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Kalabagh Dam: reconsidering the case

December 09, 2012

THE Lahore High Court order to construct the Kalabagh Dam is to be welcomed, though it should be decided by technical experts. It is a serious matter for Pakistan’s existence and the government should keep politicians away from this issue.

Although a number of apprehensions have been expressed both by upper (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and lower (Sindh) riparian provinces, most of these are based either on disinformation or there have been reservations in the mind of some quarters without any apparent reason.

Pakistan may face a serious water crisis by the year 2025 due to change in climate. According to the UN World Water Development Report, the total actual renewable water resources in Pakistan decreased from 2,961 cubic metres per capita in 2000 to 1,420 cubic metres in 2005.

A more recent study indicates an available supply of water of little more than 1,000 cubic metres per person, which puts Pakistan in the category of a high-stress country.

Using data from the federal government’s planning and development division, the overall water availability has decreased from 1,299 cubic metres per capita in 1996-97 to 1,101 cubic metres in 2004-2005.

In view of growing population, urbanisation and increased industrialisation, the situation is likely to get worse. If the current trends continue, it could go as lows as 550 cubic metres by 2025.

According to Woodrow Wilson Center’s South Asia scholar Anatol Lieven, one of the greatest threats to the future of Pakistan’s stability is water security. Water availability per capita has fallen to less than a third of what it was in the 1950s.

The Kalabagh Dam would provide 6.5 million acre feet of water to cultivate seven million acres of currently barren land.

With its installed capacity of 2,400 MW (ultimate 3,600 MW), it would add to the system a very large chunk of cheap hydropower.

The energy generated would be equivalent to 20 million barrels of oil a year. The dam would reduce the frequency and severity of flooding along the Indus.

The overall direct benefits of the dam would be around Rs25 billion per annum, thus the investment cost of project would be repaid within 10 years.

There is a need to create an awareness among the people across the country that the Kalabagh dam is vital for the country.


Some proposals

THE Provincial Assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have passed resolutions opposing the construction of the Kalabagh Dam. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh are not against the dam per se, but they have serious apprehensions about its present design.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa fears that a high-level dam, with pond level at elevation of 915, would inundate the Nowshera valley while Sindh is against creating storage at Kalabagh due to its fear that Punjab would make unauthorised withdrawals of water and a history of mistrust between them.

The design of the dam is not sacrosanct. It can be and should be modified to an agreeable solution.

A storage reservoir is already being built at Bhasha and its stored water will be shared by the provinces in accordance with the Water Accord.

The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) is in place to oversee the distribution of water. Punjab should, therefore, not insist on a high-level dam to create storage at Kalabagh.

A low-level spillover dam should be built at Kalabagh only to generate electricity and diversion of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa share of water, as this is the only place from where water can be conveyed by gravity flow to irrigate vast tracts of barren lands of D.I. Khan.

With the top level of the dam at 850, it would be possible to generate more than 2,000 MW of electricity and to divert KP’s share of water to irrigate 600,000 acres in D.I. Khan. It will be a run-of-the-river dam, which will always remain full as there will be no withdrawals from the storage at Kalabagh.

I hope the above proposals will be acceptable to all provinces, and the CCI would be able to resolve the issue.


Article 155 (6)

IT is not known whether attention of the Lahore High Court was drawn or not, inter alia, to Article 155 (6) of the Constitution which specifically/apparently prohibits the court’s intervention in water-related matters or complaints dealt, or to be dealt with, by the CCI.

In my opinion, the Kalabagh Dam is a water-related matter. I wish any constitutional expert dilated on the issue, including Article 155 (6) of the Constitution, in the public interest.