Kalabagh Dam: Importance and challenges

In December 2004, then President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf announced that he would build the dam to serve the larger interest of Pakistan. However, on 26 May 2008, the Federal Minister for Water and Power of Pakistan, Raja Pervez Ashraf, said that the “Kalabagh Dam would not be constructed” and that the project had been canceled due to “opposition from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and other stakeholders, the project was no longer feasible. In 2010 after the worst floods in Pakistani history, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, stated flood damage would be minimized if the Kalabagh Dam were built.

Should Kalabagh Dam be built? It is extremely expensive, offer limited benefits, have a short life, is rejected by three of the four provinces and was shelved many years ago by the former federal cabinet of the President Pervez Musharraf.

One of the most important prerequisites for the construction of a mega dam like Kalabagh is the adequate and reliable availability of water and one of the top criteria for it is that it must have water 4 years out of 5. Critics of the dam in the engineering sector say that Kalabagh does not fulfill this extremely essential criterion. They also say that the figures presented by the WAPDA about the availability of water are misleading because of its basis on the quantity of water whose roots are in India and thus unreliable.

Critics also say that the life of the dam is too short and its cost too exorbitant to make it a highly uneconomical project. They say that the life of the dam is only 28 years once Tarbela silts because it is located downstream of Tarbela. In addition, since it is downstream, Kalabagh would in no way be able to improve Tarbela’s life-expectancy. In addition, the Kalabagh has the lowest capacity inflow ratio in the world 0.26:1 once again resulting in short lifespan.

Professionals among the engineering community also say that Kalabagh is an unfeasible project geographically. They say that it has unnatural dam site narrow valley for storage and a long length and would allow wasting flood water without storing it to avoid desilting. It would store perennial water flaring up water disputes between the provinces and the storing perennial water, for power generation would affect the availability of irrigation water to crops, particularly to the lower regions of the country. Power generation by storing perennial water can affect timely irrigation which can have a disastrous impact on an agrarian economy like Pakistan.

The strong opposition to the construction of Kalabagh Dam, however, in no way lessens the problem related to the scarcity of irrigation water in the country which becomes extremely severe at times due to extended dry spells in the last few years. For instance, Tarbela Dam did not fill up till August 31, 2000, for the first time since its commissioning in 1974 falling short by 15 to 16 feet from its maximum level of 1550 feet.

The meeting of the federal cabinet ended with a direction given to the WAPDA to identify the potential sites for the construction of small dams in all the four provinces so as to enhance water reservoir storage capacity for the future. It is easy to see that there is no disagreement about the necessity to build water reservoirs but there is no consensus about Kalabagh.

If the dam is not constructed then Pakistan will have to face an even more severe crisis of high fuel prices. As the yearly energy generated at Kalabagh, if the dam is built would be equal to 20 million barrels of oil. If Pakistan imports this amount of fuel for the thermal generation then it would be an additional burden on the economy.

Pakistan will build Kalabagh dam. It is the cleanest form of energy that Pakistan can benefit from and can also benefit the region. But as usual, India is against it. Every time there is something good to be done in my country, India opposes it.

So none of the electorates will have to file any tax returns or provide the proof of character. Kalabagh dam which will increase the water resources of the country is being opposed while Thar coal project, which will consume a huge amount of water and will contaminate all water, air and land resources of Pakistan is being advocated by the government.

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