Pakistan very badly needs to develop a major storage facility. In all fairness the only solution to this is construction of multi-purpose – but somehow much criticized, condemned and politicized – Kalabagh dam. But the trillion dollar question is, who is going to construct it and get his name written in golden words in the politically chequered history of Pakistan?
Only couple of days back, experts from public and private sectors while participating in a seminar in connection with celebration of “World Environmental Health Day 2017” at a hotel in Lahore while dilating on various aspects of the theme, warned that Pakistan could approach “absolute scarcity” levels of water and face a drought as early as 2025, just another eight years from now.
But while sounding such a warning in quite realistic manner, the experts did not dilate on how this fast approaching drought could be averted and as such also did not mention that such an alarming situation could be avoided by construction of Kalabagh dam. Perhaps this was out of their purview but then they had sounded the warning about drought like situation. While sounding a warning, they could also suggest as how to avert such a situation.
Only the other day a delegation of the National Defence University Islamabad visited the WAPDA House in Lahore. The delegation included senators, MNAs, MPAs, senior bureaucrats, technocrats, ambassadors, senior military officers and civil society representatives. Senior WAPDA officers briefed the delegation members on the water and power sector.
During the briefing on water sector, the delegation was informed that water availability is gradually decreasing in the country, Pakistan can store only 10 per cent of the annual flows which is sufficient for just ten days use only, the per capita water availability has gone down to 908 cubic meter in 2017 from as much as 5260 cubic meter way back in 1951, rapid increase in population being the major contributing factor behind the phenomenon, about 29 million acres feet of water (MAF) on average is escaping below Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea every year.
The delegation members were also told that the country needs to construct more dams to enhance water storage capacity to adequately cope with the water requirements and that as many as 20 million acres of additional land can be brought under irrigated agriculture if water is made available by constructing more dams.
Again, rather most unfortunately, there was no mention that major storage facility can be developed in just eight years with the construction of Kalabagh dam. The reports which appeared in the media made no mention about WAPDA high-ups naming Kalabagh dam as a major storage facility nor any member of the delegation put the question as to why the country cannot build Kalabagh dam and overcome not only increasing water scarcity but also get rid of lingering electricity load shedding.
Former Chairman WAPDA Mr Zafar Mahmud ran series of articles in Urdu and English newspapers dilating on all technical and other aspects of Kalabagh dam, addressing reservations against its construction by small provinces and responding to all objections and questions without advocating in any manner the construction of Kalabagh dam as the time was running out of our hands very fast. But the anti-Kalabagh dam lobby proved too strong and he had to resign quite obviously from visible and invisible pressure.
It is rather surprising, shocking and tragic as well that every other day, the issue of water scarcity is being discussed and talked about at various forums but nobody seems to be taking notice of such warnings so being sounded. All those who treading the corridors of power and outside seem to be with their eyes and minds blind to all bitter ground realities, facts and figures.
Construction of world’s largest earth-filled Tarbela dam was given preference over Kalabagh dam by the decision-makers . Tarbela dam construction was started in 1968 and it was completed in 1976 and since then no other major storage facility has been developed so far. It is only our greatest misfortune that the country has built only two water storages, Mangla dam and Tarbela dam, in 70 years of its existence.
Water storage capacity of Tarbela dam over the years due to massive sedimentation and other factors has been alarmingly reduced by as much as 36 per cent from 9.6 million acres feet to 6.6 million acres feet. According to the experts, desilting of Tarbela dam will cost more than the construction of a new dam.
It is only our greatest bad luck and misfortunate that Pakistan receives as much as 145 million acres feet of water annually and out of this huge quantity has developed storage facility only for 14 million acres of feet, just ten per cent as also mentioned above.
Kalabagh dam can be constructed in just six to eight years and it can generate 2400 to 3600 megawatt of electricity which will be as cheaper as less than Rs three per unit and can store more than 7 million acres feet of water for as long as three years and all the four federating units will be getting substantial additional water for irrigation purposes boosting agricultural production. If plenty of water is going below Kotri Barrage as sheer waste down in the Arabian Sea annually then we ourselves , the people of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, are to be blamed for that and none else.
Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, who has since been disqualified as the Prime Minister in the Panama case by the Supreme Court of Pakistan but has retained president ship of the ruling party, had earned the distinction of evolving national consensus among the federating units way and got them around for signing the Indus Water Apportionment Accord way back in 1991 during his first tenure as the Prime Minister..
Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is no longer the Prime Minister but still he is head of the ruling party and can get things done directly through his successor Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. New Federal Water Resources Minister from Multan, Syed Javed Ali Shah had after taking oath talked about making efforts to evolve national consensus regarding construction of Kalabagh dam. But he has not talked on this subject again. Perhaps, he has also been silenced?
As a committed patriotic Pakistani, this scribe is all for construction of multi-purpose Kalabagh dam in order to avert onrushing drought and firmly believes that if major storage facility is not developed at the earliest to positively respond to India’s persistent water aggression then we all will have to commit suicide en masse for want of even single drop of water.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan from time to time takes sou motto notices of important matters of varying kinds. The learned apex court can also take sou motto notice of this very vital and important matter and direct the federal government to construct Kalabagh dam at the earliest as the country very badly needs to develop another major storage facility and that can only be Kalabagh dam in the right earnest. This is in the supreme national interests and for the survival of the ever growing population of Pakistan.The burning question, however, remains as who’ll build Kalabagh dam ? Someone has to answer this trillion dollar question and get his name written in golden words in the history. Will someone dare to answer, please?
The writer is Lahore-based Freelance Journalist, Columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News) Radio Pakistan, Islamabad.