SMALL DAMS DEVELOP LAND & WATER RESOURCES

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 25 - May 1, 2011

In the wake of energy crisis that is hampering the industrial production on one hand and affecting daily lives of people adversely on the other, the government has to implement short- medium-, and long-term plans to deal with the energy emergency. Building of dams is one such medium to long-term measure that the government has to take immediately. Small dams can be constructed faster than mega dams and are not capital-intensive. Therefore, they should be the prime options in the roster of the priorities.

Unfortunately, building of mega dams remains a pipedream because of the death-life issue attached to few of them. Kala Bagh Dam appeared on the table many times during the previous governments, but public protests in the two provinces got out of control every time the dam issue came on the surface. Lack of trust building efforts on the part of the federal government triggered widespread oppositions in Sindh that could not afford slowdown of river flows to its already water-starved low riparian areas because of the construction of run-of-the-river dams.

While the provinces including Kybher Pukhtunkhwa were criticised for their adamant stance against the construction of Kala Bagh Dam (KBD) by pro-central politicians and economists, yet the federal government had also been taking the piss out of Sindh by raising the issue of dam construction on and off. The construction proposal has paled into insignificance several times to rear head again at the cost of time and money spent on discussions, surveys, and assuaging trigger-happy protestors.

TRUST DEFICIT

If the fair water distribution is ensured perhaps consensus over the dam's construction may be reached. Anti-KBD people in Sindh are likely to soften their stance over building reservoirs on River Indus if they are ensured of fair water distribution. For instance, ANG Abassi, ex-chairman technical committee on water resources, took in the idea of KBD construction on the condition of formulation of rules and regulations and uncompromising compliance to them. He, while speaking on the 'Save River Indus' moot organized in Hyderabad, said river flows in river had been declining in the low riparian Sindh since 1960's Indus water treaty due to unfair distribution from upper areas of the country. Major provincial political parties are against KBD as well as dams/cuts planned on the River Indus.

Not only the dam mentioned above, too other mega dams always have been the focus of chitchat that happened to be inconclusive and for time pasture. Big dam was last constructed 40 years back and since then there have been constructed several dams in the air and on the files costing substantial amounts to the national exchequers. Critics said had this time and money been spent on construction of small dams, the country would have boasted of a number of dams for water storage and power generation.

Water dam gives two benefits to a country. One it stores rainwater or river water if it is on the riverbed and thus preventing floods caused by downpours as well as fulfilling freshwater needs of human and agriculture. Secondly, it generates power on the current that moves turbines underwater. India has constructed several small and large dams so far. Considering dams as beneficial investments in the field of irrigation, India has laid down a network of thousands of small and mega dams to avert floods, improve water supply for irrigation, and produce electricity.

Recently, government of Pakistan has planned to build a network of small dams around the country to improve irrigation system, reported a state-run news agency last week. According to the news report citing officials of water and irrigation department, the government has planned to construct 32 small dams in the four provinces to upgrade irrigation system. Twelve small dams are to be constructed by 2013 and rest would be by 2016. The dams would help to store rainwater in monsoon. The government has also allocated Rs30 billion in the current budget (2010-11) for the construction of eight small dams nationwide.

Hydropower is inexpensive as compared to electricity generated through thermal sources. More dams may result in reduction in demand and supply gap with provision of cheap electricity. Dams could have lessened the catastrophic impact of the floods last year.

HYDROELECTRICITY ON THE RISE

During July 2010 to March 2011, water and power development authority (Wapda) increased hydropower generation due to the high water level. A rise of three billion units in nine months to 23.6 billion units from 20.4 billion units in the comparable period last year saved about Rs35 billion to the government, said a Wapda's press statement. Tarbela, the biggest hydroelectricity house, put in the national grid 12.3 billion units followed by Ghazi Bartoha 5.5 billion units, Mangla 4.2 billion units, and Warsak and other generated 1.6 billion units during Jul-March as against 10.9 billion units, 4.8 billion units, three billion units, and 1.6 billion units produced respectively in the corresponding period 2009-2010, according to the statement.

The statement also highlighted the Wapda's plan to upgrade hydroelectricity production and establish 20,000 megawatts hydropower projects. Pakistan's hydropower installed capacity standing at 6,444 megawatts constitutes 33 per cent of total installed capacity. Gomal Zam Dam, Mirani Dam, Mangla Dam raising, Sabakzai Dam, and Satpara Dam are under construction, as per the Wapda's website.

Mega dams are time taking and capital intensive, but when they are developed all sectors of the economy take benefits: agriculture productivity improves, employment opportunities increase, and cost of energy decreases. Small dams on the other hand are not as big source of power and economic activities as big dams are, but they can avert disastrous affects of flooding, generate cheap hydroelectricity, and improve irrigation system. Small dams are important for the development of land and water resources.