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Why Kalabagh should be built... According to Shahid Javed Burki.

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    Why Kalabagh should be built... According to Shahid Javed Burki.

    What do you guys think about this argument? Mr Burki is implying that Pakistans problems will be compounded without the new Damn, and that most opposition isnt based on facts...

    Kalabagh & the water crisis

    By Shahid Javed Burki

    “WATER is precious, use it wisely” says a notice placed in the bathroom of a five-star hotel in Karachi. There could not be a sounder piece of advice but it should be given not only to the guests at five-star hotels but to the entire citizenry of Pakistan. As I wrote in this space last week, Pakistan is rapidly moving to the situation when it will begin to be ranked among the countries that have severe shortages of fresh water. Wise use of this precious resource is one way of dealing with this crisis.

    There are three basic uses of water — agriculture, industry and human consumption. Using water wisely in these three uses is one way of saving the country from economic and social disaster. The greatest waste takes place in agriculture where vast amounts of water are lost to evaporation and seepage or used in such water-intensive crops as sugar cane. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to invest the government’s scarce resources in improving the efficiency of water use in agriculture rather than commit them to the construction of large dams such as the one Kalabagh? This is a fair question but it should remembered that improving the efficiency of water use and increasing its supply are not mutually exclusive solutions to the coming crisis. They should be done simultaneously.

    I recall a conversation with the late S.S. Kirmani, the father of the Indus Water Replacement Works. It was his remarkable engineering vision that gave shape to the replacement works. It was the persistence and stubbornness of Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was then the chairman of Wapda, and Kirmani that finally led to the agreement of the donor community to finance the construction of Tarbela on the Indus. After serving as Wapda’s chief engineer, Kirmani went to the World Bank and became director of projects in East Asia. He was of the view that by simply lining the canals and tens of thousands of distributory channels, and straightening them, and levelling the fields that received water from the irrigation system and changing the cropping pattern, Pakistan could double the availability of water for irrigation.

    The expenditure needed for such a programme would be considerably less than that to constantly ensure an increase in supply. But such a programme can only be completed over a long period of time. Its success will depend on the education and skill development of the farming community, largescale commercializing of agriculture, the removal of implicit and explicit government subsidies on inputs such as water and power and privatization of all commercial operations. Meanwhile the water shortage will continue to become more serious. Islamabad needs to focus immediately on the supply side.

    There are several reasons why the policymakers in Islamabad need to worry about the coming shortage of water. The most significant of these relate to the availability of food supply for a population that is already being fed by imports. According to the government’s water sector investment planning study, unless this situation is addressed, the country will face a deficit of 12 million tons in grain output in 2013. In other words, having once become the granary for all of British India, within a matter of a few years Pakistan will become one of the largest food deficit countries in the world. In today’s prices, it will have to spend $4 billion to $5 billion a year to save its population from starvation.

    The immediate response to this developing crisis is to increase the supply of water by tapping what is available in the impressive system of rivers that run through the country. This is where the construction of large dams such as the one at Kalabagh enters the picture. The proposed dam at Kalabagh is a critical component of the strategy to help Pakistan face a catastrophic shortage of water.

    I was reminded by a member of an audience to which I spoke in Karachi on the day Dawn published my first article on the subject of the coming water crisis that I should not underestimate the sentiment in Sindh against the construction of the dam. All the more reason why we should look at some of the arguments that have been advanced against Kalabagh as well as those put forward in its favour. I will spend the rest of this article on looking at the “cons” of Kalabagh and indicate why I believe most of the criticism advanced are not grounded in facts.

    The dam site is located 210 km downstream of Tarbela and 26 km upstream of Jinnah barrage on the Indus. When completed, the rock fill dam will rise to a height of 260 feet and will be 4,375 feet long. It will create a reservoir with usable storage capacity of 6.1 MAF. This will almost fully compensate the anticipated losses at Chashma, Mangla and Tarbela and bring back the amount of water available for use to the point reached in 2004. The dam will have spillways on either side; on the right it will have two spillways to discharge flood waters with the capacity of two million cusecs.

    On the left side, a spillway will feed water to a power station that will generate 3,600 MW of electricity. The project, by adding significantly to the contribution of power from hydro sources, will bring about a significant savings in foreign exchange. Since hydro power is much cheaper than thermal power, it will also reduce the price charged to the consumers.

