DAM POLITICS WREAK HAVOC

SHAMIM RIZVI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Sep 6 - 12, 2010

As the worst floods in living memories have baldy affected nearly 20 million people across Pakistan, the rest of Pakistanis are cursing the past governments, both the democratic and the dictators, for not building major dams to serve as water reservoirs which could have averted such large scale devastation besides ensuring increased power generation at an affordable cost to sustain the economic growth and contain the ever rising inflation.

The floods have so for killed more than 1600 people and rendered about five millions including women and children homeless. The people of Pakistan in all the four provinces as well as the political leadership realised that had Kalabagh and Bhasha dams been built the country would not have been immersed in flood waters because the two dams would have accommodated massive flows.

Another important aspects of the floods which is presently not being given due consideration is that we lost about 40 million areas feet of precious water. Before the floods country's agriculture was seriously threatened by shortage of water and this scenario will reemerge after few months but the huge flood water has gone down stream Kotri into the sea.

Nature has been most kind to Pakistan in providing cites for storage of water and producing hydropower at much cheaper cost. We have known and researched five hydro sites where big dams could be built to produce over 30,000 MW of electricity at about 1/5 of the IPPs or rental power besides storage of water to protect the country and the people from devastation of present size of flood, to save agriculture from any water shortage.

Water, the engine of growth of civilizations, is nature's most precious treasure to the mankind. All the civilizations have grown along rivers. Pakistan is a country of agro based economy because agriculture sector accounts directly for over 26 per cent of the annual GDP. Out of a total cultivable area of 78 million acres, only 51 million acres are presently under cultivation. There are still 27 million acres of uncultivated land due to non-availability of adequate water. Pakistan is not able to feed its population of 170 million, which is increasing at the rate of 1.9 per cent per annum.

With growing population, Pakistan is heading towards a situation of increasing water shortage. The annual river water diversions for canal uses of all the four provinces have varied from 77 to 108 MAF, while an annual average of about 35 MAF of river water flow to the sea below Kotri. This escapade level exceeds 90 MAF in wet years. This surplus water in the river system is an invaluable treasure, but is available only for about 60-100 days period of summer high-river flows. To conserve this excellent potential, construction of additional storage reservoirs particularly KBD and Bhasha are essential to make it useable for hydropower generation and sustainable irrigated agriculture.

Not building dams has exposed Pakistan to another serious threat. India which has built more than a dozen dams in Indian-administered Kashmir alone controls all rivers flowing into Pakistan including the River Indus. The only river, which flows in through Afghanistan is the River Kabul. Even that is controlled by India, since it has built the Sarobi Dam for Afghanistan and is maintaining it. Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that the current floods were not the cause of unprecedented torrential rains or the melting of glaciers but were aggravated by the Indians releasing the floodgates of Sarobi Dam on River Kabul, which wreaked havoc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while India unleashed the forces of destruction through releasing surplus waters in Rivers Chenab and Indus, which have swept away southern Punjab and Sindh.

For decades India has threatened that it has the capacity of turning Pakistan into an arid desert by shutting off the water or flooding Pakistan with surplus water. India's name for this strategy is "water war". It appears now that this particular strategy has become a reality and has caused tremendous devastation in Pakistan because it has also destroyed standing crops causing acute food shortage, which may lead to the outbreak of famine.

Pakistan's strategic planners must take the factor of India's "water wars" into consideration too since building more dams and reservoirs can offset India's macabre stratagem of drowning Pakistan or turning its fertile plains into a desert.

It is high time that after the flood emergency is over there must be a thorough study and responsibility fixed over the failure of successive governments for not making a genuine effort to build the much needed dams. Water is being rated as a liquid gold for the future in view of warning by experts that there would be scarcity of water in the coming decades. Due to their myopic approach, mental bankruptcy and lack of vision some so-called politicians, who cannot win a single seat in parliament have been opposing the construction of Kalabagh and some other small but key dams.

Today those politicians are sitting comfortably in their palatial houses and are silent over the plight of the people who have been made homeless. We think people should make those politicians answerable over these losses. Experts are of the considered opinion that had there been Kalabagh Dam today, Southern Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan would have been saved from the havoc played by River Indus. Similarly about a dozen medium size dams in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan would have prevented floods there. We would therefore impress upon the political leadership that even now they should sit together, get briefings from expert and agree to a long-term policy for construction of big and medium size dams for the safety of people from natural calamity and the precious water thus stored should be used for irrigation of vast virgin lands and generation of cheap electricity.