KALABAGH DAM: Future’s Hope for curtailing Water Crisis

Approximately water having economic value of $70 billion is being thrown into the sea every year due to non-construction of dams or water reservoirs, according to a research study on water resources of Pakistan. A water-starved country, which has the foreign reserve of only $20 billion, can’t afford to throw water of economic value of $70 billion every year into the sea.

Study of Pakistan Council of Research on the Water Resources of Pakistan (PCRWR) revealed that quick exhaustion of groundwater may soon deteriorate the water crisis in Pakistan’s major cities, causing a drought-like situation. Such crisis needs to be taken on war footings; otherwise, a huge section of Pakistan’s population, especially the big cities of Pakistan, will be facing a severe shortage of water.

Pakistan dumps as much as about 21 billion dollars’ worth of water into the Arabian Sea every year because of lack of adequate water conservation system. This volume to more than half of the total water the country receives in a year. According to the specialists, the main problem is that the dams in Pakistan can only store a total of 30 days of water in them.

After Tarbela Dam we have not built another major storing facility. According to the condition of water in Pakistan to construct a new dam for storage of water is the most important project and this project is Kalabagh Dam. But that project as a matter of fact is a non-starter because of the resolute opposition of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan provinces and out of four federating units only Punjab is in favor of its construction. Still, it is also deniable fact that the storage capacity of both Tarbela and Mangla Dams is being gradually reduced by the addition of silt.

Proponents of the Kalabagh Dam use a mix of economic and environmental reasons to support Kalabagh Dam’s construction. There are some economic reasons behind Kalabagh Dam in positive perspectives. Hydroelectric power is a renewable and environmental friendly source of energy. Kalabagh Dam will add over 3800 MW to the national grid, significantly reducing Pakistan’s 5000 MW shortage. Consequently: businesses will thrive, industries will produce goods at lower costs; export revenues will rise, Pakistan’s balance of payments will improve, and unemployment will fall.

Their environmental reasons for building the dam include fewer flash floods in the middle and lower course of River Indus. Better water regulation in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Conservation of the world’s limited freshwater supplies as less river water will be “lost” to the sea. Better watershed management as more trees will be planted in the upper course to reduce siltation in Kalabagh Dam. For the pro-Kalabagh Dam school, the dam will be a good intervention for both – our economy and environment.

In other words, Pakistan’s economy will enter a positive feedback loop. Economic growth will “lift all boats higher,” in the Rawlsian sense, and peoples’ happiness will increase as poverty rates fall and fewer people starve or die of preventable diseases.

Nature has blessed Pakistan with immense resources which cannot be counted easily and there should be no shortage and load shedding of electricity from which we have been suffering for almost two decades. There should be no dearth of water for agriculture and people should not be suffering heavy losses of precious lives and property and excavation from homes due to floods every now and then. But it is only our great misfortune and nothing else that for decades together we are suffering these losses. Needs, interests, and requirements of the people regarding Kalabagh Dam are in so much contradictory and conflicts that this has not been witnessed previously. This is such an important national project that despite being viable and feasible the multi-purpose Dam cannot be constructed because the required national consensus among the four federating units somehow remains elusive.

Opposition to the construction of Kalabagh Dam is Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. To such an extent that the Provincial Assemblies of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have adopted resolutions against it about two times, but fears against the construction of Kalabagh Dam that it would cause great losses to the two provinces are far from realities and facts and regretfully are merely based more on political and provincial biases than facts. This negative perspective of both the provinces against the establishment of Kalabagh Dam is damaging for the country. Two provinces are being discussed briefly in this article to prove that all apprehensions are simply wrong and nothing else.

Sindh has great opposition in the construction of Kalabagh Dam that if it is constructed, Sindh will agonize so much and it will be rendered barren. According to the facts available from various sources, Mangla Dam and Terbela Dam has given many advantages to the Sindh especially in water facilitation. After the construction of both dams the condition of water got better than before. Sindh was getting on average 3 crores 60 lakhs acres feet of water annually. Following the construction of both these dams has increased to four crores 30 lakhs acres feet meaning thereby Sindh is getting 70 lakhs acres of water additionally as compared to previously, then how the construction of Kalabagh Dam will not be beneficial for them.

The main objection of the opponents to Kalabagh Dam from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is that its construction will sink Nowshera. Two worst floods had struck and caused huge devastations in 1929 and 2010 so Kalabagh Dam is important project to be developed. There are multipurpose of Kalabagh Dam and it will be beneficial for the prosperity and security of Pakistan.

Kalabagh Dam, which will increase the water resources of the country is being opposed while Thar coal project, which will consume huge amount of water and will contaminate all water, air and land resources of Pakistan is being advocated by the government.

Kalabagh with its installed capacity of 2400 MW (ultimate 3600 MW) would add to the system a very large chunk of cheap hydro-power. The energy generated at Kalabagh would be equivalent to 20 million barrels of oil per year. Kalabagh would reduce the frequency and severity of flooding along the Indus.

The overall direct benefits of Kalabagh Dam would be around Rs. 25 billion per annum, thus the investment cost of project would be repaid within a period of 9-10 years.

Clean electricity produced by Kalabagh Dam will be available to every citizen of the country, air and land resources of not only of Pakistan but also of neighboring countries like India and China.

The overall climatic change of Pakistan has slowed down melting of the snow from mountains, thus reducing flow of rivers and leaving very little water for the winter crops (Kharif) in Punjab as well as Sindh. In the wake of this scenario, construction of high dams in the country is assuming highest priority as irrigated agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy.

If nothing is done, there would be approximately 18% shortfall in irrigation water supply and Pakistan will turn into a water-scarce country. Due to complete stoppage of any sizeable surface water resources development, the sustainability of existing irrigated agriculture is in serious jeopardy.

With a large arable land, Pakistan still has the potential of bringing several million acres of virgin land under irrigation. An important impediment in the way of this development is insufficient control over flood water of the rivers and let go large quantities of water into the sea.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in July 2018.


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