Ramsha Jahangir
Ramsha Jahangir

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan must change its cropping patterns, water usage habits and planning mechanisms, and develop multiple storages and make the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty part of an aggressive foreign policy if it intends to avoid a disastrous future.

This was the crux of a detailed briefing by retired Lt Gen Muzammil Hussain to a Senate body on Wednesday. The Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) chairman also criticised the resettlement plan for the Diamer-Bhasha dam prepared by the government led by Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2006, and said that it was causing problems to this day.

Stressing the importance of the Kalabagh dam, the Wapda chief proposed to give its operations and management to Sindh given the province’s genuine concerns that it would dry out. He said the country should now graduate from decades-old planning processes, time-consuming approval processes and execution of projects through innovative financing solutions for major development projects.

Lamenting that Pakistan had become hostage to a group of five international consulting firms, Mr Hussain said a professional organisation like the National Engineering Services of Pakistan (Nespak) had been reduced to a parking place with more than 921 incompetent and unqualified inductions made on political grounds.

Wapda chairman says resettlement plan for Diamer-Bhasha dam made by Musharraf-led government in 2006 is causing problems to this day

He said the capacity and the quality of local companies and consultants had to be enhanced to meet the growing future needs of agriculture, irrigation and energy.

In his remarks, he observed that 60 per cent of the country’s population was directly engaged in agriculture and livestock and despite being named in the 15 most water scarce countries — with a per capita availability of about 903 cubic metres — Pakistan had one of the most water intensive agricultural sectors in the world. He said the country had the fourth highest rate of water use internationally. The chairman said that 90pc of the country’s water was used in agriculture and the matter must be taken up in the Council of Common Interests to figure out a way to reduce water usage for irrigation and domestic use.

He said Pakistan had a total of 155 dams compared to the 5,102 in India. Pakistan can only store water for 30 days compared to the 170 days’ capacity of India. Pakistan needs to narrow the gap between the growing population and its needs and the number and capacity of water reservoirs. There is need to reduce the cultivation of sugarcane and other water intensive crops.

The Wapda chief said the population is set to grow by 50 per cent to 312 million by 2050, which would push demand for water considerably. Therefore, the country is destined for disaster unless it changes its planning, practices and governance methods quickly.

For this, he said parliamentarians and political leaders must play a major role. He said about 12 million acre feet (MAF) of water could easily be conserved through efficient use, another 11MAF could be saved by provinces through better managing the demand. A further 12MAF could be saved through lining of canals, and 35MAF could be made available through construction of dams.

He said Wapda was working on adding one MAF storage by 2023 through small dams while about 9MAF storage would become available by 2030 on the completion of the Diamer-Bhasha, Mohmand, Kurram Tangi and Chiniot dams. Plans were also underway for the development of Kalabagh, Shyok, Dudhial, Akhori, Skardu and Rohtas dams to provide additional storage of another 25MAF by 2050.

The three-phased development plan would need a cumulative financing of Rs5 trillion in more than three decades. With public sector financing of 30pc, the remaining funds could be arranged through public-private partnerships and commercial arrangements, he said.

Responding to questions from senators, the Wapda chairman said Sindh had some genuine concerns over the Kalabagh Dam, which is otherwise technically a sound project, and on which construction could begin in a day — realizing enormous benefits.

He said maximum river flows were available over three months and more than 25MAF water went down the sea excluding the 8.6MAF allocated for downstream Kotri for environmental needs. This meant water downstream kotri could be maintained round the year with the Kalabagh dam instead of just for a few weeks.

Responding to another question, he said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) objections over the Kalabagh dam were not valid because the dam’s objectionable height had been reduced by 10 feet while now under construction Mohmand dam would completely alleviate any dangers of flooding in the Peshawar and Nowshera valleys. He said it was for the political leadership to create a consensus on the project.

Mr Muzammil said they were facing problems over the Bhasha dam due to KP and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) not cooperating and despite a land acquisition worth Rs80 billion, authorities have been unable to start the project. The land owners were also creating problems, as he added that about a dozen people have lost their lives due to firing on land on the boundaries of KP and GB.

Talking about the Indus Cascade, he termed it the most precious asset of the country. He said that the Indus enters Pakistan at an altitude of 8430 feet and gives us a drop of 7030 feet till Kalabagh at an altitude of 1400 feet giving us multiple sites along the stretach for building reservoirs and run-of-the-river projects.

He said due to the contentions between Pakhtunkhwa Energy Development Board (PEDO) and the federally-run, Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO), Chitral was not getting the required power supply, getting only seven megawatts of electricity from a plant of 36 megawatts.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2018