Dams vs disasters
It is estimated that Pakistan will start facing water scarcity within the next five years, and a large number of deaths due to food shortage caused by non-availability of water will become a norm within a decade.
By 2025, the country will face tens of thousands of deaths annually due to food shortage caused by country-wide failure to grow crops, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan. This could lead to a nuclear war between India and Pakistan – because of India diverting Pakistan’s water flow by constructing dams – resulting in millions of deaths on both sides of the border. Time is running out, and Pakistan must act now.
The single most important resource available to Pakistan, after its human resource, is water. With about 150 million acre-foot (MAF) of surface water, and about 24 MAF of underground water, Pakistan can convert itself into the largest granary of the world with judicious storage and use of water resources. India has about 750MAF water available annually, of which it is able to store about 287MAF in dams. This is about 30 percent storage capacity, but India is rapidly constructing new dams to increase this capacity to 50 percent. However, Pakistan has only 7 percent storage capacity owing to its myopic and corrupt leadership that has focused on oil or, more recently, LNG as the main source of producing energy.
In fact, we have gone backwards in the last 30 years because of the failure of our governance system, which brought in leadership that was only interested in massive loot and plunder. This is illustrated by the astonishing and depressing fact that in 1984, 59.5 percent of our energy needs were met from hydroelectric power, but this decreased to 45 percent by 1990. It now stands reduced to 29 percent. This backward journey in the energy-sector was due to mega corruption by successive governments, with ministers and prime ministers receiving massive kickbacks. This suicidal national journey was promoted through liberal availability of loans through the World Bank and other lending agencies. The impact of this on our economy has been disastrous.
The high cost of production due to high rates of electricity generated from oil has resulted in the closure of tens of thousands of industries across the country. Our exports have stagnated to a lowly $21 billion as compared to $330 billion of tiny Singapore. Simultaneously, the loan burden has risen from $37 billion in 2008 to $92 billion, forcing us to a position where foreign powers will now start to exert pressures on us to surrender our nuclear assets before being bailed out. This is not the democracy envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but a ‘feudo-cracy’.
The madness that has prevailed is illustrated by the fact that we have spent Rs270 billion on a 27km long transportation scheme called the Orange Line, while the total annual development budget for science and technology is Rs2.6 billion. If this is not akin to committing national suicide through myopic national policies then what is?
There are forces at work to make the Kalabagh Dam project controversial and prevent it from being constructed as it could make Pakistan a powerful agricultural power. The cheap electricity produced through it would also jump start the country’s dying industry and enable establishment of industrial clusters all along the CPEC route. Those against the dam include powerful independent power producers (IPPs) which want to keep oil and LNG as the main sources of power.
As a result of the 7th NFC Award and the 18th Amendment, about Rs2.5 trillion has been transferred additionally to the provinces during the last eight years. This money could have been easily used by the federal government to build the Kalabagh Dam. This would have benefited all the provinces, particularly Sindh and Balochistan, transforming the provinces’ barren soils into fertile fields producing millions of tons of grains, vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately, suspicions against Punjab, fanned by vested interests or technically incompetent politicians, have prevented this from happening.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan could impose simple solutions: (1) the land on which the Kalabagh Dam will be built will no longer be a part of Punjab but be legally owned by all the four provinces; (2) the control over flow of water would be vested with all the four provinces and not with Punjab alone; and (3) not more than 30 percent of water or electricity from the dam will go to Punjab for the next 50 years, till a new formula is reached by mutual agreement.
It is notable that the Indian Supreme Court intervened to resolve a 200 years long bloody dispute over the allocation of water to several states. The top court finally ended a centuries-long dispute over the allocation of water from the river Cauvery to the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, along with the union territory of Puducherry in South India. The Indian Supreme Court decided that Karnataka would receive 284.75 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water from the river each month for the next 15 years – 14.75 TMC more than its previous quota. However, Tamil Nadu would get 177.25 TMC, lower than what it used to receive
According to a research study on Pakistan’s water resources, water worth about $70 billion is being thrown into the sea every year due to non-construction of water reservoirs. The rapid depletion of ground water may soon worsen the water crisis in Pakistan’s major cities, causing a drought-like situation, leading to famine and large-scale riots. Our storage capacity is now only for 30 days, and Pakistan has the fourth highest rate of water-use in the world.
In addition to the construction of the Kalabagh Dam, we must complete the Bhasha Dam and construct hundreds of smaller dams all along our rivers. A clear water policy is needed along with a government that is determined to implement it. Where are the resources to build these dams? The cost of construction and waterways should be deducted from the funds being passed on to the provinces under the 7th NFC Award, and the 18th Amendment for after all it is the provinces that will benefit from these dams.
The construction of the Kalabagh Dam has now become an issue of national survival. The SC should form a commission comprising key provincial representatives and subject experts. We must build these dams with a sense of urgency, or suffer a famine.
The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OICCountries (NASIC).