MIRANI DAM CAN BOOST AGRICULTURE DEVELOPMENT

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Apr 06 - 12, 2009

Inaugurated by former president Pervez Musharraf last year, Mirani dam is the third mega project in Mekran after Gwadar port and coastal highway launched under Musharraf administration. With an estimated cost of Rs. 5.861 billion, Mirani dam has been constructed on Dasht River, 43 km South West of Turbat City for irrigation purposes. Presently, agriculture in the project command area is below sustenance level. Average cropping intensity is about 5 percent; crops grown at present include sorghum, pulses, fodder, and wheat. The yields are extremely low. The project can help raise annual agriculture production by 85 percent - i.e. 36 percent in Kharif and 49 percent in Rabi crops. Under ultimate development conditions, the proposed cropping pattern includes orchards, vegetables, fodders, wheat etc.

Mirani dam has a height of 127 ft and a length of 3,350 ft. It is an earth-filled dam, which has created a reservoir extending to about 10 miles upstream of the dam. It has a design capacity of 377 cusecs. The dam can provide irrigation water to the lands on both sides of River Dasht, which mostly depends on rains, averaging 4.2 inches annually, in the upper catchments area. The benefits of the project will gradually reach to the local people and it will take 5 to 10 years that people would turn to farming and develop irrigated agriculture in the area. The people of Mekran are not agriculture-oriented. The government should announce incentives for the local farmers.

Presently, hardly 500 acres of land out of 33200 acres is under cultivation in the command area. According to an estimate, the project's command area can attain an average annual cropping intensity of 85 percent, as the Mirani dam can sustain perennial supply to 33,200 acres of land benefiting about 32,000 people of more than 4,400 families in the area. The big land owners of the area need to come forward to utilize their lands for farming to develop agriculture in the project's command area. There is all private land in the command area and investors from UAE have reportedly shown interest in developing agriculture farms.

The project area is extremely underdeveloped and lacks basic amenities such as assured drinking supplies, basic health and education facilities, electricity, and communications. With the construction of dam, a huge economic activity is expected in the area. The local people feared that because of the dam, two union councils, Noodaz and Nasirabad, would be inundated. Some political circles in Balochistan had demanded the government to reduce the height of Mirani Dam by at least 10 feet in order to mitigate its adverse effects on the people in upstream and downstream areas. The first feasibility report of the project was completed in 1956 and it showed the dam height as 80 feet instead of the 127 feet.

The hydrological studies have determined the following parameters of the reservoir:-

Maximum surcharge level: 276.2 ft. (AMSL)
Routed flood: 384.313 Cusecs
Normal conservation level: 244 ft (AMSL)
Spillway crest level: 232 ft, (AMSL)
Spillway width (clear waterway): 344 ft
Maximum flood peak: 6,24.000 Cusecs

The command area has been affected for the upper riparian, which included resettlement and land acquisition, as well as for the lower riparian, which meant water rights, etc. Besides depleting the productive agricultural land, there will be manifold impacts on the local community, a cross section of income levels, living resources, and living standards that would give rise to multi-dimensional socio-economic problems. The critics say that the study conducted by Nespak remained silent on the resettlement action plan and was more biased towards the lower riparian which forced Wapda to address various aspects relating to the affected population and their resettlement.

Unfortunately, politics has been involved in Mirani dam project from the very beginning.

The feasibility report was completed in 1956 and the work began in 2001, and that too after the commencement of the Gwadar Deep-sea Port with the objective to provide water. The project was politicized and made controversial in the past. Hence, it could not be executed in mid-1980s when the Balochistan government had prepared its feasibility study and sent it to the federal government for approval. There was an offer from a Soviet company to build the dam. Russians had agreed to provide soft loan and technical assistance to the Pakistan government. It was the cold war period and hence the project was put in cold storage labeling it as a communist project.

It is ironical that the project was not launched even after the end of the cold war. In 1995, the bids for Mirani dam were sought, but due to certain political reasons, the dam was replaced with Hingol dam in 1996. The project was included in the three-year plan approved by the National Economic Council (NEC) on June 7, 2001. The reservations and apprehensions of the local population about the social and environmental impacts of project should be addressed realistically and removed and real situation should be brought to the fore after making an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project by carrying out Scoping and Screening processes. Only a fully transparent process can meet the growing requirements and complexity of resettlement in the area. The issue of displacement and resettlement of the local people in prevailing political situation in Balochistan has the potential to ignite the politics of agitation.

Former government tried to meet the project's political costs in the form of its resettlement action plan (RAP). The RAP is aimed at developing a compensation framework and a policy for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the affected people of the Mirani Dam by quantifying the affected land and land-based assets to adopt appropriate mitigation measures for the likely impacts of the project. The plan has been prepared under policy guidelines and procedures developed by the federal government involving involuntary resettlement. It called for providing certain living standards and income earning to the displaced people by encouraging community participation.

Mirani Dam project envisages provision of dependable water supplies for development of irrigated agriculture on the two banks of the river. Dasht River is a non- perennial stream. Its flow depends entirely on rainfall in the catchment area, which extends over 7,960 square miles of hilly terrain mostly devoid of vegetation. The average annual rainfall for the catchment is 4.2 inches. The average annual runoff from the catchment has been estimated to be 226,000 Acre Feet. The total sediment load per year flowing into the reservoir would be of the order of 7,000 Acre Feet.