The Satpara Dam, a joint collaboration of the government and the United States Agency for International Development, was completed in 2011. It aimed to cater to the electricity needs of the local population as well as fulfil drinking and irrigation needs. However, it was unable to do so.

One of the project’s most significant aspects was the water diversion from the Shatung Nala to the Satpara dam but due to the environmental hazards this diversion could have caused, it was not completed.

Ultimately, this led to a severe water crisis in the region of Skardu in the early summer of this year, as there was no constant supply of water. This had a devastating effect on not only the general populace but also on the natural vegetation and the environment.

It resulted in thousands of trees and acres of crop being severely damaged, with several species of birds migrating and fish ponds drying up. Residents were not even able to meet their basic water needs as drinking taps were empty and most of the springs became dormant.

Through a community funding initiative, stakeholders were brought together to address severe water scarcity in the region

There are several reasons for this sorry state of affairs. Rapidly increasing population and severe effects of climate change — less snowfall and rapidly increasing temperatures — contributed to it. An increase in tourism, which resulted in more hotels, guesthouses, and service stations emerging in the area, contributed to it. But most importantly, there is a lack of planning and appropriate water infrastructure to ensure efficient water management.

While the government is taking various initiatives to resolve the problem of the water crisis in the long run, a short-term solution of a few years to this crisis has been proposed in the form of the Phia Lung project by the local community.

The project aims to divert water from Phia Lung to Satpara Dam and the people of Skardu. This will ensure an increased water capacity in the Satpara Nala, with water levels rising to 250-300 cusecs in early summers and up to 70 cusecs in winters.

One of the most interesting aspects of this proposed project is that the local population itself is leading it. The overall management is being led by Imam Masjid, local scholars, and the residents of the local villages under extreme threat from this crisis.

The management consists of a general body (two to four members from each village) and committees that specifically deal with mobilisation, finance and audit, media and communications, and project implementation.

The expected cost for the project is Rs1.27 billion, of which Rs400m is to be raised directly from the affected households, which has ensured the timely launch of this project.

There are an estimated 20,000 households in the affected villages, and each household is expected to contribute Rs20,000 towards the project’s execution. Although each affected household was to pay Rs20,000, some families paid more than others, depending on their income levels. This exercise of fundraising created a sense of belonging within the community.

There are about 20,000 affected households and each is expected to contribute Rs20,000 towards the project’s execution

Civilian and military officials, elected representatives, non-governmental organisations, and all religious sects have been approached and taken aboard. There is a consensus among stakeholders: the local community, policymakers, religious scholars, and government officials. The design report and geological survey have been completed, and the construction has begun.

Completing this project will provide drinking water for approximately 250,000 citizens and irrigation of 15,000 acres of agricultural land. Moreover, the water will fill the Satpara dam throughout the year. It will lead to electricity production for Skardu City, resulting in a positive uptick in the local economy and job creation.

Lastly, as the drivers of this project belong to several different segments of society, its completion will ensure harmony and peace within the community.

This project is interesting to study because of the way it has been financed. Instead of making the water crisis a controversial matter, the drivers of this project made it a community initiative involving affected households, getting stakeholders together, and resolving the dispute by promoting a positive practice in the region of Skardu.

Dr Faiza Ismail is a faculty member at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and Muhammad Hayat Lak is president of Lums Law and Politics Society

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 4th, 2023

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