NEED OF BUILDING DAMS

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 16 - 22, 20
10

The dimensions of the ongoing flood ravage are greater than those of Asian Tsunami and 2005 earthquake disaster. What is more unfortunate is the fact that the effect of human failure to control damage is felt more profoundly in case of the current crisis. The damage could have been minimised through efficient water resource management had we been able to build in advance a network of water storage facilities.

Dam building which is the basic component of economic infrastructure was allowed to be used as a divisive political device for decades with the result that such economically important project as 'Kala Bagh dam' was first postponed indefinitely and then finally abandoned. If smaller provinces, instigated by hate-speeches stood in the way of the project, the bigger province retaliated by shelving the dam building issue for an indefinite period. It should have come up with some alternate dam proposals to win national consensus. But, as it now appears, we had only one plan plan A and no standby plans B and C. At the end of the day, all provinces stand to take the blame of colossal loss that has befallen the entire nation. The proponents and opponents of Kala Bagh project are equally responsible.

Rainfalls are basically a blessing. How the bounties are changed to calamities, no other nation can understand better than the hapless Pakistanis.

Pakistan is an agro-based economy. Agriculture sector requires 69 percent of available water resources for consumption; 23 percent goes to industry and the remaining eight percent is consumed by the domestic sector. Pakistan's current per capita water availability hovers around 1000 cubic meter placing the country in the zone where countries are faced with seasonal or regular water-stressed conditions in terms of Falkenmark indicator of water scarcity. Pakistan is known as one of the most arid countries with an average annual rainfall of less than 240 mm. When seen in this background, current flood situation turns out to be a paradox of grave dimensions revealing resource management shortcomings. The absence of any newly-added water storage facilities exposes the country to the proverbial threat of Malthusian economic disaster.

TABLE-1: PAKISTAN'S HISTORIC & PROJECTED PER CAPITA WATER AVAILABILITY

YEAR POPULATION (MILLION) % INCREASE IN POPULATION PER CAPITA WATER AVAILABILITY (CUBIC METER) % DECREASE IN PER CAPITA WATER AVAILABILITY
1951 34 - 5,260 -
1961 46 35.3 3,888 26.1
1971 65 41.3 2,751 29.2
1981 84 29.2 2,129 22.6
1991 115 36.9 1,565 26.5
2002 139.5 21.3 1,282 18.1
2010 167.7 20.2 1,066 16.8
2020-p 195.5 16.6 915 14.2
2025-p 208.4 6.6 858 6.2
P=projected (Table figures based on Planning Commission statistics)

With the present population estimated to be around 180 million and with the provision of allowance for Planning Commissions' under-projected population growth figures, the future per capita availability of water becomes still more less. The problem is not restricted to the lack of new additions to water storage facilities, the existing facilities too are diminishing fast due to aging and for want of timely maintenance and up-gradation work. We have three primary storage facilities at Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma with an original cumulative storage facility of 18.37 MAF (million acre feet).

The 'live' and 'dead' levels of these facilities vary between 15.75 MAF and 2.62 MAF. These three reservoirs cater to country's irrigation water needs and hydropower generation requirement. During low-flow season, the stored water is utilised for other purposes as well. The problem of sedimentation drastically reduces the storage capacity. Like line losses in power sector, the water storage capacity losses also turn out to be around 30 percent.

TABLE-2: WATER STORAGE CAPACITY LOSSES (MAF)

RESERVOIR ORIGINAL PRESENT LOSSES
. GROSS LIVE DEAD GROSS LIVE DEAD GROSS LIVE DEAD
Tarbela 11.62 9.69 1.92 7.95 6.77 1.18 3.67(32%) 2.92(30%) 0.74(39%)
Mangla 5.88 5.34 0.54 4.67 4.54 0.13 1.21(21%) 0.80(15%) 0.41(76%)
Chashma 0.87 0.72 0.15 0.32 0.26 0.06 0.55(63%) 0.45(63%) 0.10(62%)
Total 18.37 15.75 2.62 12.95 11.58 1.37 5.42(30%) 4.18(27%) 1.25(48%)

The poor water resource management condition is aggravated by the impending climate change threat. In the backdrop of this threat, Pakistan is placed in the most vulnerable group of countries destined to face potential impacts of glacier melting, droughts, floods and change in rainfall patterns. As stated in the Pakistan Economic Survey 2009-10, Pakistan needs to develop the following potential offsets:

1. Building of carryover dams
2. Efficient irrigation (water conservation and demand management)
3. Population growth control
4. Changed cropping pattern

The most important of the proposed offset-measures is the construction of new reservoir facilities. Diamer Bhasha dam is the only substantive positive effort in this direction. The dam with a reservoir of 8.1 MAF and a live storage facility of 6.4 MAF was launched by the Musharraf regime. It is scheduled to be completed in 2016. The present regime needs to ensure its timely completion. But, a lot more similar efforts are required for the sake of coming generations. Will our politicians wake up to this clarion call and contribute their mite to save the next generation from economic and social annihilation? Unfortunately, government response to the unprecedented catastrophe that has affected more than 13 million people centers around getting as much foreign-aid dollars as possible. The lukewarm response of world nations is perhaps commensurate with our ability to spend these dollars where they must be spent.