Posted on Friday, October 10, 10 , 2014 By Shakir Hussain Shah

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kalabagh dam - moonis elahi

Pakistan is today one of the most water stressed countries in the world and with every passing year the stress is worsening. Surmounting challenges, including an extremely high population growth rate, reliance on a single river system, the fast changing global climatic conditions and a national failure to harness 40 MAF (million acre feet) of water annually falling unused in the Arabian Sea are the main causes of this continuously aggravating situation. Unfortunately, despite their enormity, these challenges have not only gone unresolved by successive governments but have also gone unheeded by the nation itself. According to experts, the per capita availability of water in Pakistan, currently placed at 1030 cubic meters, will go well below the 1000 cubic meter mark in the next few years unless quick remedial steps are undertaken. The experts are of the unanimous view that unless restoration of the rapidly depleting water table of the once water rich lands of Pakistan is taken up on war footing and meaningful steps are not adopted “now” to properly harness and store the water received in its rivers and through rainfall, Pakistan from a water stressed country faces the threat of soon turning into a “Water Scarce” country with accompanying unthinkable social and environmental disasters. So, what do we need to do? Do we put our heads in the sand and wait for an imminent desertification of our country described by an English poet as a “Not a drop to drink” kind of situation? Or do we as a nation stand up together and in unison to ward off the lurking threat? I am of the firm belief that our best chance to avert the predicted catastrophic water crisis remains in us fighting together against it. In order to do that all four provinces and integrating units of Pakistan need to declare a “Water Emergency” and assess the ground realities anew to achieve consensus on the formulation of a new National Water Policy which meets their water needs as well as concerns. For such a policy to be a reality, the dire need is that of reopening a dialogue among provinces on all water issues, controversial or otherwise. This dialogue should be based on a one point agenda, which is the survival and future wellbeing of the whole of Pakistan and not just one region or community and on an understanding that water plays the same role for the country as blood to the entire body.

Kalabagh Dam - Facts

Water is required for our survival. We need water not only for drinking purposes but to irrigate our lands, run our factories and to keep the ecology in balance. Besides its conventional uses, water has also proven beyond doubt as the single most important means of electricity generation in the last 150 years of human history. Although, over the years other power generation technologies which rely on alternative energy sources have also been developed but by and large hydro power beats them all in terms of its cost and benefits. Today, countries like China, USA and India have achieved their current enviable progress by building thousands of dams on their rivers. Their economies now rely heavily on the cheap electricity obtained from these water dams to supply uninterrupted power to homes, workplaces, farms and factories. Besides power generation they also use these dams’ large water reservoirs for supplying drinking water to their growing populations, for maintenance of their ground water table, preservation of their environments and last but not the least to irrigate their vast agricultural lands.

Contrarily, Pakistan has been following a different course since long which is nothing less than suicidal. We have not constructed a single water dam since the 60’s and instead of capitalising on our water resources in the previous years, through sound planning to meet our present and future power needs, we have unfortunately become hugely reliant on thermal power. This paradigm shift might have provided a temporary ego boost to the myopic policy makers of the early 90’s, but has proved to be a key contributing factor in Pakistan’s un-ending economic, social, political and environmental problems, ever since. Undeniably, the main cause of the rampant load shedding in Pakistan is also this very unnatural reliance on a highly expensive thermal power. On the other hand, Pakistan even today has enough water for storage in order to generate highly cheap and abundant electricity for its entire population, yet the people of Pakistan are forced to pay through their teeth huge furnace oil import bills and also put up with the shenanigans of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and that too to just get a few hours of daily thermal power.  Pakistan has spent nothing less than $ 12 Billion in the last financial year on the purchase of imported furnace oil to keep the furnace oil guzzling thermal power plants running, yet there is no relief in sight from the 14- 18 hours of daily power outages in the country.

Ironically, while we are ready to spend billions of dollars on generating expensive thermal electricity, we seem to be unperturbed by the 40 MAF of water going waste in the ocean. According to experts this 40 MAF of precious water if stored and used for power generation can produce 50000 MW of electricity, almost 3 times more than our current power requirements as well as our present installed power generation capacity. The other acknowledged fact being that water is the cheapest source of electricity generation and if used to its full potential, besides an annual national savings of a minimum of Rs. 220 billion, as individual consumers we shall be paying no more than Rs 2.50 per unit of electricity. Translated into the common man’s arithmetic, the electricity bills will be 6 times less than what we pay now. With this happening the prices of every commodity and service will also come done proportionately and Pakistan will be back in business.

Tragically, governments in Pakistan all along have borrowed financial loans from abroad and portrayed such borrowings as their diplomatic achievements. The fact is that had Pakistani governments seriously worked out a plan for bringing the abundantly available water into good use in the past and removed a national lethargy coupled with misplaced apprehensions surrounding its preservation and utilisation, we could instead of a loan borrowing nation have long ago become a loan giving nation. Today, every Pakistani newborn arrives in the world with a huge debt burden, thanks to the short sightedness of Pakistani decision makers. Even today the N League government is drumbeating it’s so called success in obtaining IMF loans at a huge mark-up, where as God knows how many future generations will it take to pay off this debt. It is these horrendous policies of such incompetent and visionless governments like the present N League government that have impeded our progress and denied us our right to better life all along.

