Interview: Dr Shams Ul Mulk

Question. According to the State of Environment Report of 2005, Pakistan had per capita availability of 5300 Cubic Meter (m3) water in 1951 which has fallen to 850 m3 in 2013. It is even projected to come down to 659 m3 in 2025. How can situation of water be improved in Pakistan?

Answer: An important fact about Pakistan is its very fast growing population and this is one of the basic issues that we confront today. The rise in population is directly related to all our resources.

Water is one of the vital requirements for human survival. Situation of water in Pakistan is not as bleak as we think. But we have to find ways and means to make effective use of whatever per capita water is available to us and we have to make more productive use of water that we have. There are countries that have less per capita water availability but do survive through a well thought out plan. There is one interesting example related to this fact. During the period of drought in Australia which had almost 30-40% less per capita water availability, their production unit of water went upward and they could face the consequences of drought very effectively. It was made possible due to their better water management.

We also need to work on improving water management techniques in Pakistan to overcome the shortages. For example: store it, save it, use it when required, reduce the amount of water that goes in Arabian Sea, and reduce the impact of flood by utilizing the flood water.

Question. Pakistan is facing acute energy shortages. What are the cheapest options available to our country to overcome this crisis in minimum possible time?

Answer: I will not give answer in my words but will quote you the words of an important international institution, the World Bank, that was asked a question by WAPDA during 1960s about development plans and strategy of Pakistan after benefits of Tarbela and Mangla Dams are committed. Their reply was simple, “if Pakistan wanted to continue with the growth rate that it possessed at that time (Pakistan was being labeled as an Asian Tiger during 1960s), Kalabagh Dam must be built by 1992, and thereafter, Bhasha Dam. The construction of Kalabagh and Bhasha Dam in the specified timelines would give enough time to Pakistan to carryout detailed investigations of the Indus River system and prepare a plan that Pakistan could use at belated stage.”

In case of Pakistan, it is a settled and established argument that if we want to improve our economic well being, raise per capita income, provide cheap energy, improve our agriculture productivity and protect our people from the flood damages, it is essential to build as many dams as we can. In the context of existing energy crises, I shall strongly suggest to start building Kalabagh Dam to save ourselves. Kalabagh Dam can be built in 6-7 years time and we shall be able to add about 4000 MW electricity on extremely cheap rates to our main grid. It shall also have a positive effect on Pakistan's agriculture system as well as enable Pakistan to have an effective flood control system. The construction of this dam will facilitate availability of more water in the months of scarcity. It will also address the existing water issues between provinces wherein they allege and accuse each other for stealing water. While addressing the Sindh Cabinet during 1992/93, I foretold them that if they did not agree to build Kalabagh Dam, then by the beginning of 21st century (the time that we are in now), any year if flow of any river goes below the average, provinces will be faced with the shortages of water. And each province will then allege others of stealing water but actually no one would be stealing because the system would not have enough water.

It was stated by me around two decades back. As of today, the situation is exactly the same what I predicted; the provinces are complaining each other for share of water, despite knowing that system doesn't have enough water. This trend will have negative political consequences for federation of Pakistan in the times to come.

Question. Few people suggest that Pakistan should be conserving water through construction of small dams instead of large ones. What is technical difference between big and small dams and what option should Pakistan adopt?

Answer: Let me answer you by analyzing the existing utilization of small and large dams in Pakistan. First talking of large dams, we have two large dams at present; Tarbela and Mangla, which feed 29 Bn units of electricity in system along with Ghazi Brotha at the cheap rate of Rs 1.54 per unit. These large dams have provided us more water during the month of scarcity. Moreover, very few people know the fact that during the floods of 2010, Tarbela Dam saved Nowshera as well as Sukkar Barrage, which otherwise could have been a catastrophie. It was an enormous flood but around 2, 40, 000 Cusecs of water was stored in Tarbela that reduced its impact and ultimately, less stress was exerted on Sukkar barrage.

Coming to small dams, we have 68 of them in Pakistan. What have these small dams done for Pakistan in comparison with large ones? Is there any electricity generation from these small dams? No, zero. Do these ensure any availability of water during the months of water scarcity? No, zero. Do these provide any protection against flood? No, zero. In terms of storage, these small dams have an average storage capacity of 8000 Acre Feet, which is very less as compared to any large dam. To equal storage capacity of one Kalabagh Dam, we need 750 small dams. If 68 small dams have been built in 66 years in Pakistan, imagine how many more years will be required to build 700 more small dams to equal one Kalabagh Dam.

