ISLAMABAD, Jan 17: President Gen Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday announced that the construction of Bhasha dam would start next month to be followed by four others, including the Kalabagh dam, by 2016.

“This is time for decision. This is time for action. We cannot delay any more to build big water reservoirs,” he said in an address to the nation over radio and television.

Gen Musharraf said being the president of the country and representing the entire nation he would avoid taking decisions without consensus.

It is against this backdrop, he declared, that Munda, Kalabagh, Akori and Kurrum Tangi dams would be built after the Bhasha dam with a view to removing the growing shortage of water and power in the country.

He advocated immediate construction of Kalabagh dam as its feasibility study and structural design were ready, but assured that “since there are doubts and apprehensions about Kalabagh in Sindh and to some extent in NWFP, it is not immediately being undertaken”.

Yet, the president said, he would continue trying to convince the people of Sindh and NWFP about the need for the Kalabagh dam and asked them “not to play in the hands of vested interest”.

“Kalabagh is extremely necessary for farmers and the people of Sindh and if they continue to oppose it, eventually their lands will go dry creating a huge problem for the country,” he stressed.

He said the government cannot keep quiet over the wastage of 35-40 per cent of water every year and added that there would be fair distribution of water among provinces.

“The construction of new dams is the most important issue today to sustain roughly 7 per cent GDP growth annually,” he said, adding that there was an urgent need of area intensification to improve the agricultural output, especially in Sindh.

The president was of the view that if there was no proper management of the available water during Kharif and Rabi crops, things would worsen. New dams, he said, were necessary for both agriculture and obtaining the required electricity.

“Once the country got increased hydropower, it will help people purchase electricity on nominal charges compared to expensive thermal power.”

He quoted a World Bank report which says Pakistan’s water resources are rapidly running dry and the country needs large dams, particularly the Kalabagh dam. According to the report, every new dam will substantially add to the country’s GDP and that Pakistan must look into the issue seriously.

“But unfortunately the most vehement opposition to Kalabagh comes from Sindh which is on the low riparian,” he pointed out.

Pakistan, he said, needed to effectively utilize the water of Jhelum, Chenab and Indus rivers and added that over 33 million acres of land was cultivable which required huge amount of water that would only come through major dams.

He cited examples of China, India, Iran and Turkey where a number of new dams were being built. He warned that the existing water shortage of 9 million acre feet (MAF) would reach 25MAF if new dams were not undertaken.

“The projected shortage of water in 2020 will be 20MAF and that is why we need to have minimum two big dams by 2030,” he emphasized.

“It is the question of life and death, especially for Sindh. Therefore, I appeal to you not to listen to those who are against the building of big dams,” he asked the people of Sindh.

All the three committees working on the issue –- parliamentary committee headed by Nisar Memon, technical committee led by A.N.G Abbasi and the foreign consultant group — have concluded that the construction of Kalabagh, Bhasha and other big dams is highly important for the country. These committees also called for adequately implementing the 1991 Water Accord.

The president rejected notions that Sindh would go dry and damage would be caused to the districts of Mardan, Nowshera, Swabi, etc., if the Kalabagh dam was built.

He said the people of Badin and Thatta were weeping because of the acute water shortage. “And those who oppose Kalabagh are distorting facts; they are not the friends of Sindhis,” he said and added that the required amount of water would go downstream Kotri and that about 10,000mw of additional electricity would be available after the construction of the dam.

Currently, the president said, 83 per cent and 17 per cent water was available for Kharif and Rabi crops, respectively. After the construction of Kalabagh, the two crops would get 60 per cent and 40 per cent water, respectively.

He said sea intrusion would stop and tail-end growers would get increased quantity of water in Sindh after the Kalabagh dam and this would also help release additional water to the Chutiari dam.

Gen Musharraf said that no big dam could be built on Jhelum river as it already had Mangla dam on it. Chenab was not fit for any dam owing to less water availability, he said, adding that the only option left was to construct a dam on Indus and this requirement could be fulfilled by Kalabagh dam.

Bhasha dam, he said, would get water from glaciers at Chilas. Katzara dam at Skardu would also receive water from glaciers, while Kalabagh dam would get water by monsoon rains and that too in big quantity.

“Therefore, this is the most suitable dam and I would certainly succeed in convincing my Sindhi brothers on it,” he asserted.

“I will not allow Sindhis to face destruction by not having a dam like the Kalabagh. I am a Sindhi myself and I would never go against my province.”

“Had Punjab been against Sindh, it would not have given additional 6,000 cusecs of water to Sindh,” President Musharraf said.

He said the height of the Kalabagh dam would be 915 feet while Nowshera and Swabi were situated at a height of 940 feet. As such fears of having water-logging and inundation in those areas had no foundation, he added.

CABINET: Earlier, the cabinet decided that work on Bhasha and Munda dams would be started next month. It resolved that reservations on Kalabagh dam would continue to be addressed until a ‘viable decision’ was reached on it.

“Work on Bhasha and Munda dams will start in the first or second week of February,” said Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed while briefing reporters about the meeting which was held with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in the chair. Presiding over the meeting, the prime minister said that the need for water reservoirs was paramount for the country’s economy and agriculture.

Every province, he claimed, would get its due share of water.

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