THE direction of Prime Minister Imran Khan for start of physical construction work on three important hydro projects – Diamer Bhasha Dam, Dasu hydropower project and Sindh barrage has come as a breeze of fresh air for people of Pakistan who have been waiting anxiously for the auspicious moment for decades. The PM gave orders for the purpose during a meeting he chaired on national water security and his Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa rightly called the announcement “historic news”.
Water is the lifeline for our economy and ecology but unfortunately the issue of water security did not receive the kind of priority it should have from the successive governments in the past. Apart from the growing threat of drinking water in different parts of the country, the need to ensure uninterrupted supply of adequate water to the world’s largest contiguous irrigation network in the form of canals, distributaries and water courses should have propelled timely programmes and plans for preservation and storage of water but that did not happen mainly because of political wrangling on purely economic issues, lack of commitment and required vision and failure to line up funding. This is evident from the fact that the then President Pervez Musharraf announced a water vision in 2002 envisaging construction of five mega hydropower projects including Diamer-Bhasha, Kalabagh and Dasu by 2016 and also performed ground-breaking of Diamer-Bhasha in 2006 but the project did not move at the desired pace despite the fact that unlike Kalabagh it was non-controversial plan. It is cumulative effect of criminal negligence that today Pakistan is a water scarce country and if the situation continues, i.e., population keeps on increasing at the same rate and the water resources remain constant, it will be touching the absolute water scarcity line by 2025, which is not far away from now.
Major water crises have been averted because of mad exploitation of ground water that has played a major role in increasing the overall cropping intensity in the country from about 63% in 1947 to over 120% in 2018. It is the only reliable resource that provides resilience against droughts and climate change impacts but the way we are pumping out the ground water, this source is also going to deplete soon. Under these circumstances, all projects and programmes aimed at preservation and storage of water should receive immediate attention even at the cost of diversion of resources from some other sectors because of enormous economic benefits that would accrue to the country from accelerated implementation of these projects. The announcement of construction of actual work on Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu has at the most opportune time when the country is hit hard by Covid-19 and major initiatives are needed to boost economic activity and provide employment opportunities to the people. It is appreciable that two major hurdles of land acquisition and roadmap for mobilization of financial resources have been addressed in respect of Diamer and the project is ready for initiation of physical construction work. The direction of the Prime Minister for maximum utilization of local material would also be instrumental in supporting the domestic industries, especially cement, steel and stone crushing. In the case of Bhasha alone, it will create 16,500 jobs and utilize a large quantity of cement and steel, in addition to its main purpose of water storage and producing 4,500 MW of cheap and affordable electricity. The 6.4 million acre feet (MAF) water storage capacity of the dam will reduce the current water shortage in the country of 12 MAF to 6.1 MAF.
It will add 35 years to the life of Tarbela Dam by reducing sedimentation and an area of 1.23 million acres of land will be brought under agriculture. Credit for overcoming hurdles and making visible progress on almost all hydro projects surely goes to the visionary Chairman of Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) retired Lt. General Muzammil Hussain and his hardworking team who have made a difference and are delivering on fronts that remained a dream in the past. We would also urge the authorities concerned that apart from large dams, work should also be expedited on small and medium scale reservoirs the sites of which already stand identified in all the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. General Asim Bajwa, as Chairman of the CPEC Authority, may also take up different projects and programmes with China for their implementation under the framework of CPEC especially when Chinese have enormous expertise of harnessing water resources to their optimum.