The most important issue for any country is its national security. National security is not all about the security of borders but it includes the wellbeing of its citizens. It encompasses the protection against natural and manmade calamities, and security of natural strategic assets such as water reservoirs and dams.
Water is a strategic asset, as any other asset for the defense of motherland. It is an extremely useful, productive as well as destructive weapon, too. It belongs to the next generation and we have to ensure that enough clean and adequate water regime is left behind.
India, under PM Modi in office, is serious in cutting water flow of western rivers to create problems for Pakistan economically. All of this is being done under a well-thought-out strategy to wage “water and food war” on Pakistan. This, besides destroying agriculture of Pakistan, which is its mainstay can cause water shortages, render our link-canal system redundant and resultantly turn Pakistan into a desert. More so during campaigning season, low inflow of water at Marala Headworks can undermine the defensive value of BRB (Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian) Canal. Therefore, Pakistani water and security concerns are legitimate and we have to find a viable solution.
Water Crisis in Pakistan
Pakistan is facing acute water shortages as per capita availability has fallen tremendously due to increasing demand of the country and rise in population. At the time of Partition, the per capita availability was 5650 cubic meters and now it is 935 cubic meters. If effective measures are not taken, then it would drop down to 860 cubic meters by 2025 and 500 cubic meters in 2040. Any country with less than 1000 cubic meters falls under the category of water scarce countries. In the ranking of water scarcity, Pakistan is ranked at 23rd out of 167 countries. Unfortunately, only 36 percent of Pakistanis have access to safe drinking water. The liquid water is crucial to life on this planet and this is the only planet so far that can shelter life for having drinkable liquid water and 75% ocean surface. After the global impact of human driven climate changes, almost every country is facing water crisis due to the faster melting of glaciers and lack of rain, including our country Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan does not have enough dams to save the water from excess glacial melts and rains. Glacial melts from Himalayas flow throughout the length of Pakistan in the form of the world’s 21st longest river, Indus rivers then falls into the Arabian Sea. Unfortunately, no large dam was built since 1975. Mangla Dam was built in 1967 and Tarbela Dam was built in 1975 with a combined capacity of 14.14 MAF. 145 MAF is annual flow from which 102 MAF is diverted for irrigation and 12 MAF is a system loss. Moreover, 31 MAF of the surface water goes out to the sea. According to one study, only 8.8MAF is used to prevent the back-flow of sea water and other 22.5 MAF is wasted. Water of about 23 MAF which goes unutilized in the Arabian Sea is worth USD 22 billion annually. Pakistan stores only 14.5 MAF that is only 10% of 145 MAF which is quite low as compared to the world average of 40%. Our storage can supply 30 days compared to 220 days’ capacity of India, whereas 120 days is the global standard.
If drought conditions are encountered in the future, and for extended periods, Pakistan will indeed face ‘physical (absolute) water scarcity’.
This is where new large storage dams like Diamer-Bhasha Dam can be extremely important. They can assist our water decision-makers in providing surplus water supplies (stored in non-drought years) in extended drought periods.
Understanding the Indus River Basin
About 43% of our community is directly bound to agricultural activities and 68% of rural population depends on farming. Moreover, it contributes 23% of the total GDP. Indus basin irrigation system (IBIS) is one of the largest reservoirs and irrigation system in the world which we are lucky to have. IBIS contributes three large dams, 100 small dams, 19 barrages, 12 inter-river link canals and 0.9 million tube wells. IBIS is now suffering from water shortages and it is one with the largest risks. The Indus Waters Treaty sets out the legal framework for the sharing of the waters of six rivers: the Indus River and its five tributaries. All six rivers, Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Sutlej, Beas and Ravi flow through Kashmir and Northern India into Pakistan. Under the pact, the waters of three rivers: the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum which pass through Jammu and Kashmir are to be used by Pakistan, while India has rights to the waters of the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi before these three enter Pakistani territory. Chenab is the key tributary, before it carries the waters of the rest four rivers into the Indus River.
Criticism/Propaganda Against Diamer-Bhasha Dam
For long the project could not commence due to lack of political will and reluctance of the executive authority due to conspiracy theories and negative propaganda launched by our neighbors under ‘5th generation war’ and even our public fell prey to this as in the case of Kalabagh Datm.
▪ Indian Objection Against Diamer-Bhasha Dam
India never misses any opportunity to kick up dust on important developmental projects of Pakistan. In the case of construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam, it has once again resorted to false and baseless assertions against the project by claiming Gilgit-Baltistan as a part of India, which in fact has nothing to do with reality, as Kashmir is a disputed territory – the UN resolutions are still lingering because of Indian intransigence. The Indian aim is to make Pakistan a water scarce and barren country. This is the reason that it has also started water aggression against Pakistan by building dams on eastern rivers in complete disregard of Indus Waters Treaty. India has objected to a proposed move by Pakistan and China to build Diamer-Bhasha Dam in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “Our position is consistent and clear that the entire territory of the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been, are, and will continue to be an integral and inalienable part of India.”
India influenced the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for not supporting the funding of the dam due to it being in a “disputed” area.
India has also made assertions that the dam is also being built in an earthquake-prone area and its construction is likely to starve Ladakh of water. It also objected that the Diamer-Bhasha Dam in AJ&K not only infringes upon India’s sovereignty but can also be an ecological disaster as there are 300 earthquakes on average in a single month at the proposed site of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. And this is not the only challenge as the reservoir of the dam is to be constructed on top of the Central Asian faultline.
