Wapda chief eyes dam diversions’ completion in three years

Updated 21 May 2020

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Decision to build Diamer-Bhasha as a ‘roller compact concrete’ structure based on intensive research. — AFP/File
Decision to build Diamer-Bhasha as a ‘roller compact concrete’ structure based on intensive research. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Amid the launch of the construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam, the government on Wednesday said the decision to build it as a ‘roller compact concrete (RCC)’ structure was based on 20-year intensive scrutiny of technical and geological reports and feasibility studies by an international panel of experts.

Speaking at a news conference, Wapda chairman retired Lt Gen Muzammil Hussain said the project was initially among a list of 8-10 major projects identified by a Canadian consultant in the early 1980s and the choice for RCC dam was based on pre-feasibility and feasibility studies of the time.

According to him, the World Bank, which had originally agreed to support the project, appointed an international panel of experts from the US, the UK, Canada, etc, in 1997-98 under a regime of evaluation and approved it be built on RCC technology instead of earthfill or rockfill dam in view of the local topography, rainfalls patterns, etc.

Decision to build Diamer-Bhasha as a ‘roller compact concrete’ structure based on intensive scrutiny of technical, geological reports

In 2002-04, another panel of experts engaged by Wapda/government of Pakistan and led by Australian dam experts also concluded that RCC dam was best suited for Diamer-Bhasha because of expected glacial lake outburst floods in the Indus region and the fear that resultant overtopping flows could damage earthfill and rockfill structures downstream and the RCC was found to be a safe technology.

Moreover, the RCC was also found suitable from economic viability standpoint as this allows low level outlets, spillways and water passages within the main structure. This is not possible for earthfill or rockfill dam for which separate space is required. This was once again confirmed by another panel of experts in 2007-08.

On top of that, Lehmayr of Germany prepared a detailed design of the dam supporting the RCC option, which was again confirmed by a panel of experts. As such, the whole process concluding the RCC dam spanned over a period of 20-25 years.

Not only this, all experts have concluded that all dams on the Indus cascade should be RCC structures, including Bunji, Dasu, Pattan and Thakot.

In reply to a question, the Wapda chairman said the entire Rs480 billion financing for the dam was not required at the outset nor Wapda intended to contract this financing to pay management fee and other charges and hence it would complete financing in a staggered manner.

He said the government had committed Rs30-35bn per year to meet its 30 per cent cost sharing, while Wapda itself had Rs100bn its own equity. He said the total estimated cost of the project was about Rs1.407 trillion of which the dam cost was about Rs480bn. About Rs97bn cost is going to land acquisition and about Rs79bn on confidence building measures to secure support of the local population required to be dislocated and given alternative residence and other facilities like roads, schools and hospitals. He said the cost of power generation facility was estimated at Rs751bn but that would be required at a later stage.

Mr Hussain said the government would meet about 30pc or Rs406bn share of the total project cost, while the remaining Rs997bn or 70pc would be arranged by Wapda through Rs100bn equity, besides commercial financing, Eurobonds, etc.

He said three leading international rating agencies — Fitsch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s — had rated Wapda as a stable entity.

Responding to another question, Mr Hussain said two joint ventures had competed for the dam contract — the China Gezhouba Group and its local partner and Power China and Frontier Works Organisation (FWO). The Power China and FWO won the project through an evaluation committee constituted by the Supreme Court.

Also, an implementation committee constituted again by the Supreme Court and including leading figures like Eng Shamsul Mulk and Sardar Tariq would also oversee the project, besides the normal Wapda institutional oversight through a committee comprising all provincial governments, projects consultants and the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

He said Wapda had ensured fast track mobilisation of contractors and machinery had already reached Chilas. He said the key target was to ensure completion of all diversions in two-three years, followed by construction of dam and power facilities in about five years so that the project could be commissioned by 2028 and to ensure its completion within approved costs.

Responding to a question, the Wapda chairman said India had committed a number of violations of the Indus Waters Treaty on the western rivers and was bent upon usurping Pakistan’s water rights, but those violations had nothing to do with this mega dam.

He said the Diamer-Bhasha dam area was very much part of Pakistan. “We are building the dam within our territory. The objections being raised by India are irrelevant, frivolous and ridiculous,” he added.

He said the project had remained stuck for decades due to various reasons which had been addressed and it would be completed within the stipulated deadline of 2028 to achieve its main purposes of water storage and production of 4,500MW of cheap and affordable electricity for meeting energy requirements of the country.

On the occasion, Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda said the contractors and machinery had reached Chilas city in Gilgit-Baltistan to formally begin construction work on the project that had full support of the armed forces and Strategic Services Division and the government of China without which the project could not have reached this stage.

He said the Diamer-Bhasha dam would change the destiny of the country and no spoiler would be able to jeopardise the project. He said the project was being initiated at a time when nobody was ready to take up such a huge project anywhere in the world.

The project would generate about 16,500 jobs and reinvigorate cement, steel and transport sectors as about 1,000 trucks would daily move on the roads to supply material to the dam site, the minister said.

Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing said it was a historic day for the people and the government of Pakistan to move the project to construction phase after four decades of planning and designing exercise. He said it was a very significant project that would support Pakistan’s economy and greatly contribute to irrigation, environment and energy sectors, besides controlling national disasters.

He said the contractor — Power China — was the most experienced public sector company of this field and had to its credit the construction of Three Gorges Dam.

The 6.4 MAF water storage capacity of the dam will reduce the current water shortage in the country of 12 MAF to 6.1 MAF. It will add 35 years to the life of Tarbela Dam by reducing sedimentation. An area of 1.23 million acres of land will be brought under agriculture due to this dam.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2020