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Pakistan’s untapped power

More dams become necessary as the scarcity of water stems the sustained growth of agriculture and industry

Pakistan’s untapped power

From a water-abundant country at the time of Independence, Pakistan has become a water-scarce country, ranking third amongst the water-scarce countries of the world. Any region where annual supply of water drops below 1700 cubic metres per person qualifies to be labelled as water-stressed while a level below 1000 cubic metres per person in an area is rated as water-scarce area.

In 1947, Pakistan possessed 5,600 cubic meters of water per person, which reduced to 5,260 cubic metres in 1951, 1200 cubic metres in 2007, 1100 cubic meters in 2009, 1000 cubic metres in 2010, and went down to 908 cubic metres per head in 2017. It was projected to touch down to 800 cubic metres by 2025 if new water reservoirs were not constructed in the country.

Pakistan’s thirst for water, a vital resource for people’s health, livelihood and economic development, has been constantly rising due to galloping rise in population, increase in industrial activity, over-exploitation, climate change, failure to augment water resources and lukewarm cooperation of India, with which Pakistan shares Indus river basin.

In addition to energy, the scarcity of water has remained as one of the main impediments to the sustained growth of Pakistan’s agriculture and industry. But, unfortunately, some quarters in the country spare no effort in making even technically feasible mega-water conservation projects controversial on one count or the other.

Taking advantage of political wrangling in Pakistan, India remains continuously engaged in efforts to build scores of hydropower projects on rivers flowing into Pakistan despite her assurances, under the Indus Basin Treaty, not to interfere with the Pakistani rivers. India’s tacit role in making economically feasible hydropower projects in Pakistan controversial cannot be ruled out. Meanwhile, the storage capacity of mega water reservoirs constructed in Pakistan after Independence has reduced by 27 per cent due to sedimentation.

Faced with such an alarming situation, the country needs to construct more water reservoirs, on an urgent basis, to enhance its water storage capacity and also the per capita availability of water. However, for one reason or the other the country could not build mega water reservoirs, during the last 14½ years, with the exception of Golen Gol Dam, Tarbela Dam 4th Extension and Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project. The latter four projects would irrigate 72,000 acres of virgin land in Dera Bugti (Balochistan) and have added 2,487 MW of hydel electricity to the national grid. Some ready for construction projects include: 1410 MW Tarbela 5th Extension, 2160 MW Stage-II of Dasu Dam, 7100 MW Bunji and Stage-II of multipurpose Kurram Tangi Dam.

Taking notice of the grim situation, Pakistan’s Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar highlighted the need for proceeding with the construction of non-controversial mega dams immediately. To raise funds and pave way for the construction of two dams (Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand), the CJP opened a bank account, urging the nation to donate liberally for the construction of these dams. The nation responded warmly to the CJP’s call for donations for constructing Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams.


Mohmand Dam

Construction of 700 feet high concrete-faced rockfill Mohmand (Previously called Munda) Hydropower Project is proposed at Swat River about five kilometres upstream Munda Headworks in Mohmand (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). This dam will have a gross storage capacity of 1.293 MAF, live storage capacity of 0.676 MAF and power generation capacity of 800 MW. It is estimated to be completed at a cost of 937.960 million rupees.


Diamer-Bhasha Dam

Situated near “Bhasha” in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Diamer District, Diamer-Bhasha Dam is a gravity dam, which is in the preliminary stages of construction, on the River Indus. Upon completion, this dam is projected to produce 4,500MW of electricity through environmentally clean hydropower generation; extend the life of Tarbela Dam by 35 years; and control flood damage by the River Indus. It will have 272 metres high spillway with fourteen gates, each 11.5mx16.24m in size. The gross water storage capacity of its reservoir will be 8.1 MAF (10.0 km), with a live storage of 6.4 MAF (7.9 km). Two underground power houses are proposed to be built, one on each side of the main dam, having six turbines on each side with total installed capacity of 4500 MW. The project is likely to cost US$ 14 billion.

The initial feasibility study of Diamer Bhasha Dam was conducted in 1984 by Montreal Engineering Co of Canada. In the year 2002, the government appointed NEAC Consultants, a consortium of Pakistani and British companies, for undertaking a detailed project study. The consultants completed their final report in August 2004, confirming techno-economic feasibility of the project. They also carried out engineering design and prepared project tender documents. However, all subsequent governments ended without achieving much breakthrough in the construction of this mega project. Better late than never, the construction work of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dam is proposed to commence during the current fiscal (2018-19) year.

