THE ground-breaking ceremony of Diamer-Bhasha project is scheduled for next month while a sum of Rs15 billion has been earmarked this year to finance dam's pre-construction related activities.Work on construction of housing colonies and facilities required for Wapda and contractors'staff in Thore valley, district Diamer has been initiated. Acquisition of priority land is in progress.
The dam, located on the Indus River, is to be completed by 2019-20 as per revised schedule approved by ECNEC at a cost of $8.5 billion. The project would help in resolving major issues of food security and shortage of electricity.
According to international experts, Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma reservoirs have lost about five MAF cumulative water capacity, which may further reach to total six MAF next year, almost equal to original combined capacity of Mangla and Chashma reservoirs.
The emerging situation would jeopardise sustainability of irrigated agriculture, in spite of completion of Mangla Dam Raising project. Diamer-Bhasha Dam will impound as high as 15 per cent of the annual river flow and ensure availability of 6.4 MAF annual surface water for irrigation supplies during low-flow periods.
Its hydroelectric power station would generate average 18,097 GWh of electricity annually. Timely construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam--a mega dam to be built after almost four decades-- is therefore of strategic nature and badly needed.
The project envisages major infrastructure building that would lead to overall socio-economic uplift.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has recently assured technical and financial assistance for the project and its modalities are being worked out. The bank's pre-condition for national consensus has been met as the Council of Common Interests has approved the project on July 18, 2010.
Indications are that $2.3 billion would be released by the ADB during 2012 calendar year. In a recent development, the government has also asked the US to include project in the Kerry Lugar Law funding plan.
There are positive signs for funding from Kuwait, other friendly countries, and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). The main issue, however, is the government's inability to arrange counterpart funds in local currency. A total of Rs420 billion is to be arranged locally for the project during a period of seven years or so. For this purpose, the ECNEC allowed Wapda in January to raise Rs20 billion from the market through issuance of bonds. Earlier in 2006-07, it had raised Rs16 billion.
On its completion, the dam would set another record (after Tarbela) for Pakistan in global hydropower engineering. It will be the world's highest roller compacted concrete dam, with main dam's maximum height of 272 meter. Termed as one of the largest and most costly dam in the world planned today, its total financial outlay would exceed $13 billion taking into consideration additional cost of compensation and resettlement to the project-affectees and development of requisite infrastructure.
In fact, there are numerous challenges in executing the project that has complex and critical characteristics. Construction of dam would inundate 31 villages consisting of about 4,100 houses affecting a population of some 35,000, besides submerging 1,500 acres of fertile agricultural land. Another 25,000 acres land would be impounded under the dam reservoir. The project would cover an area of over 200 square kilometers, according to design.
These serious impacts are to be adequately addressed to and mitigated by the government, at an additional cost of Rs60 billion, before commencing construction on dam project itself. For the purpose, a “citizen damage compensation fund” has been established for which China has contributed $10 million, whereas the World Bank has committed $125 million and the US may also contribute $190 million. Under these arrangements, payment of compensation for land acquisition is in process.
The project would extend 100 km upstream of dam site up to Raikot Bridge on the KKH. This will require relocation and re-gradation of 310 km of the KKH, including construction of a new bridge at Thakot, District Battagram, besides building of numerous approach roads. Furthermore, road-network from Havelian to the site will also be upgraded, at a total cost of another Rs4.5 billion, which is essential for transportation of heavy machinery required to be mobilised by the contractors at site.
There are many engineering challenges for the project to be located in a mountainous, high seismic risk area. The two underground powerhouses will be built, each power house to have six generating units of 375 MW each, with a total capacity of 2,250 MW, aggregating to 4,500 MW power generation capacity.
Putting high-voltage transmission lines from the site to national grid would also pose a serious challenge. Project's detailed engineering completed in March 2008 and prequalification documents are ready since then for issuance to prospective bidders for obtaining technical and commercial proposals, separately for five different lots of tender for the works and supplies of equipment.
The government needs to take effective steps to remove impediments to complete the project on schedule at the currently estimated cost.
(Engr Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui is retired Chairman of State Engineering Corporation.)