Pakistan is one of the most water stressed countries in the world, and this situation is steadily deteriorating with increasing demand against a thinning supply source. The Tarbela dam , easily one of the largest in the world, is currently operating at only a fraction of its original capacity and its waters have reached the dead level. The government’s plan to counter the shortfall in electricity is heavily dependent on the generation of hydroelectric power through Tarbela dam , and the construction of more turbines in the 4th tunnel of the dam is now underway, with additional plans to potentially bifurcate the 4th tunnel to make a 5th for more turbines to be put in to place.
What the government has neglected to mention is that the 4th tunnel is reserved for sluicing, a process to remove sand, silt and sediment from the reservoir to increase volume and keep capacity as high as possible, countering the dam’s depreciation and prolonging its life. Making new turbines in this tunnel will be great for generating more MW of electricity, but will greatly reduce the life of Tarbela dam because the 106 million tons of sediment lying at the bottom of the dam will continue to lie there with a daily addition of around half a million tons, taking away from the water level that remains; a paltry figure of 170 feet.
Political motivations are central to the government’s short term plan, for maintaining a myopic viewpoint ensures that Nawaz and co. look like the heroes that had the answer to the energy crisis. After the 5 years are over, they will claim that their rule went a long way in solving the problems of the country, when in actuality, the stop-gap measures employed will only add to the numerous problems of Pakistan. The Tarbela dam is dying, and instead of taking steps to counter this, the government is adding to this purposefully, glossing over the facts to indulge in the most ludicrous schemes to increase the supply of power in the country.
It is already too late to stop the government from launching this scheme. Perhaps a more effective way to increase power supply without risking water would have been to focus on maximizing the hydroelectric capacity of the Bhasha and Munda dams when they are completed, which might have ensured that our biggest dam would not have died an early death. But doing things the sensible way is an alien concept to our economic experts in the PML-N, who only worry about which decision will increase their voter base, without being too concerned about what’s really best for the country.