Reports that the outflows from the Tarbela reservoir are being restricted for the sake of irrigated agriculture, must be taken seriously. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the scenario was entirely avoidable if there were additional reservoirs storing and distributing the irrigation waters in secondary reservoirs (upstream or downstream). The very same quantity of water could have been used for power generation repeatedly in a cascade, before being released for irrigated agriculture.

Pakistan may be a single basin country but a single reservoir on the Indus main is simply unsustainable for a population of about 190 million people. A demographic explosion with a three fold population increase has occurred since the commissioning of the Tarbela dam and reservoir in 1974. By some estimates, an economic loss of over a trillion USD equivalent has been incurred by not building mega dams on the Indus and its tributaries after ’74. All of the country’s hydro endowments have to be fully harnessed for both irrigation and energy needs, if the country is to progress economically. In fact, this is fast becoming an issue of our survival. We must understand these reports for what they are; water scarcity is upon us, and the summer has only just begun. Imported energy from oil or coal is not sustainable. The standard hydel: thermal ratio of 70:30 has been mutilated and in only 20 years since the thermal based IPP policy was launched, the energy mix is lopsided at about 30:70.

Ultimately, a new, feasible dam is the only solution. According to experts, pumping in the KP province is not economical despite the availability of electrical power because the land is about 100 to 150 feet higher than the Indus river. Gravity flow canals are the only least cost solution, and only the Kalabagh Dam makes this a possibility. After all, why should we not challenge the narrative that another dam on the Indus main will destroy Pakistan? The US made 6,575 large dams in the 20th century, India has built 4,291 and is making another 659 large dams. By 2025 India wants to build another 2500 dams for an additional 1800mn cubic meter storage, compared with Tarbela’s initial 11mn cubic meter storage. China, on the other hand, has made over 22,000 dams and is still making more. The country must reject the anti-dam lobbyists and understand the only real, sustainable way to avoid complete economic collapse is to build the dam we’ve spent too long talking about, before it is far too late.