    The entire project is estimated to cost $6.1 billion and will take six years to construct. The project is estimated to yield benefits amounting to $1 billion a year — it will pay for the cost of constructing it in less than six years. Both, the estimates of cost and benefits, are outdated. The dam would probably cost $8 billion in today’s prices but its benefit particularly when we factor in the changes that need to be made in the pattern of cropping, will be much higher than $1 billion, perhaps twice as high.

    Kalabagh became controversial from the time it was proposed; the opposition to it is based on a number of apprehensions, some of which have changed over time. Initially, the most serious objection to the dam was on the basis of the number of people who were likely to be displaced by the creation of the large reservoir. Most of the affected population is in the NWFP there was apprehension that the lake would almost totally submerge the important city of Nowshera.

    However, two experts, one Chinese and another American, produced models to show that the lake would end about 16 kms downstream of Nowshera. The city would not be inundated even by the recurrence of the record flood of August 1929. The two experts concluded that the city would not be affected even after the bed of the lake was raised by sedimentation over a period of 100 years.

    Another objection to the dam is that even if Nowshera is not submerged, the sheer size of the lake — about 420 square kilometres — would still displace a large number of people. My estimate is that the number of people who will have to move if the dam’s construction were to start today would be about 150,000. This is not a small number but there is now enough experience from around the world to draw up a resettlement plan that would leave the displaced people economically and socially better off compared to their present situation.

    The Chinese, for instance, have done a commendable job of caring for the displaced population from large dams. The Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze alone has displaced 1.1 million people, more than seven times the number likely to be affected by the Kalabagh dam and the Kalabagh lake.

    Wapda’s plans for resettlement call for housing the displaced population in new towns and villages — 27 in number — to be located along the periphery of the lake. Some $800 million have been allocated for resettlement works which, from the perspective of international standards, is a generous amount. It is equivalent to $550 per head of the population.

    Sindh’s opposition to the project is based on the flow in the Indus expected after the completion of the project. Once again, expert opinion regards these fears as largely unfounded. After the completion of Tarbela, some 35 MAF of water flowed into the sea. The Kalabagh reservoir with a total capacity of 6.1 MAF would still leave 29 MAF in the river. However, it should be recognized that dams don’t consume water; they only store water during periods of abundance.

    In fact, by regulating the flow they can actually increase the supply during dry seasons. This was amply demonstrated by Tarbela dam. According to Wapda, the total canal withdrawals from the Indus in 1960-67 were 35.6 MAF. These increased to 44.2 MAF after 1976, following the completion of Mangla and Tarbela. The same is likely to result from the construction of Kalabagh. A computer model has estimated that canal withdrawals in Sindh would increase by about 2.25 MAF after the construction of the dam which would allow for its greater regulation..

    Then there is the fear that Kalabagh, by holding back water, would affect the ‘sailaba’ crops, watered by floods that occur practically every year along the wide banks of the Indus. There are at this time about 660,000 acres under this type of cultivation but water availability is uncertain and farmers normally augment the supply by tubewells installed in the area. By regulating the flow in the river, Kalabagh would help this class of farmers.

    There is also some apprehension that by reducing the flow in the river in the initial phase of the project when the reservoir is being filled, the construction of Kalabagh will result in the backflow of sea water into the Indus estuary. Even in this case, experts believe that the intrusion of water from the sea has already reached its maximum level and is not likely to increase further following the construction of the dam.

    On the positive side, the additional storage that will become available after the construction of Kalabagh will make it possible to implement the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 that assumed availability to be maintained rather than depleted through silting of the Mangla and Tarbela reservoirs. Without Kalabagh, inter-provincial tensions on water distribution would be exacerbated since the amount of water to be distributed would be significantly reduced.

    Rather than allow a great deal of political emotion to seep into the debate on the construction of the dam at Kalabgh, President Musharraf needs to move forward with firmness, indicating that he has consulted, listened, reflected and decided to proceed in the larger interest of the nation. It was only with this approach and attitude that the administrations that oversaw the previous major developments of the water of the Indus river were able to succeed. There is a lesson to be learned from experience.