Dam-centric approach has emptied Indus, deprived delta of water, says expert

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Dr Hassan Abbas makes a gesture during media talk at the press club on Friday. — Dawn
Dr Hassan Abbas makes a gesture during media talk at the press club on Friday. — Dawn

HYDERABAD: Eminent water expert Dr Hassan Abbas has said Pakistan needs to adopt ‘flowing river model’ as a dammed river was either ill or bad river and regretted that dam-centric approach has emptied the Indus River and deprived its delta of water.

He told journalists at the local press club on Friday that the dam-centric approach was adopted in the name of so-called development that started in 1850 onwards and after partition, Pakistan and India continued with this development model by signing Indus Waters Treaty.

So, he said, Indus was emptied and “now water flows don’t reach delta”. Hardly 1-2 MAF water flowed downstream Kotri Barrage in a year, making the delta lose its value. The river used to bring silt deposits which kept sea intrusion in check and nature created this balance after millions of years, he said.

But in last 150 years, such silt deposits did not reach delta after water projects were built on Indus, allowing sea to devour land by degrees every day. Policymakers did not understand it and let the delta be ruined, he said.

He said that Pakistan faced this situation for lack of hydrological knowledge thus projects built so far proved detrimental to the economy. “Now when we have knowledge we must know how a water project can affect delta,” he said.

He proposed knowledge-based mechanism to see whether certain water project was to benefit or harm the delta. If the proposed project was detrimental to environment, it should be shelved considering huge losses, he said.

Mr Abbas said that in a recent dialogue in Almaty, Kazakhstan, he proposed to Afghan experts to use Kabul River for navigation instead of building dams on it which could undermine Pakistan’s interests. He said that navigation in the river could lessen transportation cost as two inland ports could be established in two cities of Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan should develop Indus and Kabul rivers for navigation to benefit Central Asian states but perhaps his proposal did not go down well with experts of some countries, he said.

He said regarding efforts to build a dam over the Indus, if it was all about enhancing storage capacity, then one must explain what would happen on the 41st day even if storage was increased to 40 days from 30 days. So far there was nothing on record to show what happened on the 31st day of existing storage, he said. He said that no one was talking about the real problem. The water resources of Pakistan were polluted with sewage, pesticides, runoff and fertiliser, which had serious impact on groundwater resources in rural areas where 40 per cent population depended on shallow groundwater.

He said that it was Karachi which faced the most serious water problem although it was the highest income generating city. If water issue was to be resolved, then Karachi’s problem must get preference as it would also resolve the city’s economic issues.

He said that people tend to avoid modern hydrology and water management under which dams’ narrative had been rejected. In USA, 1,500 dams had been dismantled over the past 12 years and they were studying how to get about dismantling the remaining ones.

He said that Pakistan instead was being asked to follow those who did not have any knowledge of water management. Pakistan opposed India over building of dams but failed to sell its narrative on water issue to international community for two reasons. Pakistan based its claim on being the lower riparian to argue that India could not be allowed to build dams upstream but domestically it was promoting construction of dams at the cost of rights of lower riparian, he said.

He said that Pakistan needed to adopt flowing river model of development as a ‘dammed river’ was either ill or bad river. If Pakistan was able to promote this model of development, then it would be able to easily counter Indian narrative over dam because this model was acceptable worldwide, he said.

Mr Abbas said that flood irrigation was an old method and now there was talk of high-efficiency irrigation system with water pricing through metering. Pakistan should introduce a knowledge-based mechanism to evaluate any water project in a transparent manner, he said.

He disagreed with a view that water resources were depleting and believed global warming would lead to variation in weather patterns but there would be more rainfall as per scientific data available.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2018