NEED OF US FUNDING TO DIAMER BHASHA PROJECT
TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
Sep 12 - 18, 2011
Reports are doing round in media the US has expressed its willingness to support Pakistan in constructing Diamer Bhasha dam. But, Pakistan's close friend has not yet to taken a decision in this regards. "Getting involved in a long-term project like this is very compelling for us," Guardian reported a senior US official. "This is the project we're spending our time assessing. This would demonstrate that Pakistan is the kind of country where you can do large, complex infrastructure projects. It's not all flood relief and sacks of flour."
Though the message was clear in its tone, yet analysts were expecting generous decision from the American government in near future saying its monetary help howsoever partial will work curtain raiser of the Diamer Bhasha project that is estimated to cost at $12 billion.
A media report also cited a senior official of Pakistan's finance ministry as saying that US may extend one billion dollar for the construction of the dam. It might be decided in the forthcoming Pak-US strategic dialogue on energy to start this week, the official told the News Online. State department special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, Carlos Pascual, and finance minister, Dr. Hafeez Sheikh will chair the two-day talk.
The Diamer Bhasha project cost is estimated obviously on the assumption that the project would begin soon. As the dust gathers on the feasibility, the cost will likely swell further. The cost puffing has been the fate of many a mega energy projects in Pakistan. Controversial Kala Bagh Dam, Thar coal, and Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline can be cited as example of projects suffering from over delays for want of funds and political wills on the part of the government.
Diamer Bhasha dam will take estimated eight years to emerge on the surface and is expected to generate 4,500 megawatts hydroelectricity. Understandably, the generation would help the country meet energy demand that is rising at fast pace. Moreover, the dam would have enormous water storage capacity to the benefits of water stressed agriculture economy of the country. A report said the storage capacity would be enough to contain the last summer floods that played havocs with the lives and livelihoods of millions of people nationwide.
Admittedly, US government financial assistance in relation to the mega hydroelectric project will encourage international financial donors to participate in the construction. It is obvious that US alone will not bear whole project cost albeit it has been funding billions of dollars in shape of military assistance to its key ally of war on terror.
Asian development bank (ADB) will be one of avenues for generating funds for the project. Although, Manila-based lender has not agreed to pull the strings of its purse, Pakistan's government is pinning hope on the institution considering the track records of the lender in funding energy projects in Pakistan. For example, ADB is funding revamping of transmission and distribution system of all distribution companies nationwide. Similarly, it is also supporting the energy conservation programme launched by the government that would directly save 1,000 megawatts. It is not confirmed if the bank will loan the government for its initiative to distribute free of cost 30 million energy saving bulbs in public. Media reports said ADB had agreed principally.
Energy projects like Diamer Bhasha are needed to ensure the energy security for the population of over 180 million. Unfortunately, no mega dam has been constructed after Tarbela dam in Pakistan since 1970s. It is worthwhile to note that neighbouring China has erected not one or two but thousands of dams and reservoirs since then.
Hydroelectric begets dual epic advantages. First, it stores water and second generates inexpensive electricity.
Agriculture economy of Pakistan is underdeveloped thanks to the insufficient water flows to the cultivable lands. Excessive water flows because of summery floods however destroy the crops as they are doing nowadays. This year's rainfall-triggered floods are wreaking havocs to the standing crops. It is a tragedy not because of natural disaster but because of the disoriented government, that has shuts its eyes to the future.
Last year floods have given a chance to the government to prepare for an identical untoward prospective incidence. One-year recess could have been availed by building at least small dams or reconstructing embankments along the river flows. Had there reservoirs existed on proper locations, billions of acre-feet rainwater and floodwater would have been stored to the benefit of agriculture lands.
Energy shortfall is increasing leaps and bounds every year stymieing industrial growth nationwide. The country needs 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts electricity immediately to meet local demand. Evidently, decrepit infrastructure drains on energy resources. Substantial investments are required to minimise significant line losses caused by this. Hydropower plant is considered internationally as one of the greenest and cost effective means of generating electricity.
According to a report, the US has provided two billion dollars in civilian assistance to Pakistan since October 2009. That also included $500 million disbursed for flood reliefs. Instead of taking remedial action, now it is time that the US government takes preventive measures to save its prime ally from disastrous situation that occurs due to frequent flooding and enable it tackle underdevelopments by increasing volume of financial assistance to civilian projects. Experts believe US prompt decision with regard to Diamer Bhasha dam will improve the bilateral relation.
Only US concern on the energy prospect of Pakistan does not solve the problem. Hands-on action is indispensable to help the Pakistan overcome its energy and water crises that may take heavy toll on the efforts of quelling terrorism in the region. Poverty that has origin in the stressed economy can be controlled by resolving issues of energy and water scarcity.