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Who is ‘damming’ Pakistan without “Kalabagh Dam”?

By Engineer Khurshid Anwer : – It is no longer a matter of choice; it is a matter of survival. “Dams do not consume water; they only store water. The argument that there is not enough water in River Indus to justify another dam, is false. The number of dams on any river depends on the availability of appropriate sites – gorges through tall mountains- not the quantity of water in any river in any season, because the same water flows through all gorges.” 

I write in response to the column titled ‘The Snows of Karakorams’ in The Nation by Barrister Kamal Azfar. The column addresses only one of the major shortages being suffered by the people today, that of power shortage, but ignores the shortage of water for irrigation. Whereas there are many alternate means available for power generation, dams are the only means available for overcoming water shortage. Of these, only mega dams will give us water in the quantities required, not a number of small dams. Bhasha dam in 12 to 15 years will at best be a replacement dam for the storage and generation lost at Mangla and Tarbela dams by then. It will not irrigate even one additional acre or light even one additional bulb. Pakistan has an agro-based economy. Agricultural sector plays an important part in Pakistan’s economy contributing 24 percent towards GDP; providing food for the 180 million people; accounting for about 60 percent of the country’s total export earnings; providing employment to 47 percent of the total work force; it is the main source of livelihood for the rural population of Pakistan; it provides raw materials for many industries and a market for many locally produced industrial products.

By dedicating future dams to power generation only, what kind of future would agriculture in Pakistan have? Should we put our hand up instead of apprising the people of the simple facts about dams that elude them so far? Just as there is no upper or lower riparian when power distribution is under federal control by an organisation like WAPDA, similarly there is no upper or lower riparian when river water distribution is under a central control of a federal body like IRSA. Why does the country need dams when water distribution is carried out by barrages and canals? The answer is that canals take water directly from the river at the barrage; they deplete rather than augment the water supply. Dams store surplus water, when available, to augment supply when the river flows reduce. Without dams many areas of Pakistan would have no irrigation water for winter (kharif) crop. Mangla and Tarbela dams increased canal withdrawals considerably. Comparison of pre-Mangla and post-Tarbela figures show an increase of 7.0 million acre feet (maf) for Sindh alone. This resulted in considerable increase in the area under cultivation in Sindh. Kalabagh dam will add another 2.2 maf for Sindh which will increase the average flow in the Indus rather than decrease it,
contrary to fears expressed by some politicians. I list the facts to dispel popular fallacies:

1. The flow of water to the Indus Delta has not been depleted because of the dams as is quite wrongly believed. How could it when the dams increased river flows. It was when Kotri barrage was built and four big canals taken from it that flow below Kotri diminished to the present level.
2. At present an average of 20 maf is flowing below Kotri but only during the three flood months. Even doubling this amount will not help. But a steady flow of a quarter of that amount – 0.5 maf – over the twelve months will effectively check sea incursion. This can only be done by storing this amount in dams and releasing a steady dose for year round protection of the Deltaic region. Only more storage of water in upstream dams can save the Deltaic region.
3. Another fear expressed often is that the Kalabagh dam being in Punjab, will enable that province to misappropriate water. That is not true. Flow of irrigation water is controlled by a federal body – IRSA. It needs to be understood that rivers and dams belong to the nation; the barrages and canals belong to the provinces.
4. The Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 has laid down the shares of all the provinces in all future dams, increasing Sindh’s share by deceasing Punjab’s share. The Accord created IRSA and deputed engineer’s from the Sindh irrigation department at major head works in the Punjab.
5. IRSA has been created as a body to ensure that Punjab takes only its reduced share from the stored water without affecting the flow in the Indus River. Without the left bank canal at Kalabagh dam, north Punjab will not be able to utilize even its prescribed share not only from Kalabagh dam but also from any dam on the Indus, be it Bhasha, Skardu, Bunji or Katzara. Without the right bank canal, the KPK would not be able to draw its share of water to irrigate the D I Khan region.
6. The water from all the dams north of Kalabagh will bypass north Punjab and D I Khan. With Mangla dam silting up and without water from the Indus, two thirds of north Punjab will revert from irrigated to Barani, with a 50% loss in national food production.
7. The Punjab province provided food to the whole of India before 1947. The smaller East Punjab is continuing to do so, but not the bigger West Punjab. This is something to think about. If there is scarcity of irrigation water in the Punjab, the whole of Pakistan would suffer food scarcity.
8. The Indus River was once considered Sindh’s river when five rivers flowed through the Punjab. Now the whole country has to subsist on the remaining three rivers, of which Indus is the only one with surplus flows.
9. The Kalabagh Dam will store water not only of River Indus but also the surplus of the Punjab and Kabul River and the huge catchments areas in the monsoon season.
10. In ceding the three eastern rivers to India, the Indus Water Treaty provided replacement infrastructure to make up for the loss. Mangla and Tarbela dams, Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Panjnad barrages were built for transferring surplus water from the Indus to the canals in south Punjab previously serviced by the Sutlej River.
11. Kalabagh dam was to be built to transfer surplus water from the Indus, through the left bank canal, to the canals in north Punjab previously serviced by the Ravi River.
12. Tarbela dam alone increased overall canal supplies by 25%. Without transfer of the additional water to north and south Punjab, the Treaty becomes dysfunctional. I have tried to make the case for Kalabagh Dam because this alone addresses the scarcity of water in our country’s irrigation system. This is the dam that will put a stop to menace of floods and increase supply of water to all provinces. This is one dam which would benefit all the provinces equally. But the province it would benefit the most is Sindh. Without Kalabagh Dam, incursion of sea in the Indus River delta would exacerbate and flows in canals would become less certain during the winter months.
PS: “Kalabagh dam would have been built by the World Bank before Tarbela dam but for the resistance from 10 WAPDA engineers who prevailed upon the government to get the World Bank to build the much bigger, more costly and the more complex Tarbela dam first. They argued that Pakistan could build the smaller, less costly, less complex Kalabagh dam itself. Kalabagh dam is the easiest and most natural site for a dam. Dams do not consume water; they only store water. The argument that there is not enough water in River Indus to justify another dam, is false. The number of dams on any river depends on the availability of appropriate sites – gorges through tall mountains- not the quantity of water in any river in any season, because the same water flows through all gorges”.

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