Amjad Agha

The looming water scarcity in the country is a cause of great concern. The total water availability per capita per year is now less than 1000 cu meters. 50 years ago the quantity available per capita was over 5000 cu meters, and at that time we were water affluent country. The population of West Pakistan in 1950 was about 37.5 million and now it has reached more than 180 million. 1000 cu meter/capita or below are considered water stressed and water deficient countries, which can result in water disputes among various riparian. The water availability is not uniform through the year and most of the water in the rivers flows in the summer season, therefore it is necessary to store surplus water to be used in low flow months. In Pakistan the water scarcity is further compounded since the country has developed very little storage capacity. The present storages are only 10 percent of the total flow, while the world average storages is about 40 percent. Because of lack of storage an average of 30 MAF water goes into the sea. This average is based on post Tarbela flows, and also includes the recent drought years. Thus 20 percent of the already scarce resource is lost since we cannot store it.”

“IRSA the organization represented by all the four provinces, which controls the irrigation water distribution in the country has in their recent report warned about lack of sufficient storage and they have urged the Government to even stop all development work in the country for the next some years and invest the available money to create more storage reservoirs.

The related issue is that canal water is being provided to the farms for instance in Punjab at a nominal flat rate of Rs. 135 per acre per annum. The water obtained from tubewells cost about Rs 3000 per acre per annum. A World Bank representative stated that why should any Bank provide money for a water Project in Pakistan, where there is no arrangement for recovering the money spent on water projects. In order to clarify this, In Punjab where 22 million acres are cultivated under canal irrigation, the total revenue assessed as Abiana in a year is only Rs. 2.5 billion, the actual collection was merely Rs. 1.01 billion in 2014, which works out to Rs. 50 per acre per year. When a farmer has to practically pay nothing for the canal water, this free water is therefore not being used in any efficient manner and a lot of precious asset is being wasted. Similar attitude is noticed in the use of water for municipal and industrial purposes, where no conservation is applied and wastages are increasing.

In order to save the country from the dooming situation, the following actions are absolutely vital:

1. Create storage particularly on the River Indus, so that our storage capacity is increased from 10 percent of the flow to 20 percent in the next 10 -15 years. The work on these must start immediately.

2. Increase Abiana to Rs. 1500 per acre per annum, which would still be less than half of what is spent on tubewell water. If the farmers will use the water carefully, wastage will be reduced, and better irrigation practice will be introduced, which will result in highest crop intensity. The Irrigation Department revenue will increase, for instance in Punjab it will go up from Rs. 2 billion/year to Rs. 20 billion/year. With this extra money the maintenance of the system will improve, plus free extension service can be provided to small farmers for improving their yield with less water use. Dependence on tubewells will be reduced. This increase in revenue will also attract the international Banks funding for the water sector.

3. The public awareness and attitude towards development and conservation of water for irrigation and other consumptive uses needs to be boosted, media can play an important role in this.

As regards storage of water, a careful decision making on highly urgent basis is essential. Presently three large storage projects are in a stage that their construction can be started. These are Kalabagh Dam (6 MAF storage), Basha Dam (8.1 MAF) and Munda Dam (1.29 MAF). These projects will also provide about 9000 MW of cheap electricity. The construction of these projects has not started due to various impediments, although the Projects are well engineered and very feasible. The merits and impediments for each of these are summarily discussed below:

Kalabagh: It is the most thoroughly engineered project, has been studied by world’s top experts, reviewed by top level International Panels of Experts, and thoroughly appraised by the World Bank. The project is located in the middle of load centres, is easy to approach, and no long distance transmission lines are required. It has been ready for construction since mid eighties and international financing from World Bank, Asian Bank etc. can still be easily arranged. However some political interference has come in the way from two Provinces, KPK and Sindh. The KPK objections were that the Kalabagh Dam reservoir will aggravate flooding of important city of Nowshera and the reservoir will displace some population, while they do not see any benefits from the Project. These objections have been thoroughly studied and it has been concluded that Kalabagh reservoir by itself does not cause any threat to Nowshera, since the reservoir elevation is 915 feet, while Nowshera is at elevation 940 feet. It has also been found that even without Kalabagh Dam if the floods of Kabul and Swat river get synchronised flooding of Nowshera does happen.

In order to overcome this, it has been proposed that along with Kalabagh, Munda Dam should be built, which will fully control the exiting threat of flooding.

A very important aspect for KPK, which is not being registered is that KPK cannot use their share of water from Indus, since the river is at least 50 feet below the lands in KPK and will require prohibitively expensive pumping to lift it. The Kalabagh Dam will be able to provide a high level outlet from its reservoir and water will reach the lands in KPK through a gravity flow. No other dam on Indus can enable KPK to utilize their entitled share of water. This factor by itself is a great benefit for KPK, therefore if properly discussed and understood, the usefulness of the Kalabagh Dam for KPK cannot be over ignored.