Suggestions to build small dams instead of large ones are all hypothesized by the people who do not have sound knowledge of dams and the related technicalities. There is no option for Pakistan than to go for large dams and reservoirs, especially after surfacing of weather change phenomenon. This weather change phenomenon may take us to the situation, when there may be an extreme drought and a heavy flood occurring within same year. The only solution is that we have large reservoirs, not one or two but more. We should be able to control and conserve water of these huge floods and use it during the months of drought or water scarcity, and it is only possible through construction of large dams.

Question. Shall construction of more dams on River Indus affect the share of water for the provinces? Please explain the effect that construction of Mangla and Tarbela dams had, on water share of provinces during 1960s.

Answer: It is alleged that construction of Kalabagh Dam shall convert province of Sindh into a desert. But fact remains that before construction of existing two large dams, Tarbela and Mangla Dams, average flow of water to the province of Sindh was 36 Million Acre Feet (MAF) per year. Interestingly, after construction of these two dams, now Sindh gets 43 MAF water per year which is 7 MAF more than previous. So how can someone claim like this when construction of Tarbela on Indus River didn't affect the share of water for Sindh. Ever since the formation of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) about two decades back, 70% of the water stored in Tarbela Dam is allocated to Sindh Province whereas Punjab only gets 20% and KPK only 4%. The opponents of Kalabagh Dam are doing it at the behest of powers that are enemies of people of Pakistan.

Question. There is an argument that Nowshera can be flooded after construction of Kalabagh Dam. Please explain whether this argument is correct or otherwise.

Answer: Have you ever heard that construction of Tarbela Dam resulted in flooding of Kohistan or adjoining areas? Have we heard the fear of submersion of Gilgit under the water after construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam? No. If it is not so, then why should it be in case of Kalabagh Dam? On 29 August 1929, there was heavy flood in river Kabul as well as Indus. The town of Nowshera was submerged under the water along with many parts of GT Road at many places, and there was no Kalabagh Dam then. It happened again in 2010 floods and might still happen if same climatic conditions are repeated in future. The sufferers are poor people of Pakistan. The decision makers in Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore and other big towns are normally not affected by these floods, but poor people are. Flooding of Nowshera is not related to Kalabagh Dam by any means.

It has some other reasons and some other remedies. The problem of Nowshera is the floods coming from Swat River and Kabul River. As Chairman WAPDA, I had proposed to build Munda Dam on Swat River as a flood storage project. But after my retirement, this project wasn't followed at any level, not even by the people who are against Kalabagh Dam and are fearful of flood in Nowshera. Because these people are not interested in benefit of the people of their province but are only concerned about non-constructing the Kalabagh Dam.

Now I have been told that Munda Dam is being built. I hope that it is used as flood water storage project. Coming to the Kabul river; during the time of General Musharraf, I was invited by the then Engineers-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, Lt Gen Zubair, whose team wanted my opinion about a study conducted by them on River Kabul. I was pleased to notice the high standards of the study conducted by engineers of Pak Army. I suggested them to work this project out with the Afghan Government.

In my opinion, Pakistan and Afghanistan should jointly build projects on Kabul River. It shall have few benefits: first, very less flood water will flow in Pakistan from Afghanistan. This flood water can be utilized for the water requirements of Afghanistan; and secondly, projects like this shall strengthen people to people bond between these two countries and can help to take forward, the strategic relationship between two neighbours. If Pakistan can assist them in building small irrigation projects on River Kabul, their children will also remember that Pakistan gifted them with these useful projects on the river. Otherwise, some other country, which is not very friendly with Pakistan, will built it for them. Those projects by our enemies will not be constructed to benefit people of Afghanistan, but to hurt Pakistan.

There is another theory that is propagated by enemies of Kalabagh Dam; that water may spill back from the dam site to the city of Nowshera. This is absolutely unrealistic and untrue.

The spill back effect of Kabul River on Nowshera cannot be due to Kalabagh Dam. Nowshera and Kalabagh Dam site are more than 170 KM apart. However, distance between Attock Bridge (the place where River Kabul falls in River Indus) and Nowshera is approximately 50 KM. Attock Gorge can be one of the reasons for any spill back of water in Nowshera, if at all it takes place, because the gorge is approximately 10 miles in length, 800 meters in width, and is located before Attock Bridge, short of Indus River. The gorge issue is related to Kabul River, not Indus River or for that matter Kalabagh Dam. I, for now, suggest carrying out of flood management study of Peshawar Valley and focus should be on construction of Munda Dam on Swat River and, construction of irrigation projects and small reservoirs on Kabul River as a joint venture with Afghan Government. Moreover, few flood saving projects can also be constructed on Chitral River.

