Debate on dams

Published September 14, 2018

THE warning signs are present and all sides, including the protagonists, ought to pay heed and help reduce tensions. Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar has said that critics of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams fundraising initiative will be taken to task and that no opposition would be allowed to stand in the way of the construction of the dams. The chief justice’s comments appear to be in response to senior PPP leader Khursheed Shah’s veiled criticism of the court and the national drive to build major dams that has gained political and media momentum in recent months and weeks. It is unfortunate that the national discourse has taken this unwelcome turn. In recent days, the chief justice has inaugurated the judicial year by demanding that the judiciary improve its performance, and has separately also spoken of the need to regulate the superior court’s suo motu powers. It is arguably there that the superior judiciary’s attention should lie and not in the policy domain of the executive.

Certainly, there is a vital national debate on water to be had. By all independent and objective measures, Pakistan’s growing population is either already in the grip or on the verge of an acute water crisis. But the reasons for the shortage are many, as are the potential responses. While dams may — and this remains to be determined by expert consensus — have a role in addressing Pakistan’s water woes, it is already apparent that they cannot be the only solution. What is needed is a democratic national debate that is anchored in science and informed by water policy experts. Unhappily, well intentioned as the current push for building specific dams may be, there appears to be a growing element of pressure involved in the debate. Indeed, it is not apparent where the science, technical input and expert opinion in support of the current dam-building drive has come from. The necessary scientific research and professional endorsements may well exist, but they have still to be made public.

Yet, political opposition to the building of dams also needs to be rooted in science and sound policy. Chief Minister of Sindh Murad Ali Shah has made a better effort than Khursheed Shah in highlighting issues of inadequate water flow to support big dams and the effects on coastal Sindh of diverting water away from the Arabian Sea. With the nation’s attention on dam-building at the moment, the political leadership ought to take the opportunity to inform and educate the public instead of reflexively and glibly opposing measures proposed by others. From a democratic perspective, it is undesirable that the superior court and elected representatives engage in public sparring. All sides agree that there is an existing or imminent water crisis in the county. Surely, a national solution to a national problem can be found.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018

Opinion

Editorial

Debt trap
Updated 30 May, 2024

Debt trap

The task before the government is to boost its tax-to-GDP ratio to the global average by taxing the economy’s untaxed and undertaxed sectors.
Foregone times
30 May, 2024

Foregone times

THE past, as they say, is a foreign country. It seems that the PML-N’s leadership has chosen to live there. Nawaz...
Margalla fires
30 May, 2024

Margalla fires

THE Margalla Hills — the sprawling 12,605-hectare national park — were once again engulfed in flames, with 15...
First steps
Updated 29 May, 2024

First steps

One hopes that this small change will pave the way for bigger things.
Rafah inferno
29 May, 2024

Rafah inferno

THE level of barbarity witnessed in Sunday’s Israeli air strike targeting a refugee camp in Rafah is shocking even...
On a whim
29 May, 2024

On a whim

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s...