The recent political crisis in Balochistan, besides showing weak links in the system, has exposed, once again, the deprivation of socioeconomic advancement and overall negligence the large province has suffered since long. Indeed, the political incompetence of provincial government, and insensitive attitude of the federal government, has caused failure to address various critical issues, while corruption and poor governance has marred the progress of development projects.
Water scarcity in Balochistan, which is situated in arid zone, has assumed alarming proportions in recent years. Agriculture is the mainstay of its economy. The province mostly depends on annual rainfalls and underground water resources to meet its agriculture and water supply requirements. Most of the existing dams have lost their actual capacity of storing water, and, at the same time, groundwater tables have sharply depleted. To overcome water shortage, the government had embarked upon a comprehensive program of harnessing flood flows through construction of one-hundred small dams, check- or delay-action type, and the first phase consisting of 20 small dams was launched in June 2009.
These delay-action dams included Spezandai Dam (District Ziarat), Surghund Dam (District Loralai), Tor Kan Dam (District Killa Saifullah), Bund Dam (District Musakhail), Darmin Dam (District Chaghi), Bostan Dam (District Pishin), Arambai Dam (District Killa Abdullah), Barak Dam (District Quetta), Kumbri Dam (District Bolan), Uthandaro Dam (District Lasbela), Sasool Dam (District Khuzdar), Sur-e-Aab Dam (District Panjgur), Jodair Dam (District Awaran), Taigh Dam (District Khuzdar), Chapchal Dam (District Kalat), Chiltan Dam, (Katori, District Mastung), Kashi Dam (District Khuzdar), Makola Dam (District Gwadar), Darwar Dam (District Kech) and Miskin Dam (District Gwadar). Ironically, not all of these 20 small dams have yet been completed, and progress on construction work on the next phase of remaining 80 dams remains slow and uncertain.
Developing small and medium dams had never been priority of the successive governments. The province has potential of developing 12.2 million acre-feet (MAF) water storage capacity, while only 3 MAF is being utilized currently. It is projected that another 750 small and medium dams are required to meet water requirements of growing local and regional population. Consequently, Balochistan is facing high water deficit, particularly since 2010, as new small dams and multipurpose small dams could not come on stream as scheduled. The federal government had also approved in April 2008 construction of five medium and small multipurpose dams throughout the province to be undertaken on a fast-track basis. Shockingly, none of these projects could take-off as yet. Long delays in projects implementation have also resulted in cost overruns. These are Winder Dam in District Lasbela, Hingol Dam in District Lasbela, Naulong Dam in District Jhal Magsi, Pelar Dam in District Awaran and Garuk Dam in District Kharan.
President Asif Zardari had performed the groundbreaking ceremony of Winder Dam in January 2010 with lot of fanfare, which was to be completed by June 2013. Eight years having passed, there is no physical progress on the construction of dam. Original cost (without any foreign exchange element) of earth-core rock-fill Winder Dam was Rs806 million, which was revised to Rs1,696 million in 2009, and has now escalated to Rs12,904 million—more than fifteen times, without change in its size and parameters. Its gross reservoir capacity is 36,484 acre-feet (AF) and cultivable command area of 20,000 acres. Tendering process was cancelled after issuance of Letter of Acceptance to contractor in February 2010 and since then there has been no progress. An allocation of paltry Rs5 million was made under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) in 2016-17, but the amount was not released to the executing agency.
The other dam projects have also met the same fate, due to lack of political will and non-availability of required funds. The earth and rock-fill type Hingol Dam of gross reservoir capacity 1,400,000 AF and cultivable command area of 120,000 acres is still at the engineering design stage and no physical work has been initiated. Project cost has already increased from Rs273 million to Rs31,100 million. Pelar Dam is concrete gravity type, to have gross reservoir storage capacity 99,175 AF and cultivable command area 25,650 acres. Tender for construction was invited in October 2009, but work has not yet commenced. There has been no PSDP allocation of funds for the project. Cost has escalated from Rs1,692 million to Rs10,092 million. Likewise, project cost of Garuk Dam, earth core rock-fill type, has been revised from Rs1,790 million to Rs6,850 million, without commencement of work. Garuk Dam will have gross reservoir storage capacity 50,695 AF and 12,500 acres cultivable command area.
Reportedly, the zoned earth-fill Naulong Dam is now “ready for construction”, and Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been approached in August 2017 to finance the project as allocated funds under PSDP in recent past were diverted to some other project. Its gross reservoir capacity is 242,163 AF and cultivable command area 47,000 acres. The multipurpose project, on completion, will also generate electricity to the level of 4.4 MW. Project cost has increased from Rs11,700 million to Rs18,028 million to Rs21,000 million to the latest Rs26,547 million. Contract for dam construction was awarded in April 2011, without achieving any physical progress so far. Amusingly, Naulong Dam is scheduled for completion by September 2018, whereas an amount of Rs100 million only has been allocated under 2017-18 PSDP.
In the second phase of the plan, construction of another three small and medium multipurpose dams was to be undertaken during 2010-2013. These projects too have not seen the light of day. The planned dams included Sukleji Dam in Bolan, District Jhal Magsi, Bosal Dam in Pasni, District Gwadar and Badinzai Dam in District Zhob, with gross reservoir capacity of 42,000 AF, 50,000 AF and 800,000 AF, respectively, and cultivable command area of 12,000 acres, 9,880 acres and 30,000 acres, respectively.
Balochistan has thus been deprived of socioeconomic development so far through food security, infrastructure, tourism, fisheries, power generation, reduction in poverty and local job opportunities. It is imperative for the new government of Balochistan to take corrective measures immediately to commence and complete the medium and small dam projects in pipeline, and to adopt effective strategy for optimally utilizing, storing and managing Balochistan’s water resources in the shortest possible time.
The writer is former chairman of State Engineering Corporation