Question. A team of experts from the World Bank, during 1960s, termed construction of Tarbela, Mangla , Kalabagh and Bhasha Dams necessary for survival of Pakistan. Why have we not been able to follow their recommendations?

Answer: We did follow their recommendations. Mangla and Tarbela were being built as part of the project that Pakistan signed with the World Bank after Indus Water Treaty was finalized. Tarbela was not initially included, but was made part of it as a development project. As per recommendations, WAPDA had to start feasibility study of Kalabagh Dam by 1977; that it did. The feasibility study was completed in 1988. WAPDA was then ready to start construction of Kalabagh Dam. I was the General Manager and Director of the project, and I know that Pakistan was prepared for the project. The World Bank team had asked WAPDA about the feasibility study of Kalabagh Dam. After going through the report, they asked us about our plans. They were expecting a reply regarding our commitment to commence building the dam as the bank was ready to support us. And, then, the problems after problems started to emerge. And, these continue till to-date.

During 1960s, WAPDA was worried about water management of Pakistan. Questions were being raised within WAPDA that what would happen and how should we proceed when benefit stream of Tarbela and Mangla Dams are committed through factors like rise in population etc. President Ayub Khan, during his visit to Washington in 1964, called on President of the World Bank and raised the similar question. The World Bank took these questions seriously and prepared a study called 'Indus Special Study'.

I am not sure about the present staff of the World Bank, but during my interactions with them few decades back, they told me about the pride that they took in having carried out Indus Water Basin study. They claimed to have had carried out Water Basin Studies of many rivers of the world, but never had they gone in so many details, that they did in our case.

The team of World Bank associated with this study was unequalled; they had experts from almost every related sector agriculture, economic, hydrology, experts of dams, power engineering etc. They assessed during 1960s that after construction of Tarbela and Mangla Dams, Pakistan would need a new large water reservoir by 1992, and they suggested construction of Kalabagh Dam followed by Bhasha Dam. They had given a projection of 30-40 years to Pakistan to even plan ahead of post-Kalabagh and post-Bhasha Dam scenarios. The report was submitted to Government of Pakistan in 1967 by the World Bank with the caption of 'Sectorial Study - The Development of Water and Power Resources of West Pakistan.'

But this is year 2013, and we haven't moved an inch ahead after 1960s. The political angle to the problem came up and continues till to-date; consensus, flooding of Nowshera, water share of provinces, raising of low water table etc, are few of the issues that people link with construction of Kalabagh Dam. Fortunately though, these all reservations have also been addressed in technical language, but no one musters up the courage to do the right thing to construct Kalabagh Dam. After all these problems, the successive governments then decided to dump this project and started looking for the alternative of Kalabagh Dam.

Question. Could we find the alternative then?

Answer: Yes, after 20 years, we did find the alternatives to kalabagh Dam and alternatives are: load shedding, electricity at Rs. 18 per unit, closure of factories, and people on the roads.
Question. Do we need big Dams for energy production only or shall these also be helpful for agriculture sector? And how? Answer: The requirement of having dams is not only for generation of energy. We need water for our agriculture sector as well. Unfortunately, Pakistan being an agriculture country has low figure of agriculture yields; and the reason is less availability of water during winters. 84% of total water in our rivers flows during 6 months of summers whereas, during 6 months of winters, we receive 16% of the total available water. Resultantly, our winter crops are mostly short of water. We need to work to overcome this shortage.

We have the lands, we have the water as well; what we lack is the management and planning to utilize these resources. Question. How hydro electricity is cheap than other sources like coal, fuel etc? Answer: Water is the only source of electricity generation that has no fuel cost, rest all need some fuel to produce electricity; for gas turbines we need natural gas, for oil generation plants we need furnace oil, for coal we obviously need coal. All these fuels are expensive and cost of electricity fluctuates with fluctuation of their rates. However, in case of water, when the dam recovers its cost of construction, generation of electricity becomes almost free.

The requirement of electricity in Pakistan is around 40 Billion units per year. The approximate cost of generation of electricity from various sources is: Hydro - Rs 1.54 per unit, Furnace Oil Rs 16.50 per unit, Natural Gas Rs 6.50 per unit. Going by simple calculations, we can well understand the benefits of hydro electricity. While applied on 42 Billion units, the rates show the clear difference in cost of generation. Unfortunately, this whole amount has to be shared by the people of Pakistan.

