May 24 - 30, 20

A recent article co-written by Dr Charles K Ebinger and Kashif Hasnie mentions:

"Today, Pakistan faces the Malthusian-plus challenge of dealing with rapidly growing water demands (for energy, agriculture and people) from a resource base that is likely to change substantially as the glaciers of the western Himalyas melt and monsoon patterns change under the onslaught of climate change."

Unfortunately, Pakistan's water resource management after the General Ayub Khan era has remained in the hands of the fickle political forces rather than the technical experts of the country. We have paid a heavy price for allowing the feudal politicians to play with the all important issue of water on which depends the very survival of the people of this country.

The autocratic rule of General Ayub Khan witnessed the completion of Mangla dam (1961-67) and launch of Tarbela dam (1968-74). It is almost 36 years after the completion of Tarbela dam that we have not seen any addition of dam. The Kala Bagh dam turned out to be a political bogey used by different sets of politician to enhance their vote bank, rather than a real project of any worth. It was never meant to be launched and it never looked like getting launched.

The project in news these days is Diamer Basha dam project which, as the history goes, was conceived in 1984 under the name Basha Storage and Power Project. The feasibility was prepared by a Canadian firm Montreal Engineering Company. The project envisaged power generation capacity of 3360MW and water storage facility of 5.7 million acre feet.

The feasibility was assigned to the cold storage as the then military ruler General Ziaul Haq was either overly occupied with the Afghanistan issue or was planning to press for the Kala Bagh dam. He should have realised that his predecessor General had given to the nation two big dams. Besides toying with the idea of Kala Bagh dam, he should have fallen for the Basha project hook, line and sinker. Fortunately for the feudal democrats and unfortunately for the nation, the country after the demise of General Zia remained under the governance of politicians who converted the Kala Bagh project into a burning political issue.

The next General who took over in late 1999 also kept playing with the Kala Bagh idea for quite some time. But once he realised that the project was not going to see the light of day - as politicians in their collective capacity had taken the project far away from the national consensus - he took to the fallback position by showing interest in Diamer Basha project. Feasibility, appraisals and reappraisals of the project were undertaken.

NEAC started the feasibility in June 2002, while DBC undertook reappraisal in July 2005 and finally the project design was completed in June 2008. In August 2008, the General was ousted and the rest is history.

The Diamer Basha dam has great importance for the country as it is designed to add 4500MW of hydropower to the system and a 6.4 MAF of water storage facility to make for the cumulative water storage capacity losses at Mangla and Tarbela due to sedimentation. The dam will be located at river Indus about 315 KM upstream of Tarbela Dam project and about 40 KM downstream of Chellas town. It will be a 272 feet (maximum) high, Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) type dam.

It will be observed that Mangla and Tarbela each took about six years to get completed. In case of Basha project, we spent the same six years (2002-08) in preparing feasibility, doing appraisal and reappraisal. Even after completion of pre-launch work, we have wasted another two years without being sure about the fate of the project. The WAPDA fact sheet dated 12 January 2010 states that EOI and related documents previously prepared/issued according to the World Bank format have been cancelled and will now be re-advertised according to the format provided by the ADB that will now finance the project. During the first two quarters of CY-09 ADB reconnaissance mission reviewed the project. The Bank aide memoir has been received and approved by WAPDA and GOP. Visit of ADB fact finding mission is awaited. A committee of ministers for Water and Power, KA & GB, Information and Broadcasting, Labor & Power, Inter Provincial Coordination, and Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission will consider all impending issues including boundary dispute, acquisition of land, national consensus and up-gradation of KKH.

One shudders in shock and disbelief to know that basic issues like national consensus, acquisition of project land and boundary disputes remain to be resolved even after the lapse of a period of two years. Some highly disturbing news keep coming from the project site. The recent ones being about a hundred percent escalation in the cost of project land, and the ransacking and looting of the engineers' camp by the local protesters causing huge property and equipment losses. All hydropower capacity up-gradation work is being carried out in the strife-torn area where the peace-loving but less-educated residents can be used to block development activities through violent and bloody protests. Besides the dam projects, a number of other hydro projects were launched in or around 2003. Almost all of these projects have extended their timeline more than once. Allai Khawar hydropower project, Khan Khawar hydropower project and Duber Khawar hydropower project are some of the examples. Terrorism is wreaking havoc from yet another front. But, we cannot blame for energy sector failures entirely terrorists who are simply exploiting the situation we have created for them.

The hydropower prospects certainly look bleak, at least for a certain period of time. But we can concentrate on coal power generation. There are no terrorism fears in the area where the coal reserves abound. Moreover, the area is the stronghold of the ruling party which rules out any material resistance from the locals, provided they are offered a square deal. The President and the province's chief minister, coming from the same party, can act in unison to resolve all federal-versus-provincial disputes. To many, the ruling party is fast loosing ground. This is time for them to prove that wrong by taking the country out of the energy crisis. Let Thar be the last bastion of the ruling party.