Bhasha Dam & hydropower: Epitome of our progress

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Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

HYDROPOWER is the harbinger of hydro-econom
ics of a nation. On 15 July, Pakistan’s Prime Minis
ter Imran Khan initiated the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam (DBD), one of the country’s largest dams to meet water and electricity needs. Water resources can be used for irrigation purpose and also be utilized to produce electricity in the form of hydropower. The Dam is Pakistan’s third big dam to be built after Tarbela and Mangla dams. It is a multi-purpose dam that will be used for water storage, flood control, divert water for irrigation and power generation. This initiative — the pivot of our national development is rightly taken by our civil-military leadership — which has been delayed for the last many decades. “Diamer Bhasha Dam will be the biggest dam in Pakistan’s history,” PM Imran Khan announced at the launch ceremony in Chilas, adding that the dam will benefit the country both economically and environmentally especially the people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). On May 13, Pakistan signed a deal worth Rs442 billion (US$2.6 billion) with the Chinese state-owned firm China Power to build the DBD on River Indus near Chilas in Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Pakistan is a water-rich country but, unfortunately, Pakistan’s energy market investment in hydropower generation has been caught up in confusion and paradoxes for more than a decade, and no significant progress has been achieved so far. On the other hand, the Government is trying to facilitate private investors to promote hydel power generation in the country. Pakistan is endowed with a hydel potential of approximately 41722 MW, most of which lies in the North-West Frontier Province, Northern Areas, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. Electric power is a stimulator for the socio-economic uplift of the country. The burning of fossil fuels for the production of electricity releases a vast amount of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere which is lethal to human civilization.
Though Pakistan remains deficient in oil and gas, it has the rich potential of hydropower, coal, wind and solar energy resources. Today, Pakistan has a hydropower potential of about 60,000 MW but only 11% of it is utilized for the production of electricity and the remaining potential is still untapped. According to the data analyzed in this paper, the share of hydropower can become more than 40% and indigenous energy resources as a whole can contribute up to 80.7% in the supply mix for electricity production in Pakistan by the year 2030. At the same time, the share of oil and gas, which is currently more than 64% can be reduced to 11.8% per cent, which is favourable for the sustainable development of the country.
Notably, a number of promising potential hydel sites have, so far, been identified in the Northern Areas but, due to the absence of high power transmission lines, these sites have not been developed as yet. On account of difficult mountainous terrain and the absence of high power transmission line system, the Northern Areas are not connected to the national grid, and the private investors have undertaken no projects. Because of the existing gap between supply and demand of electric power, Pakistan is daily facing 10–12?hour blackout in urban areas and 14–20?hour in rural areas. In 2012, the difference between demand and generation was 8500?MW. Approximately 0.7–0.8 million consumers are connected to a national grid that almost takes 1000?MW energy from the system. Since there is a 7.8% growth rate in electricity demand, this has increased the shortfall to 10,844?MW in 2020.
And undeniably, the exports of Pakistan are severely affected due to under-production in industries because of shortfall of electricity. This shortfall is currently fulfilled by the import of crude oil. It currently costs 1.4 billion US dollars, which is much higher than that in 1996 (0.53 billion US dollars). Pakistan spends approximately 20% of its foreign exchange reserves on the import of oil and almost 14.5 billion US dollars for other conventional energy resources, which is 40% of the total imports of the country. Arguably, if Pakistan is to develop economically and raise living standards, 50,000 MW should be added in the next 15 years. That is why the construction of Bhasha, Dasu and Bunji (16,000MW) on a fast track is imperative together with Munda and Akhori or consideration of Katzarah dam. Although the installation cost of hydel plants is higher than the thermal power plants due to heavy structural and civil work. It is usually US$2 million per MW. If the government decided to install 1,500 MW hydel projects per year; approximately Rs330 billion will be required to invest every year. Out of which 80% can be taken as a loan from the financial institutes. The cost of electricity produced by these plants is approximately Rs8 per unit (including the cost of a loan and its repayment) cheaper as compared to thermal power plants. The annual energy supplied by a 1,500 MW hydel plant would be 6,570 million electricity units.
This indicates an annual saving of Rs 52 billion. The total amount of investment on the DBD can be recovered in less than seven years and the life of the DBD is proximately fifty years. In addition to this, it will also save the foreign exchange required to purchase fuel and also very much environmental friendly. The reservoir with 272-metre height will be the tallest roller compact concrete (RCC) dam in the world. It will have a spillway with 14 gates and five outlets for flushing out silt. The diversion system involves two tunnels and a diversion canal. It will also include the construction of powerhouses. New Delhi’s concern and apprehension vis-à-vis the construction of the DBD are based on antagonism and prejudicial intent and therefore hold no ground. Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Pakistan and New Delhi holds no locus standi in any matter relating to the region. And above all, India-occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJK) is a disputed territory (as per the UNSC Resolutions) and not an integral part of India, per se. The BJP’s claiming this disputed territory as Indian union territory (via unilaterally revoking Articles 370/35-A) is unlawful and unjustifiable under international law.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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