Historically speaking, under the Indus Basin Treaty, the World Bank had agreed to finance the construction of two dams – Mangla and Kalabagh – to compensate Pakistan for the loss of waters of its eastern rivers. Pakistan completed Mangla dam in 1967, but Kalabagh dam became controversial due to inability of the successive governments to create awakening about the spin-off benefits of this dam and creating support for it. Unfortunately, over the years the stand of the smaller provinces on this issue has become more rigid notwithstanding the fact that since water is crucial for human sustenance and also for industrial growth and economic prosperity, all hydropower projects need to be taken-up purely on technical grounds.

Even the UN environmental agency (UNEP)’s warning about a looming water crisis in South Asia did not create consensus about building mega water reservoirs of crucial importance, like Kalabagh dam.

The Indus Basin Treaty was signed in December 1960, after the World Bank’s intervention, following rising tensions between India and Pakistan after New Delhi stemmed the flow of Indus tributaries to Pakistan on April 1, 1948. Under the Indus Water Treaty, India has rights to waters of rivers Sutlej, Ravi and Beas (Eastern rivers) while Pakistan to the waters of rivers Indus, Chenab and Jhelum (Western rivers) as a lower riparian. Pakistan had accepted the treaty at the stake of its very survival and assurances from India that it would not interfere with the waters of Western rivers, but India never honoured its promises and started tempering with Pakistani rivers at a massive scale.

It goes without saying that the availability of fresh water is essential for mankind’s sustenance, progress and prosperity. But, this vital and life-sustaining resource is becoming a scarce commodity, raising apprehensions of friction, tension and conflict amongst communities inhabiting the globe. Although earth’s surface is largely covered with water, only 3 per cent is freshwater, which is available to the global community for meeting its entire needs — household, industrial, irrigation for food production, etc.

The available freshwater supply is also under stress due to the drying-up of river basins, burgeoning human population, increased urbanisation, climatic change and detrimental policy choices. While Pakistan has been able to utilise only 13 per cent of its hydel resources during the last seven decades, some countries make optimum use of these resources. For example, US has developed 497 per cent storage capacity of the annual flow of river Colorado, Egypt 281 per cent on river Nile and India over 35 per cent on Sutlej and Bias Basin. Meanwhile, fearing scarcity of water, many nations remain engaged in building mega water reservoirs. China is building 95 major dams with a height of 200 feet or more, Turkey 51, Iran 48, Japan 40 and India over 20.

Naturally, Pakistan’s inability to harness its water resources surprised many a visiting dignitaries. During a visit to Pakistan in 1998, President Suleman Demirel of Turkey was flown over river Indus to show him the Karakoram mountains. In his book Glimpses into the corridors of power, the then minister for water and power, Gohar Ayub Khan, writes: “En-route Demirel asked one of his ministers to look out of the window and tell him what he could see. The minister replied: I see vast barren mountains. The President asked him to have a better look, but the Minister gave him the same answer. The President looked out and said, ‘Look at river Indus, it is untapped power for Pakistan’.” According to Gohar Ayub, the river Indus upstream from Tarbela has nearly seven locations on which dams can be built to store water and produce electricity.

Pakistan uses about 50 per cent of the 140 MAF of its available run-off water, i.e. water that falls on the country and is collected in rivers, lakes and streams, in a normal year. It also draws about 70 MAF from underground springs and natural reservoirs. Of the 210 MAF water, some 100 MAF is consumed for irrigating 40 million acres of land, while some 40 MAF reach the Indus delta. Over 36 MAF water which, as per conservative estimates, escapes to the sea every year can be controlled and utilised for irrigation and generation of pollution free cheap hydropower.

As hydel power is comparatively more economical to thermal and other sources of energy, if it is used on a wider scale it can provide tariff relief to the consumers, involve Pakistani manpower in the planning, designing and manufacturing of machinery besides accelerating the pace of economic development in the country in general and the remote rural areas in particular.


Alauddin Masood

alauddin masood
The writer is a freelance columnist based at Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

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