Recent sufferings of the Pakistani people including industry and agriculture due to an all time high load shedding of electricity to the tune of about 8 hours in cities and 12 hours in rural areas are not only very painful but horrifying as well. During October 2008, there was a system power shortage of 3000-6000 megawatts (MW) despite an existing installed capacity of about 17700 MW. Annual load shedding will restart around 20 December 2008 due to reduced releases from the reservoirs as a result of annual canal closures. The recent onslaught of load shedding on WAPDA's grid and Karachi, brought the suffering public on roads - shouting, burning tyres, obstructing traffic on the roads and using other means to give vent to their anger and to be heard. The authorities facing a yawning gap between demand and available electric supplies were forced to employ various ploys to pacify the wrath of the people. This situation is going to be a recurring phenomena for quite some time to come, with the increasing misery. Even if the government delivers its promise of ending the load shedding within one year through thermal generation, the conditionalities of the donors (IMF?) may compel the it to increase the power tariffs beyond affordability level of a common consumer besides seriously damaging the competitiveness of our industry. Situation on the agriculture side is no less alarming. Due to non-addition of any new major storage since 1976, the three existing reservoirs at Mangla, Tarbela and Chashma have since lost about 28 percent of the storage capacity (5.1 out of 18.4 MAF). This has made impossible the sustenance of existing irrigation uses thus seriously undermining the national food security. Our targets of food and other agricultural products may remain a mirage. Ironically, while the nation is faced with an acute shortage of 10 MAF in current Rabi, over 20 MAF water escaped below Kotri in the preceding Kharif season of 2008. But for lack of any storage facility this could have been stored to ward off the acute water shortages in the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS). These yawning gaps in power and water sector demands and supplies have not occurred in a day. The last major dam (Tarbela) became operational in 1976, which has now an installed capacity of about 3500 MW. The next logical choice was Kalabagh Dam on which work was taken up in right earnest and reached the stage of floatation of international tenders in 1987. In normal course this project would have come on line by 1998 or so, contributing about 3000 MW power and over 6 MAF of storage water. Thus the present crises would have either not arisen or contained to a minor scale. The alarm bells have been ringing for decades but the petty parochial considerations and political expediencies have transcended all national considerations. Resultantly the nation has now been plunged into an abyss of poverty and hunger. Out of the many, one may recall a few articles appearing in the press: Are we planning for more atta queues? (published in a local English daily on June 15, 1999), The Crises of Irrigation Supplies (The Nation, April 4, 1997), and Scarcity of Water (The Nation, March 14, 2001). The issue has also been forcefully projected from numerous responsible technical forums. Opposition to the construction of Kalabagh Dam erupted in certain quarters first on the pretext of some technical issues including availability of sufficient storable water etc. Side by side, public opinion was vigorously escalated against the construction of dam and whipped to a frenzy through an organised campaign of disinformation. This triggered delay in the commencement of construction of the dam. Many independent teams of international experts had to be called in to address the various "objections and apprehensions" from different quarters. Such international teams included Americans, French and Chinese experts which endorsed and cleared the dam for construction, making it one of the most investigated dams in the world. All these exercises - basically delaying tactics - took their own toll of time while the existing storage capacity was being constantly reduced by the natural process of sedimentation. Consequently, a huge quantity of about 35 MAF (4 times the capacity of Tarbela Dam) was being allowed to escape uncontrolled into the sea begging for storage capacity. Strenuous efforts were made to apprise the public and the authorities-that-be of the serious consequences of not building the next dam in a timely manner, such as shortage of irrigation supplies and serious deficit of electricity with consequent shortage of food and fibre. The pitch of opposition to the dam was raised to such a height that the voice of sanity got drowned in the cacophony. Now acute shortage of electricity has actually materialised and the same people who were crying hoarse "Kalabagh murdabad" and the like, are now crying and vociferating against shortage of electricity with equal vehemence. - but this time under a real pain. It's a strange world In the near future the same poor innocent people will be yelling, without any real relief, against shortage of water supply and electricity as well - whether for agriculture products such as food and fibre or for other industrial uses. India has already demonstrated its intention and capacity to tamper with our Chenab River supplies vouchsafed to us under an international treaty. This is yet another rude wake-up call to us. This makes working out of a "fall back" position immediate and imperative. It is indeed lamentable that a few individuals, with vested interests, have been able to mesmerise the people into voting for their own liquidation. A few years ago the ratio of power production by hydel and thermal was 70:30. Due to our failure to construct any major multi-purpose dam this ratio has reversed to about 70 thermal to 30 hydel. This is indeed a serious matter, not only due to the inherent shortage of power but also from the cost point of view, as cost per KWH of thermal power is about 4 times that of hydel. For a turn around in this ratio of thermal to hydel production, construction of a mega dam is the only and the imperative answer. Realising the gravity of the situation, towards turn of the century, even the erstwhile federal government took an initiative to pursue the construction of five major dams by 2015. Obviously, the logical choice was to take up Kalabagh Dam first and the government started a campaign to achieve consensus in this regard. Unfortunately, however, having reached the climax and point of almost a break through, the whole movement was blunted and the all-powerful President of Pakistan was humbled to yield to the political expediency and called off the effort. Instead, work on detailed engineering design and tender documentation of Diamer Basha Dam Project was started in late 2005. The present government also formally, declared shelving of Kalabagh Dam Project. Despite the fears expressed about its location in a highly seismic zone, difficult approach, excessive distance from electrical load centres etc if this dam becomes a reality within 10 years or so, will bring about substantial alleviation of the acute power and water shortages, although after going through long period of suffering. Presently the government is hard pressed to make some favourable noises by going a-begging even for a couple of hundred mega watts here and there and playing up small storages for tiny isolated areas with no electricity or any impact whatsoever on the 'Indus Food Machine' of the national irrigation system. Which reminds one of the classic tale of the poor old woman, who - unable to provide food to her hungry children put the pot on fire with water and pebbles being stirred to give the impression to the children that food was being cooked. Trumpeting about additional capacity created by raising Mangla Dam is also misleading. This was from the beginning a gratis "built-in" provision for off-setting the effect of the natural process of siltation to some extent. While planning/designing the colossal Indus Basin Works by renowned international consortiums, extensive studies were run for river Jhelum which concluded that the size and flow pattern of the river could not sustain a reservoir of more than about 5 MAF. Thus the provision for raising of Mangla dam was not intended to provide any additional capacity (which could not be of any avail) but to offset the loss due to siltation limited to the additional capacity created by raising of the dam. The first real demonstration of this fact came in the current filling season of 2008. The reservoir was capable of being impounded to a few feet above its present conservation level of 1202 feet but it could not be done due to lack of any surplus water till end of the filling season in September 2008. The position can be salvaged to some extent by switching over to immediate construction of at least one mega dam with due consideration of: location; ease of construction; and completion time. With location at the lower most regulating point of Indus River (trapping water of Kabul River also) and construction time of six to seven years. Kalabagh seems to be the forerunner. However, if the parochial and petty considerations are still rampant, there is no choice and Diamer Basha Dam seems to be our lot which will at least break the logjam of perpetual calamity and suffering albeit after going through a long period of suffering and punishment which may cause saner counsels to prevail. "Allah has made an example of the city which was once safe and peaceful. Its provisions used to come in abundance from every quarter; but its people were ungrateful for the favours of Allah. Therefore, He afflicted them with famine and fear as a punishment for what they did" (XVI-112). But alas "Have they not travelled in the land, and have they hearts wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear? For indeed it is not eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are within the bosom that grow blind" (XXII - 46). The writer is chief engineer irrigation E-mail: