LAHORE: A report presented by the Punjab government to Prime Minister Imran khan during a briefing in Islamabad a couple of days ago warns of an Indian dam project, claiming the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project is the only way to mitigate the looming droughts and the potential threat to the already depleting groundwater of Lahore and the surrounding areas.
In the the briefing, the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) Chief Executive Officer Imran Ali informed the premier that the Ravi project would transform of the river into a perennial fresh water body having enough capacity to pass extreme floods and save the provincial metropolitan facing an “existentialist threat”.
The officials while discussing the factors necessitating the Ravi project, said the construction of MR Link Canal served as a “bypass” for Lahore.
It says that in the wake of Indian Basin Treaty, India increased its water diversion capacity on its (then) existing infrastructure, reducing the flows to Pakistan. The loss of groundwater in Lahore its surrounding was compensated through MR Link Canal to help replenish the aquifer and allowing the fishery to survive. This arrangement worked well till year 2000, but a significant drop in the Ravi River flow has been observed since completion of Thein Dam in India, in 2001.
Since then, the flow in Ravi River near Lahore has been limited to less than 20 percent of what it was before 2000. Currently, every winter season, when MR Link Canal is closed, the river flow gets reduced to less than 300 cusecs, which is even less than the design capacity of Lahore canal’s 400 cusecs.
“But, the biggest shock to the Ravi River and Lahore is yet to unveil. India is constructing another dam downstream Thein Dam, named ‘Shahpur Kandi Dam’. The dam’s purpose is to store and divert any and all waters for which Thein Dam falls short. Moreover, the ‘Shahpur Kandi Dam’ is set to become functional by Nov 2022. And we can only imagine the drought [like] state of the river after that,” reads the report.
“While we [in Pakistan] are still busy evolving consensus on our water related projects and replying to courts, the trans-boundary side [India] is making actual progress. Adhering to the words of Indian prime minister, they are making actual progress to make Pakistan suffer for every drop of water,” the report mentions.
It warns that given the situation, the river, which is a major contributor to groundwater recharge, is inching towards an “existential crisis” for Lahore. After the drastic gradual decrease in the river flows, the report says, there is a net shortage of almost 600 million cubic meters of groundwater recharge per year, ultimately resulting in 1.2 meters per year average decline in groundwater levels. If drastic measures are not taken, Lahore may face a Cape Town (South Africa)- like situation where people have to stand in long queues to get a few gallons of potable water.
“Indian dams are not just causing droughts but also posing a constant potential threat of floods. The huge catchment area of Ravi River receives plenty of rainfall during monsoon. Any sudden release from the dam or failure of dam body itself can cause a flood of a huge magnitude. The result would be a catastrophic loss of properties and lives in and around Lahore,” it warns, recalling the 1988 floods when Shahdara breaching section had to be operated to save Lahore city from flood.
The report mentions that presently there is no mechanism to pass a Ravi water flow having a magnitude like that of 1988 along Lahore. It adds that even if the bottlenecks are removed, a huge vulnerable population chunk comprising roughly 80,000 people, living in the floodplain, either needs protection or relocation.
It mourns the loss of riverside recreations like boating and fishing, once available to the Lahorites, as they have been deprived of such activities because of the diminished flows.
The report promises further addition of barrages on the river and formation of a lake to keep the water body rejuvenated even during the low flow season.
It envisages a safe, “vibrant and eco-friendly river” which would be a source of water life for Lahore. It quotes examples of river channelisation and riverfront locations in other countries, including Germany, UK, Australia, China and even India.
“The project will eliminate the threats to Lahore, reconnecting river and the city, and securing the water for the generations to come,” the report concludes.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2021