Question: What are experiences of other countries in construction of dams? Can we learn from them?

Answer: There are three countries in the world that are economically very sound: USA, China and India. The USA has built about 6500 dams (medium and large), China has constructed around 22,000 medium and large dams in past 50 years, whereas India has constructed around 4500 dams so far and 650 dams are under construction by India at present.

If one Kalabagh Dam can damage Pakistan then 22,000 dams in China should literally have obliterated China from the globe. But fact remains that China is thriving economically, so are USA and India. And we also know the economic position of Pakistan.

Question. India is undertaking construction of 67 major water projects on the rivers of Pakistan. Where do you see this situation going?

Answer: The situation is alarming. Indians are doing a wrong thing. But we have our problems, too. If we are not utilizing our share of water, then they are doing it. We must start to use our share of water and our position on the cases against India against construction of reservoirs at international forums shall automatically improve.

Question. An argument is also given that construction of Kalabagh Dam shall weaken the federation. How do you see it?

Answer: This is absolutely untrue. I will reply this question through the expected financial benefits of Kalabagh Dam. This dam shall add 12 Billion units to the national feeder of electricity per year. If these 12 Billion units are generated through furnace oil (@ Rs. 16.50 per unit), then it will cost approximately Rs. 198 Billion whereas, if generated through Kalabagh Dam, it shall cost Rs. 18 Billion only. Hence, the construction of Kalabagh Dam will enable people of Pakistan to save Rs.180 Billion per year in terms of money only, which is a huge amount. The province of Punjab is annually losing approximately Rs. 100 billion for not constructing Kalabagh Dam, Sindh, Rs. 35 Billion and KPK, Rs 25 Billion. Can someone come forward and tell me a single rupee benefit for not constructing Kalabagh Dam?

The provinces are losing, not gaining anything by not constructing this dam. So how, then can it affect the federation. Few leaders, on the instructions from somewhere else, are pursuing their personal agendas and are damaging the interests of the people of Pakistan. Using the name of the federation for gaining political mileage is very unfortunate. Federation will not be disturbed by construction of Kalabagh Dam, but will certainly be affected, if Kalabagh Dam is not constructed.

Question. What difference shall it make if Kalabagh Dam is not constructed?

Answer: I can't think of any future for Pakistan without Kalabagh Dam. We will continue getting expensive electricity, we shall not have much water for crops during months of scarcity and most importantly, province of the KPK will be without any water share. Let me explain it this way. Each province gets it share of water through the Indus and other rivers and, through reservoirs. The only hope for the people of KPK to get water through a reservoir is, Kalabagh Dam. KPK is the only province which is above the level of Indus River. So distribution of water through barrage and canals on natural gravity flow will not be possible. The only way is to raise the water level through construction of Kalabagh Dam that shall facilitate irrigation of lands of DI Khan and Bannu through natural flow of gravity. People of KPK need this dam more than ever. With each passing day, the common man will suffer. If we hold a referendum for construction of Kalabagh Dam in KPK province, people will definitely support it.

Otherwise a time would come when people of this province would have to pump water through pipe lines from Indus which shall be an expensive proposition. The pumping of water will cost people of KPK Rs. 8000 per acre per year. The other three provinces, which get water through the gravity, will pay Rs. 700-800 per acre per year which is very cheap as compared to KPK. Kalabagh Dam is centrally located. It will facilitate people of all provinces. It will also help in distribution and supply of electricity using minimum distance to reach out maximum people.

Question. You are also President of Board of Governors of GIK institute. How can Pakistan improve quality of technical human resource in Pakistan?

Answer: Knowledge is only valued by knowledgeable people. People, who are not educated and are not scholars, cannot have the vision to develop quality human resource in any country. And same is, unfortunately, the situation in Pakistan. Mostly, our leadership lacked vision. People should be educated to learn English, as all technical skills are taught in this language. If they lack in understanding of the language, they might not comprehend the concept and will certainly miss out things.

To me, only three subjects should be taught to the students till primary levels: English, Mathematics and Science. But Science and Maths should be taught in mother tongue till primary level for better understanding and should subsequently be switched to English later on. There is no need to put extra burden on the students at very young age. The focus at childhood should be to ensure teaching of concepts to the children in the language that they comprehend and understand.

Question. What is your message for the people of Pakistan?

Answer: If we have to move smoothly in 21st century, we will have to register two things: personal preferences are gone, prejudices are gone. We will have to live up to two major requirements: follow what truth allows us to follow, and follow what reason allows us to follow.

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