The objections of Sindh province are not very clear. Their general feeling is that there is no surplus water in Indus which can be stored. The stated objections are that Kalabagh will hold water and therefore the water flow downstream of Kotri will reduce which will cause environmental damage to the mangroves and the shrimps which breed in mangroves. The other fear is that low flow below Kotri will cause sea water intrusion and damage lands below Kotri. These objections have also been studied by local as well as international experts and they have concluded that a flow of 8 MAF must go downstream of Kotri every year to meet the environmental requirements. Presently an average of 30 MAF is going downstream of Kotri and goes into the sea. 6 MAF storage at Kalabagh therefore will not create any adverse conditions. There is another objection which is not so much documented, In that the Kalabagh Reservoir is located in another Province which may steal the share of downstream Province. This fear is typical of all downstream riparian and therefore must be addressed. It was for this reason that the Government created the organisation IRSA (Indus River System Authority), which has representation from all the Provinces. These senior nominees of each province take a joint decision as to how much water to release for each Province in accordance with their agreed share. This sharing is more critical when the river flows are less than anticipated. It is understood that IRSA in its 22 years of functioning has always worked with consensus and so far there has not been any complaint by Sindh for lesser share of water nor has been referred to Council of Common Interest (CCI).

It appears that if these objections from various Provinces should be discussed at a ,. . high level meeting with Prime Minister presiding and a joint decision is taken in the interest of the country considering the future scenarios when water shortages will be very painful. Similar effort, as was done in 1992 for Water Accord among the Provinces should produce a good result. Building dams take 6-8 years, therefore the matter cannot be postponed any further.

Basha Dam: Another mega Dam Basha is also ready for construction for the last some years. International Consultants have designed the dam and top Panel of Experts have reviewed the design. The dam is very high 272 metre, (892 feet), to be constructed in RCC (Roller Compacted Concrete) and will be the highest RCC dam in the world. No Province has any objection to its construction and gap is therefore very keen to start it in preference to Kalabagh Dam. However there are some hurdles in its implementation. Firstly its cost of about

$12-14  billion is very high and will need good financial support from international funding agencies like World Bank, ADB etc. So far this financial support is not forthcoming, World bank feels that the location of the dam is in a disputed territory therefore they are reluctant to invest. ADB was initially very keen to invest, but are waiting for commitment of funding by other agencies. Chinese Government is also being approached, but their interest in the Project is still unknown. USAID had agreed to help, and they are carrying out independent environment and resettlement validation studies to verify the work already done so that other financing agencies develop more confidence about the Project. Another aspect of the Project which is causing apprehensions, is the far location of the Project. The KKH will need to be repaired and upgraded for approach to the site, where millions of tons of construction material have to be transported. Some 140 km of KKH will have to be rebuilt, since that part of KKH will be submerged in the reservoir. Moreover very long transmission lines in difficult terrain will have to be installed to transmit the electricity. All these issues add to the high cost of the Project. However since it is a good feasible project, with large reservoir must be built. Lets hope the finances can be arranged.

Munda Dam: This site on Swat River has been studied for many years. It will be a 213 meter (700 feet) high dam with a storage capacity of 1.29 MAF and power of 800 MW. It was allotted to a private developer who had optimized its design for:

, .. power production. Subsequently KPK Government objected and demanded that the irrigation and flood control must also be included in the design, which did not suit the private developer. The Project was given to Wapda for its development. The French Development Agency has offered to support the Project, and they have already released some funds for completion of design and tender documents. A commitment from Government to expedite the Project is still awaited.

In order to give further incentive for confidence building, it is proposed that a royalty charge of 5 percent be imposed on the revenue from these large Projects. The amount gathered through royalties should be distributed to the affected Province. For instance Kalabagh Dam will produce 10 billion kWh of electricity every year. The revenue from the electricity will be about Rs. 100 billion / year. If 5 percent of this amount i.e. Rs. 5 billion is available every year, Rs. 2 billion out of this can be used for improving the condition of mangroves nurseries, and if considered necessary by Government of Sindh, this money can also be used for building another Barrage downstream of Kotri to dispel threat of sea water intrusion. Rs. 2 billion every year to improve environment and irrigation infrastructure in Sindh will be very useful investment. Similarly the other Rs3 billion from Kalabagh can be shared by KPK and Punjab for similar environmental mitigation and improvements. Such a royalty will further increase substantially after Basha Dam is’ built. This type of provision is now used internationally particularly in North Africa for shared projects between the riparian even on country-wise basis.

From the above discussion, it is obvious that Pakistan has to prepare itself for its water security on an urgent basis. The situation of water availability will gradually become even more critical with approaching global warming, when the glacier melting will gradually reduce the inflow in the rivers particularly Indus. The construction of big reservoir to store water which is presently going into the sea is the most important step. It is obvious that the first big reservoir which is the most feasible in all respect is through Kalabagh Dam, whose construction should be started immediately, followed as soon as possible by Basha Dam. No wrongly placed political arguments should hamper the water security of the country. These Projects will also produce large hydropower which make these projects highly economical as well.