The Kalabagh Dam tragedy
THE highly divisive issue of the Kalabagh Dam resurfaces as predictions of acute water shortages in Pakistan are made.
Sindh and KP provinces continue to cite their reasons for disagreeing to build the Kalabagh Dam.
Post independence along with the division of territory, there was also a division of resources, military forces, industries and water bodies including rivers.
The water had to be divided between both states equally, but India was against such division from the outset and so was the beginning of the Kalabagh Dam issue.
Then the World Bank had proposed the construction of Mangla and Tarbela dams.
The funds for the construction of these dams were provided by the World Bank and thus constructed.
The Munda Dam, Kurram Tangi Dam, Akhori Dam and the Kalabagh Dam were to be built by 2025 to meet the electricity and rising water demands.
Kalabagh is an area near Mianwali and the geographical conditions of this specific area are conducive for construction of a dam.
The location of the Kalabagh Dam is such that there are mountains on three sides, and so only a wall has to be constructed on the fourth side to make a dam.
This means that the construction would cost far less than other dams. It is important to note that the Kalabagh Dam was initially proposed to store excess water from floods.
As time passed, the energy and water crisis in Pakistan increased and the motivations for constructing the dam changed.
From the dam being constructed only to deter flooding, it became a hydro-power project for the production of electricity and a way to overcome the growing water shortage in the region.
Despite the advantages of the Kalabagh Dam, our rulers proceeded with the construction of the Tarbela Dam since the cost of its construction was to be borne by the World Bank.
After Tarbela was completed, Kalabagh Dam became the most important project in the pipeline.
It was not favoured by the politicians of Sindh and KP due to various political reasons.
The politicians of KP protested against the Kalabagh dam because they staunchly believed that if the dam was constructed, the city of Nowshera would drown.
The logic was that since the water level of Nowshera is only a little over the Indus river, the construction of the dam may cause the water level of the river to rise and flood Nowshera.
People believed that Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi would also drown, but experts, especially the former Chairman of WAPDA and Interim Chief Minister of KP, Shams-ul-Mulk have strongly refuted all these rumours.
These widespread rumours led to increasing politicization and hence the PTI leadership expressly stated that it would not construct the dam till all the provinces agreed to the construction.
The claims made by the politicians of KP were addressed by the experts and a detailed analysis was provided.
Nowshera is above the level of Kalabagh Dam.The distance between the dam and Nowshera is 110 kms. The water can’t flood Nowshera.
The Indus supplies water to the coastal regions via the Kotri Barrage. The dam could lead to the disruption of water from the Indus, cause water shortage and may cause desertification in the region.
There is no other water body near Sindh except the sea, and seawater cannot be utilized for domestic or agricultural purposes.
Sindhi politicians believe that Sindh’s share of Indus water may be affected and that the water from the dam will majorly be used for KP or Punjab.
MQM’s leadership strongly condemned the decision of constructing the Kalabagh Dam and termed it as “Anti-Sindh Dam”.
The sea intrusion has led to the decreased production of crops, fish and forestry.This is primarily because Sindh has not allowed the construction of any dams.
If the dam is approved, the issue of sea intrusion and maintaining flow can be resolved. The Kalabagh Dam would not solve the issue of encroachment completely, but it would bring it down to a certain extent.
The Kalabagh Dam would guarantee cheap and sufficient electricity, minimizing the dependence on fossil fuels such as coal for producing electricity.
Thermal power is an expensive option — a whopping Rs.16 per unit — and so the electricity produced by the Kalabagh Dam would be much cheaper, at a mere Rs 3 per unit.
The Kalabagh Dam would generate 3600 MW of energy which would be a significant addition to the country’s power production as it could potentially reduce the havoc caused by floods; there may be a reduced need for imports.
Pakistan may no longer need to purchase oil from abroad to fulfil the demand for power supply.
The Punjab province has supported the construction of the Kalabagh Dam. Ignoring the national interest the politicians have not approved it as they require the consensus of all provinces.
The PML-N government did outline the benefits of the dam and tried to clear the reservations of the concerned provinces.
They also proposed that the area of the dam be given to KP as it would fulfil their water needs and have a positive impact on their economy.
It is an unfortunate reality that the provinces have failed to reach a consensus on the construction of the Kalabagh Dam despite the benefits that are associated with it.
A viable solution is needed urgently to address the water and energy shortages in Pakistan. The dam would help reduce the damage from the floods, generate cheap electricity and help provide water to areas previously deprived.
The political elite and the feudal lords do not want to disrupt the status quo. They are politicising the issue around the Kalabagh Dam and ignoring the greater good of the country and the nation.
The benefits outweigh the complications and the Shehbaz Sharif government should ensure that the construction of Kalabagh Dam begins without further delay. Will Shehbaz Sharif address the Kalabagh Dam tragedy?
—The writer is editor, book ambassador political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.