The proposal for Kalabagh Dam has been sitting in the ‘ready for construction’ section of the government’s projects since 1988. Successive provincial governments have lobbied against the idea for years, coming to a point where the current government does not even deign it a debatable subject at a time when its relationship with opposition parties is already in the doldrums.
But the provinces will not have much left to fight about in 2025, when most of Pakistan will be well on the way to desertification. Make no mistake about this; Pakistan was a water-stressed nation even way back in 1990. In 2005, Pakistan crosses the “water-scarcity” mark. We are well past the warning-stage, and the water crisis is a matter of immediate urgency. This current year is seeing a shortfall of 18 percent compared to the water available in Kharif season last year. Indus River System Authority (IRSA) blames WAPDA for not starting to store water in Tarbela and Mangla on time but even the water-sharing body cannot deny that weather patterns and monsoon rains are becoming increasingly unpredictable, making it hard to estimate when to store water or release it.
While provincial lawmakers enjoy bandying about the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) as proof of lower riparians being held hostage by their upper riparian counterparts, the current situation surrounding the future of IWT is precisely why all provincial lawmakers need to be on the same page. If provinces in the federation are likening their relationships to the frayed one between Pakistan and India, then good luck to Pakistan and its future generations who will likely starve – not because India will halt water supply, but because two generations of opportunistic politicians blocked the construction of a mega dam.
Melting glaciers, climate change, dwindling groundwater supplies, silting of current operational dams and the unpredictability factor linked to all of our rivers with potential dams built in both India and Afghanistan are leading us to a very serious problem. Currently, the average Pakistani has access to less than 1000 cubic metres of water per year. This number used to stand at 5000 cubic metres per capita back in 1947. Experts estimate that it will fall to 500 or less by 2020, which is only four years away.
It is time Kalabagh is taken off the shelf and moved to the national narrative. More water to share means less disputes. The dam will address both water scarcity and energy shortage concerns that the country currently faces. Its usage can be managed with a national consensus; otherwise we can all agree that federalism has failed to help develop Pakistan into a self-reliant nation.