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No surplus water for more dams: expert The News, By Naveed Ahmed


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has no surplus water for storing in mega dams like Kalabagh, Skardu or Bhasha as the country has been facing consistent shortfall since 1997-98.

In 28 years from 1976-77 to 2004, surplus water was available in nine years only with two cycles when it was not available in four years continuously and the last cycle of continuous seven years, said an independent analyst Idrees Rajput.

"The first and foremost requirement for a dam is surplus water availability for filling it and it is not a good cost-benefit analysis if a mega dam with an investment ranging from $5 billion to $20 billion is not filled every year," said the expert while delivering a keynote address at a conference on ‘Financing Mega Dams’ organised to mark the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life.

The half-day conference was organised jointly by Sungi Development Foundation and Sustainable Development Policy Institute in which representative from all the water-related NGOs participated but none came from the public sector. The organisers claimed that the officials concerned were invited but they chose to stay away from civil society activities for their own reasons.

According to him, a large dam is an interference with nature and its negative impacts are due to reservoir impoundment on the upstream of the dam and due to reduced flows downstream. While the impacts of dam on ecology and biodiversity are well publicised, the seminar highlighted the social impacts pertaining to displacement of people and effect on their livelihood, health, social system and cultures.

The standard impacts of such structures are seen in reservoir area on upstream of dam, flood plains or reach from dam site up to delta and deltaic area. He said in Pakistan dams are meant for power generation or irrigation, or both.

"It is not a sustainable system if irrigation is intermittent i.e. in one year it is there and in next year it is not there," he remarked while the umbrella organisation of civil society, Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP), representative clapped in affirmative. The PRNDP is also a partner network of the World Commission on Dams.

Idrees Rajput analysed the availability of surplus water for mega dams with three scenarios: upstream approach, downstream approach and year-to-year basis to prove his point that the country was not able to sustain new reservoirs.

According to him, the water requirements for under-construction projects included one million acre feet (MAF) water for Kachhi Canal, 1.1 MAF for Rainee Canal, 2.5 MAF for Greater Thal Canal, 0.1 MAF for Pat Feeder extension, one MAF for Gomal Zam Dam, 2.9 MAF for Mangla Raising and 2.2 MAF for LBOD. He said this should be seen in the context of annual surplus water availability computations in post-Tarbela period (1976-77 to 2003-04).

In the year-to-year surplus water availability scenario, commitments for ongoing projects rest at 11 MAF need, Indian rights on water rivers stand at two MAF, Afghanistan’s usage on Kabul is approximately 0.5 MAF and Kotri downstream must consume 10 MAF for reasonable ecological status quo.

Idrees also quoted from the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its report of 1996 that had forecast a reduction of Indus flow to the extent of 43 per cent while in its 2001 report again it has forecast less rains in summer and more rains in winter.

Sarwar Bari explained the context in which the discussion of construction and financing of mega dams should be held in Pakistan. The participants of the conference regarded the recent announcements by the government officials regarding construction of dams, second Indus Basin development plan, draft water policy and water vision 2025. "It is believed that all these national decision-making instruments lack proper public consultation, transparency and consent from the people of Pakistan," said a final statement from the NGOs’ body.

The conference claimed the political leaders of smaller provinces, experts and civil society widely share the view that enough water is not available for optimum utilisation of existing dams.

The construction of new dams would require huge capital costs in a capital scarce country without achieving the optimal return. The less frequency of floods and non-availability of water to fill the dams would yield lower benefits than costs, the participants observed.

The meeting also highlighted the environmental costs including downstream costs of dams have never been internalised and estimated by the planners. "The false assumption that flow of water downstream Kotri is unnecessary has forced more than half million people to poverty, starvation and migration," the moot agreed.

The meting suggested that instead of the restoration of environmental disaster at Indus Delta, the announcement of new dam would add to problems of the people of Indus Delta and its environment.

There PRNDP observed that the current paradigm of water resources development has already displaced more than half million people in the project including Tarbela, Mangla, Indus Delta, RBOD, LBOD, Chotiari, Manchar, Chashma and would displace same number in case of construction of Kalabagh Dam, Mirani Dam, Rainee Canal, Kachhi Canal, GTC and other projects envisaged in vision 2025

The meeting largely attended by the NGOs and media persons recommend that in all the current or upcoming projects, the effective participation of local communities should be ensured. Before launching any such scheme, public consultation should be carried out and consensus developed.

The conference also suggested that water should be considered a right and in design of any mega project, people’s basic rights of livelihood and development should be addressed. "The foreign loan creates debt burden on the country, which further reduces the options available with government for providing social services to the poor," the civil society body opined.