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November 10, 2018

Breakfast with Jang: Thermal power obsession trapped us in circular debt, says Wapda chairman


November 10, 2018

LAHORE: In order to increase availability of water coupled with producing cheap and abundant electricity, there is a dire need to give priority to augment water storage capacity along with promoting hydropower and other renewables, said Wapda Chairman, Lt-Gen Muzammil Hussain (R) here on Thursday.

He was speaking at a discussion "Pakistan's looming water crisis and its solutions" at latest session of 'Breakfast with Jang'. Sikandar Lodhi and Sadia Sharif hosted the event. Speaking on the occasion, Wapda chairman said that following building of two mega dams in just 12 years Pakistan was on the right track until late 70s and early 80s when our energy mix was dominated by cheap hydropower.

However, later in the last several decades, our obsession with costly thermal power trapped us in ever-increasing circular debt. How can our industrialists compete in the global market with electricity cost of Rs15-20 per unit being produced by Independent Power Producers (IPPs), he posed a question.

Similar is the case of dwindling water availability over the years, he said adding Pakistan can now only store water for 30 days, which is too little if compared with the demand and potential.

The basic reason of our failure has been lack of institution-buildings. We only take decision that suits us,ignoring holistic approach that is vital for benefit of the whole nation. Owing to our persistent failure to build large dams, he said, we have become water scarce country with only 948 cubic meter per capita availability, which is alarming; 80 percent of water flows in Indus Basin in 100 days of summer while rest of 20 percent flows in 265 days of year.

Such a unique hydrology necessitates building of dams on urgent basis. If we have water stored in dams, he observed, we can meet our drinking and irrigation needs as well as catering to the ecological requirements of below-Kotri Barrage in Sindh Province.

Our failure to conserve water led to fast depletion of groundwater resources, he said. With extraction of 50MAF of groundwater every year, we are virtually mining water with minimal recharging. Pakistan can meet water needs of cities like Islamabad, Lahore, Quetta and Karachi from stored water from dams with a view to subside pressure from the groundwater.

Muzammil Hussain was wary of the unbundling of Wapda during Shaukat Aziz era. The priorities for power sector could not be set in right direction in the ensuing period, he said, adding Pakistan has potential to produce 45,000mw hydropower from Indus Cascade projects in the North.

However, we are building and strengthening power grid from South to upcountry. He was optimistic about development of water resources sinceChief Justice of Pakistan and judiciary, civil society and the government were fully supporting construction of dams in the country. The realisation that our country is a water-driven economy has been essential for setting direction of development towards right path, he said, adding food security and economic development could only be achieved through building water storage dams and hydropower projects.

He said that funds were not an issue for the construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam. The present campaign initiated by Chief Justice and the government for donation was good for boosting spirit of nation as well as generating basic funds. However, he said that with an innovative financial model, Wapda is confident of raising required funds from IFIs and construction of Bhasha Dam would be started by mid-2019. Work on Mohmand Dam is also expected to be launched in March 2019, he maintained.

We need to arrange Rs400 billion plus for construction of dam component of Bhasha Dam. Investors could easily be attracted for building the power house and allied structure at later stage, he added. Even if government provides Rs30 billion a year for Bhasha Dam, Wapda can complete construction of dam component with much ease, he observed.

Wapda Chairman said that India was persistently violating the Indus Waters Treaty. In order to counter Indian designs, it is vital for us to build dams on priority. He observed that administrative, legal and financial capabilities of Pakistan's Indus Water Commission are very less. He said that along with construction of dams, we need to give importance to water conservation in order to promote judicious use of this precious asset. He underlined the need of reducing water use in agriculture sector, saying less water-intensive should be cultivated with a view to using every single drop of water optimally.

To a question about construction of Kalabagh Dam, Wapda chairman said that it is a technically feasible project that can store Swat and Kabul Rivers flows along with rainwater, which otherwise could not be efficiently diverted to farmland. However, he observed, as we lack national consensus on this important project, work on Kalabagh Dam could not be initiated.

Earlier, speaking on the occasion, Sadia Sharif said that Pakistan should declare water emergency to cope with anticipating scarcity of water by 2025. It is believed that water paucity is bigger threat to our country than the menace of terrorism, she said adding there is an urgent need to increase storage capacity of water through building multiple dams.

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