July 13 - 19, 2009

The Mangla Dam is located in Mirpur District and it is the twelfth largest dam in the world. World Bank provided finances for construction of the dam which continued from 1961 to 1967. The main dam is 10,300 feet (3140 m) long and 454 feet (138 m) high (above core trench) with a reservoir of 97.7 square miles (253 km2). Since its first impounding in 1967, sedimentation has occurred to the extent of 1.13 million acre feet (1.39 km≥), and the present gross storage capacity has declined to 4.75 million acre feet (5.86 km≥) from the actual design of 5.88 million acre feet (7.25 km≥). The power station of Mangla dam consists of 10 units each having capacity of 100 MW. It has an installed power capacity of at least 600 megawatts and impounds a reservoir with a gross capacity of 5,900,000 acre-feet (7,250,000,000 cubic m).

The dam has been of crucial importance to the national grid and any halt in its functioning might be a serious problem to the country. Despite this fact a serious fault was developed in Mangla Dam in the current month which jolted the whole system and every one had to endure massive power break down in sparking summers. The electricity shortfall surged up to 4,000 MW and load shedding crossed the 18 hours mark. Traders and industrialists went on strike for this unforeseen hazard which had added fuel to the fire by increasing already unbearable spell of load shedding.

There was fault in eight powerhouses of the Dam and speedy work was in full swing to repair it and three teams of Wapda were working on it so as to enable it to produce 230MW electricity again. All control and power cables of Mangla Dam were burnt taking the dam off line and widening the power deficit by an incredible 3,600MW. The peak hour deficit was beyond 5,000 MW. The magnitude of load shedding quadrupled across the country. There were rumors of fault of the dam because of attack by militants however, PEPCO ruled out any sabotage activity or any other issue and explained that the fault in the Dam was due to technical defect. They also claimed that the repair work would be completed within a week. But independent experts revealed that it would take at least one week to lay new cables one double circuit 132KV and three double circuits of 120KV line. This was an intense repair exercise and could have taken more time.

All the cables were originally laid in a one kilometer long tunnel, however after the break down PEPCO decided to arrange them overhead so as to save time. Fortunately only power cables were affected by the faults and all ten generating units remained safe and potentially operational once the cables were fixed again. Because of the hot summers the demand has surged over 16,000 MW and the Mangla drop has been lethal in this scenario. Hydro generation, which was around 5,600MW last year on the same day (June 29), was only 4,800MW before the Mangla problem. With Mangla Dam going out, it dropped to 3,700MW on Monday a loss of 1,900MW from the hydel head.

At the time of sudden break down PEPCO officials were coordinating with the ministry of water and power, Wapda, distribution companies, NPCC and other departments for quick removal of faults at the power house and also formulated a load management plan to supply electricity in such a manner that the consumers were inconvenienced the least. Now the weather has been changed for a couple of days and temperature dropped slightly due to rain but electricity shortfall has not been covered.

Mangla going off line suddenly made people infuriated who turned to streets with violent protests across the country particularly Punjab. Domestic life has become a living hell for poor and middle tier class of the society but privileged and elite class is as usual immune from the effects of this issue. Economy has received a lethal billow; small-time entrepreneurs are feeling the pinch and factories sit idle these days for prolonged periods, depriving daily-wage earners of a sizeable chunk of their already meager incomes. Productivity has declined and the economy as a whole is suffering because of a crippling shortage of electricity. Mangla's contribution to the grid is enormous and an abrupt power failure there was bound to cause major problems. But it is also reflecting poor planning. Our power-generation capacity is woefully inadequate and there seems to be no contingency plans for unexpected shortfalls.

Other major dams particularly Tarbela is also under monitoring to eliminate the doubt of any such probable choking hazard. In addition in order to restore the declining storage capacity decrease, the Pakistani government has decided to raise the dam by 40 feet (12 m), to 494 feet (151 m) high. This will increase the reservoir capacity by 18% and provide an additional 644 MWh of power, but will displace 40,000 people currently living near the reservoir. In view of enormous sedimentation of the dam, studies were carried out to examine the various options of raising, ranging from 10-foot to 40-foot, besides other options/alternatives to raising such as desolation, construction of small storages reservoirs and construction of protection dykes were also evaluated. These studies have indicated that raising of dam is the most viable proposition. The studies further revealed that raising of the dam by 39-foot and 40-foot was technically and economically viable.


The bottom line of the problem is that there is no contingency planning in the power sector. Any unforeseen incident can turn the whole system upside down. It is actually lack of common sense and priority objectives on the part of our leaders. They have to raise power generation capacity at any cost otherwise the whole country will go up in flames. They do not have to be geniuses to understand this simple fact that unless load-shedding ends, jobs cannot be created, poverty cannot be alleviated, and crimes cannot be controlled. Moreover, public unrest will persist, extremism will prosper, investment will disappear, tourism will die and our economy will come to a grinding halt.