▪ Compensation Issues
The demands include immediate arrangements for resettlement of Diamer-Bhasha Dam affected people. It is also said that local communities feel alienated from the decision-making process as they have no representation in any committee taking decisions about the dam, the compensation or the resettlement plan. People in the area where the reservoir of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam is planned, have no titles to their land; and traditional land management practices prevail. Having no proper land records in this mountainous area, the chances for irregularities are high. However, any new dam project involves such processes and people of the area should be assured of proper care by the government.
▪ Fear of Destruction of Cultural Heritage
The cultural heritage is at risk due to the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. The area consists of a vast collection of ancient rock carvings in the Upper Indus Valley which have an undeniable global importance. According to this propaganda, this heritage will be completely submerged by the reservoir along its 100 km length.
▪ Rumors of Corruption in Dam’s Fund
Some people are spreading false rumors that the already funded amount for dam’s fund has been looted from the people and now there is no record or operational status of any such fundraising drive. Moreover, the amount is diverted for some other purpose.
Reality Check of Unfounded Propaganda Against Diamer-Bhasha Dam
▪ The Indian propaganda is baseless because Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is a separate administrative unit. In 2009, it was granted limited autonomy. The people of GB have been demanding for long to be merged into Pakistan as a 5th province. Moreover, as per precedence, both India and Pakistan have constructed big dams in disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
▪ Most dams are built in mountainous regions as dam’s sites are located in such regions. It is an established fact that mountainous regions are seismically active. Dams have to be designed to withstand earthquakes. Rigorous design standards and technical guidelines are available to design the dams to withstand earthquakes and all such world accepted standards have been applied to the design of Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
▪ As far as the local criticism for resettlement is concerned, nine model villages will be developed for the resettlement of a population of 28,000. Moreover, new infrastructure, roads, clean water schemes, school, health centers and electricity units will be provided to accommodate the affected community. A proper package has been prepared for them by WAPDA.
▪ According to the design, the dam project will protect the heritage including rock carvings/petroglyphs dating. The local community admits that the protection of heritage will promote tourism. In Pakistan, every project proponent is required to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment that addresses cultural heritage, as well as environmental and social impacts. This assessment is also sometimes referred to as Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment, or CHIA, especially when significant impacts on cultural heritage require a more comprehensive study. All the studies have been carried out to preserve the heritage as per the established norms.
▪ The live status of fundraising drive for the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund can be checked by visiting the official website, and there is no discrepancy or diversion of funds.
▪ The concerned departments are monitoring the rise of anti-dam false propaganda on social media sites which needs to be countered with facts and awareness campaign. There is a strong hope that Pakistanis would cast-off the propaganda against the dam.
▪ In Pakistan, the constitution stipulates that royalties for a power project accrue to the province where the electricity is being generated. In the case of Diamer-Bhasha project, since the power houses will be located in KP, therefore KP would accordingly receive all project benefits. Since more than 90% of the reservoirs will be located in GB, the government of GB demands an adequate share of the project benefits. However, this issue is being resolved in an amicable manner.
Diamer-Bhasha Dam and the Economy of Pakistan
The dam will help provide cheap and green energy for the country’s industrial development besides helping irrigate 1.23 million acres of barren land. The irrigation would also help the country meet its food needs and also export vegetables and food commodities.
The benefits of the dam are as follows:
▪ The generation of cheap electricity will help to reduce the existing tariff.
▪ Fulfill the increasing water and electricity requirements of the country.
▪ Reduction in import of oil and saving in foreign exchange, which will ultimately increase foreign reserves.
▪ Reduction in load-shedding by adding 2,160 MW in Stage-I, generating 12.22 billion units per annum.
▪ Serve as the main storage dam of the country, besides Mangla and Tarbela dams thus increasing water storage capacity from 30 days to 48 days.
▪ Helps alleviate acute irrigation shortage in the Indus Basin irrigation system.
▪ Opportunity of 16,500 new jobs for the local people during construction and operation of the project.
▪ Construction industry of Pakistan will also flourish due to increase in the demand of construction material.
▪ Social and economic development of the local area and population.
▪ Overall growth in the economy due to the induction of cheap electricity. This will help with the reduction in production cost of goods used locally and especially export goods to make them more competitive with other countries.
▪ The project will create enhanced tourism opportunities in Kohistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.
▪ The expected dam will sustain immense water stock for the future generations of Pakistan for 35 years by extending the life of Tarbela Dam located downstream.
▪ Improvement in the living standards of local people due to the development of a new town with all modern civic facilities.
Update on Diamer-Bhasha Dam
On May 13, 2020, the Pakistani government signed a Rs. 442 billion contract with a joint venture of China Power and FWO, the Diamer-Bhasha Dam (often called the Bhasha Dam). The Chinese state-run firm holds 70 percent and FWO has 30 percent share in the consortium. The contract covers construction of a diversion system, main dam, access bridge and the 21 MW Tangir Hydropower Project.
The dam project with a total financial outlay of about Rs. 1440 billion would be completed in 2028. The total financial outlay includes land acquisition and resettlement, confidence building measures for social uplift of the local people, construction of dam and power houses. The project would have a gross storage capacity of 8.1 MAF and power generation capacity of 4,500MW, with an annual generation of 18.1 bn units.
The author is a retired brigadier who has served in WAPDA and in Development/Corporate sector. Presently, he is Chairman of an NGO working on water issues and climate change.
E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: @bmaslamkhan
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