June 29 - July 5, 2009

The present government has virtually abandoned, without cogent reasons, construction of highly beneficial and technically feasible Kalabagh Dam with all feasibilities studies completed on which and work could start without any delay. Other big dams which could produce hydro power at comparatively much cheaper costs would take 7/8 years to be completed after the start of construction work, which is nowhere in sight except a comparatively a smaller dam Neelum Jhelum in Azad Kashmir.

Forced by public anger and street protests against prolonged load shedding even in big cities like Karachi and Islamabad the federal government and the provinces have agreed for building a number of small dams in different parts of the country to rid the country of load shedding by end 2010.

For this purpose, the federal and provincial budgets this year have provided substantial allocations for building of small dams. The Government of Pakistan and China's EXIM Bank have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for $700 million to finance the construction of 12 small and medium sized dams. Secretary General to the President, Salman Faruqui, said that the credit line would help in the construction of dams and water reservoirs for generation of electricity to local communities in all the four provinces. It would also help irrigate millions of acres of agricultural land, he added. The Secretary General said President Zardari had sent him to China with special instructions to expedite all economic projects under implementation between Pakistan and China.

The Secretary General said the construction of small and medium sized dams and water reservoirs in far-flung areas of the country would help improve living standard of poor people, and provide them employment opportunities. He pointed out that alleviating poverty was one of the top priorities of the PPP government. He appreciated the EXIM Bank of China for smooth processing of the financial package. The Executive of the EXIM Bank on the occasion referred to the Pakistan-China friendship as a model of friendly relations, and said his bank would continue to extend its support to economic and commercial projects in Pakistan. A Chinese firm has already started the long-delayed work on 560 MW Bin Qasim Power Plant project of Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC), which would cost the utility at least Rs35 billion. According to sources, at least four engineers of Harbin of China has started initial works, like soil testing through land drilling, at the site for the last one week.

The samples of the soil at the location, where the power plants are planned to be installed, would be tested in laborites to ascertain feasibility of the location, they added. The works on the important project could not start due to the non-payment of the mobilization charges by the public utility since KESC and Harbin of China signed the contract for the dual-fired combined cycle plant at Bin Qasim in June 2008. Al-Jomaiah, the previous management, the sources claimed, had vacated the site and road for the proposed power plant, and made the arrangements for accommodation of around 400 Chinese engineers and other staff but then no progress was made after change of the management. In the wake of ongoing power crisis that is exposing citizens to hours' long power outages this important project has to be executed very early, they said adding that if the undue delay and slow pace of work continues on the project the power crisis would further aggravate. It may be mentioned that the World Bank sanctioned at least Rs27 billion, which could not be released due to the lack of any development on project.

Speaking at a seminar "on efficient energy use in turbulent time" last week, the Managing Director of Pakistan Electric Power Company, Mr. Cheema assured the nation that Pakistan would get out of power shortage problems by next year. He said as many as 10,293 MW electricity from all sources would be added into the system by the end of December 2012. Giving details of the plan in his presentation, Cheema said that 3692 MW would be added by the end of 2009; 1806 MW in 2010; 3604 MW in 2011; and 1191 MW electricity would be added into the system by the end of December 2012.

Cheema also said that the Discos would receive 400 MW electricity from captive power plants to utilize surplus/redundant capacity of captive power plants. "For the first time after 17 years, power plant is being installed in the public sector, which would help reduce power deficit," he said.

The 1000 MW Neelam-Jhelum project, he said, was being constructed on run of river, which would after five years cost only 37 paisa per unit of electricity, while work on Bhasha Dam would start in February-March 2010 for which bidding process would soon start. Cheema said Pakistan had 435 MW surplus electricity in 2001 that turned into shortage of 86 MW in 2002. However, again the country had surplus electricity of 236 MW and 197 MW in 2003 and 2004 respectively, he added.

"Afterwards Pakistan is facing acute shortage of power, as a shortfall of 1247 MW was recorded in 2005; 2546 MW in 2006; and 4956 MW in 2007. The power shortage appeared due to less supply of water from dams, while cut in gas supply aggravated the power shortage problem as most of the power plants have been designed to produce electricity by using gas," he said.

"According to the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) reports, Hyderabad Electricity Supply Company (HESCO) is ahead of all other distribution companies in line losses, which are 36 percent followed by Peshawar Electricity Supply Company (Pesco) with 33 percent, while the Multan Electricity Supply Company (MEPCO) is facing 12.5 percent line losses. Only the Islamabad Electricity Supply Company (IESCO) was most efficient with comparatively less loss of 7.9 percent, he said. The NWFP and Sindh provinces constituted 50 percent line losses, while Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) faced 38 percent losses as electricity was stolen through 650,000 'Kundas'," he said. However, overall line losses have been reduced from 27.3 percent in 1999 to 20.3 percent in 2009, he said.

Cheema said that despite economic meltdown, the non-productive growth of electricity consumption had been recorded at 8.53 percent because of excessive use of air-conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves ovens, fans, and washing machines. As many as 50 million electric appliances had been added to the system, pushing up the electricity demand, he added. He further said that the present situation was arisen due to various reasons like financial crunch, non-receipt of power bills from the Fata, and circular debt. However, different measures are being taken to get rid of all the issues and the situation would start improving from next year, he said.

Experts are, however, of the view that proposed small dams are no alternative to mega dam. Former Chairman WAPDA engineer Shamsul Malik in a press statement said they could only provide temporary relief. He said small dams are no alternative to mega dams, as the country would require 750 small dams to store water equivalent to the capacity of Kalabagh Dam alone. Pakistan currently has 68 small dams with an average capacity to irrigate 8,500 acres of land and none of them produces electricity. Under these circumstances, the viable option is to build three-four large dams of the size of Tarbela to overcome water and energy crisis and ensure food security. However, as construction of big dams especially Kalabagh Dam has been politicized by some vested interests who thrive only on divisive policies, it is expedient that the country exploits its potential for small and medium sized dams to harness the available water resources for economic development of the country. Studies are already there and we only need commitment to initiate work on them. Such projects would also help address the problem of poverty and backwardness in remote areas of the country.