Today, along with a strong response against incompetent rulers and their disastrous policies, the Pakistani nation needs more than ever before to demonstrate a strong collective will that aims at harnessing our available water resources for overcoming our deep rooted economic ills. Water for irrigating farms to combat hunger and for storing in dams to generate power are the best and the cheapest ways to achieve this end. For this, we also need to think above and beyond the misconceptions that have been presented to us as facts and which are primarily responsible for our present sorry state of affairs.

Take the case of Kalabagh Dam for instance. Kalabagh Dam project has the potential of generating 3600 MW electricity at a cost of Rs 2.50 per unit to the consumers with an annual national savings of a minimum of Rs 220 billion. The Kalabagh Dam reservoir with a water storage capacity of 6.1 MAF has the potential of providing an additional 4 MAF to Sindh, 2.2 MAF to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2 MAF to Punjab and 1.5 MAF to Balochistan. This additional water supply can not only irrigate millions of acres of presently barren lands but also go a long way in the country’s war against the twin afflictions of food shortage and food inflation. The construction of Kalabagh Dam can be a step that will help eliminate poverty and hunger in the country and enable the coming generations to achieve their dream of sustainable progress and prosperity. The construction cost of Kalabagh Dam is placed at $ 9 billion today which is less than the cost Pakistan had to incur in losses during the 2010 floods in Pakistan. According to a World Bank report, Pakistan suffered a loss of $ 9.5 billion as a result of floods in 2010 and this massive disaster could have been averted had the Kalabagh Dam reservoir been present.

Kalabagh Dam Advatages

So, despite these advantages, why are we after 4 decades of arguments and counter arguments unable to construct Kalabagh Dam? Why have the apprehensions of provinces against its construction not been addressed thus far? Why despite so many threatening problems including an excruciating power load shedding, dwindling water resources, disastrous floods and a poor economy, the topic of Kalabagh Dam, despite its relevance has always been pushed under the carpet? Putting these questions aside for the moment, let’s further ask ourselves if Kalabagh Dam was constructed could the electricity cost in Pakistan be more or less than today? Could Pakistan be saved from the devastating effects of floods or not? And lastly could Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa get more water for irrigation purposes than their present share? The answer to all these questions is “Yes”. The timely construction of Kalabagh Dam in the past could certainly have saved us from all or most of our present mega problems. History is replete with examples where a nation did not see the real problem eye to eye in the beginning but eventually in the best national interest overcame it with time, bitter experiences and a better sense.

What we have to bear in mind is that   Kalabagh Dam once constructed will be three times larger than Mangla and compared to Rs 16.50 cost per unit of thermal electricity, the electricity cost per unit of Kalabagh Dam as mentioned earlier will be a mere Rs 2.50 to the consumers. With its large water reservoir the irrigation needs of all four provinces will be amicably met. As opposed to misperceptions, Kalabagh Dam will also play a very important role in the prevention of floods and in averting their devastation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Central and South Punjab and in Sindh. But as I said earlier, it is for the nation to decide what is best for it today and in future.

Pakistanis love their country and yet some of them have been made to doubt Kalabagh Dam’s efficacy. The truth is that Kalabagh Dam is not a threat to Pakistan but to its enemies who can foresee that once constructed it will bring us out of the darkness of poverty and backwardness and will make us strong and powerful. I would request my fellow Pakistanis to think through the enemy’s game and decide for themselves whether they are to keep reeling from load shedding, poverty and hunger, which best serves the enemy’s agenda, or are they to put biases and apprehensions behind and re-discuss the construction of Kalabagh Dam in the wake of the present and future critical water scenario. Let us not forget that in the last 40 years we have not built a single dam while India has constructed thousands including many on our waters. Let us also not forget that we are not being allowed to make one Kalabagh Dam, yet India is continuing to encroach upon our Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers by making scores of river run dams on them. We should have built Kalabagh Dam by 1992 and it is now 2014 and even after 22 years we are still debating whether we should or should not construct Kalabagh Dam. It is now time to shake off this lethargy and decide whether we want our coming generations to blame us for our inability to build a water project that could have ensured their bright future or do we want them to appreciate and remember us for taking a decision that saved them from poverty, hunger and destitute? Here, I must add that other hydro projects like Dasu and Bhasha dams are equally important but we must bear in mind that Kalabagh Dam is the only project which can be raised in the shortest possible time (6 Years) and with least resources. While Dassu Dam will take twelve years in completion and Bhasha Dam hitting the snags once again, it is only Kalabagh Dam that can on a fast track basis help us out of our prevailing and future water related crises.  The choice is ours. The need of the hour is to earnestly start a dialogue among provinces aimed at building Kalabagh Dam and to work out ways as to how we can do away with misconceptions surrounding it. We should remember that we cannot afford to wait any longer than we already have. The time to decide has arrived.

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