pakistan has huge potentials for wind, solar and coal resources, which can produce electricity for the country beyond our own demand. These resources are cheaper to be utilized but required better and effective management. The wind and solar electricity production system may easily be installed on individual homes and facilities. As most individuals in Pakistan are not educated enough to maintain the systems, the Government has to come forward as a first to finance electricity production units for villages and small towns in country. It is good to know that these projects are already in pipeline.

Pakistan potentially receives 19 Mega Joules per square meter on average, and covers 796,095 square kilometers of land. This solar energy potential can be utilized effectively to produce electricity for small villages and homes in remote areas saving huge costs of grid connectivity and environmental protection.

The technologies are very attractive, feasible, and cost effective and their future is quite brighter. We must move aggressively for these alternate energy production systems to save time, money, and efforts to be wasted on building huge dams.

Another matter to be addressed here is that how will the water distribution be made effective if we do not build huge dams.

The answer to the question is in natural phenomenon of water preservation and distribution and that is under ground water reservoirs. The reservoirs will not only distribute water naturally but also preserve it from evaporation. Preserving water through dams is quite dangerous and risks many lives, while underground natural distribution systems are in fact very effective and safe. Need is to channelize the river flow and rainwater in effective ways that it is preserved in those huge underground reservoirs.

The good thing is that, we are still in evolving phase, using all the available options for the energy and water distribution systems. Need is to sit and phase out the most effective solutions for the existing needs and problems.