Lack of drinking and agriculture water in scorching summers compounded by unscheduled load shedding has stirred a debate on lack of dams. Supreme Court’s intervention has intensified it. The controversial Kalabagh will widen divides at a time when national cohesion is important. The question is not shortage rather wastage of water.

Debates by experts are confined to hackneyed studies, often repetitive and built on technical yarns. Inter provincial discords, high handedness of Punjab, cropping patterns and criticism of IBWT and not issues. Copy paste opinions display heightened levels of repetitive incompetence.

Critics tend to ignore that 60s were the golden years of Pakistan’s water management. Had President Ayub Khan not built Warsak, Mangla and Tarbela, Pakistan would have been a parched country. Add to the list the number of barrages, head works and smaller dams like Rawal, Simli, numerous artificial lakes in Sindh and series of water reservoirs around Balochistan, irrigation and link canals, most parts of Pakistan would have remained a desert. Four decades hence, Pakistan is reverting to the old landscape with ill-founded fallacies of mythical proportions.

Why must we blame the government for bartering Pakistan’s share of water to India? Ayub Khan followed a historic precedence of international law. Only three smaller rivers Ravi, Sutlej and Beas went to India. Riparian zones were in Punjab and not Sindh. The three mighty rivers of Indus, Jehlum-Neelam and Chenab came to Pakistan. India can use these rivers for non-consummative purposes but cannot divert water to Ravi or Sutlej. While Pakistan has sulked and mourned doing nothing, India has built over fifty storages on Jehlum-Neelam, Chenab and tributaries for ‘run of the river’ power generation and dead level storages. Exploiting a clause on who does first, Pakistan’s water management slept over building reservoirs and pre-empting Indians. Had Pakistan started Neelam project in 1988-90, Kishen Ganga by India would have been out of contention.

Technically, there was a fault in priorities. A dam upstream of Tarbela like Katzarah or Basha would have reduced the silt in Tarbela extending its life. Katzarah Dam has lost its efficacy due to urbanisation. Diamer-Basha located on a major geological fault line is considered by many experts as unstable for a 272 meter spillway. At some stage the government will have to sacrifice storage capacities for power generation thereby converting the seasonal mighty Indus into a perennial mega canal for hundreds of kilometres between Skardu and Tarbela.

Kalabagh Dam was conceived in the 19th century and is the last gorge on Indus where it can be tamed. Original feasibility ignored submergence of Peshawar-Nowshera Valley and effects on Thatta and Badin in Sindh. The site is located on a fault line and the bedrock cannot sustain a concrete structure of more than 50 meters. Yet it is planned at 80 meters. The dam is designed to sustain an earthquake of 7 on the Richter scale, whereas the region was hit by a 7.8 scale earth quake in 2005. To make this project acceptable, the height of Kalabagh will have to be reduced from 287 meters to 250 meters i.e. 820 feet. This would also allay fears of inundations from Nowshera to Peshawar. In addition two sources of Indus right bank canal will have to be diverted from River Kabul through Khairabad and Kalabagh. Because Kabul carries high levels of silt dredging will be a constant. The storage capacity of Kalabagh will be reduced but enough to cater for all four provinces through the Indus Right Bank Canal. River Kabul along with right bank pours over 20 MAF, enough to fill the redesigned Kalabagh Gorge to store water and produce over 5000 MW of electricity. In addition run of river dams on Rivers Chitral, Panjkora and Swat will increase the life of Munda Dam on River Swat and also produce electricity.

Warsak Dam on River Kabul will have to be grouted along with a raised spillway for storage, silt reduction and power generation. Construction of Khyber Dam in cooperation with Afghanistan will harness raging waters and also produce over 4000MW for people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This arrangement will allay all fears of KPK, Balochistan and Sindh and add over 8000-12,000 MW to the national grid.

Water management strategy of the past years did not cater for prolonged climatic changes. Due to rising temperatures in Bay of Bengal, the usual stream of monsoons over Central Punjab is gradually shifting towards the mountainous north. In past, the Mediterranean jet stream that brought snowfall in the Hindukush and Karakorum bypassed mainland Pakistan. In 2010, it was blocked by a mysterious system over China that diverted it towards Pakistan combining with the shifting pattern from Bengal. When rain fell on glaciers, it formed lakes and under this force, glaciers split. These clouds dumped within days an equivalent of two Tarbela dams before changing course to China.

The old template confined to Indus Basin has to be revised to cater for floods rushing out from Northern Pakistan. This climate change also affects Rivers Jhelum and Chenab. India discharges excess water into Ravi, Sutlej and Beas Rivers besides inundating areas from Sulaimanki to Fort Abbas. Western distributaries emanating from FATA and Suleiman Range can be dammed to hold maximum quantities of water. This will have the added advantage of recharging groundwater aquifers. The floods of 2010 or the ones that followed till 2015 were not the worst in Pakistan’s history. In the past, upstream surges at Jehlum, Chenab and Kabul have been three times higher. In 2010, more than 17 MAF (2 Tarbela Lakes) never reached the sea inundating wide expanses in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. This contributed to water logging and soil degradation. Total water loss in 2010 was over 80MAF equivalent to 10 years of winter storage.

So with Kalabagh full, where does the Indus and rain water from water from Tarbela go? A new canal like Ghazi Barotha can be diverted to the Soan Depression. With additional tributaries like Soan, Haro and Korang, this dam will have a storage capacity of over 34 MAF of water, holding extra floodwaters that afflict KPK. It can be fed from Tarbela during peak flood seasons for three months. All share of Sind’s water through an exit canal and power plants will flow back into Indus. It can also be connected to Head Rasul through an exit power generating canal.

River Jehlum is a major cause of floods beyond Head Rasul and Taunsa. Construction of Rohtas Dam on Kahan River without affecting storage of Mangla will have the capability to block Jehlum during floods in Indus, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej. It will have capacity to produce electricity at entry and exit of over 2000 MW. Under the WAA 1991 all water in excess of the apportionment can be stored in this dam for South Punjab and Sindh that will become green, groundwater will be recharged and Rivers Ravi and Sutlej flow once again.

The water management and regulation system will bank heavily on controlling waters of four interconnected river systems i.e. Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and Kabul in a synchronized manner. This water will be used to reclaim land in Southern KPK, South Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan giving a boost to agriculture. Vast tracts of arid areas dependent on seasonal rains will become canal fed. This also means a realizable power potential of over 19,000MW of electricity.

It is unlikely that water will be a commitment of political parties during elections. They rather get into power than get bogged in a controversial subject.


The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson