Water Crisis: Some Misconceptions: by Aziz Narejo
Despite Sindh’s unanimous opposition to any mega dams on the Indus River and three out of four provincial assemblies’ multiple resolutions against the proposed Kalabagh Dam, the federal government seems all set to start work on at least one of the several proposed multi-billion dollar dams to garrote the already choked river.
Many believe that such an extremely divisive decision will cause irreparable loss to the
country especially when a large number of people feel that it is based on misconceptions, distortions and misrepresentation of facts. Hence, the government may be advised to give thorough consideration to all aspects of the issue before taking the final plunge.
One of the many mistaken beliefs is that a dam is the only answer to the water crisis. It
overlooks the actuality that a dam is merely a vessel to store the already available water.
It cannot create or increase water. It is like someone having a liter of water. That water
could be poured into one, two, three or more cups but it will always remain a liter. Pouring it into several cups won’t increase the quantity.
The government argument that a huge quantity of water is wasted annually is based on the most controversial figures presented by Wapda which has a track record of misleading the government and the public with fallacious data.
The true quantity of water available in the Indus River System is yet to be determined. The proof is the appointment of a “technical committee” for that purpose. Although many people have objections to the formation and the composition of that committee, it is imperative that it is allowed to work independently.
No final decision on a dam should be taken before the committee presents its final report. However, it is more appropriate to involve internationally credible experts to undertake the task.
The other argument for a new dam is that Tarbela has lost its storage capacity substantially due to silting. Many experts have suggested ways to overcome this problem.
In 1997 TAMS, the designers of Tarbela Dam, conducted a study that recommended
sediment sluicing to solve the problem. It advised that Tarbela would become a perpetual storage of six million acre feet if new tunnels and an underwater dyke were constructed for its proper sediment sluicing.
In 1998 an eminent American engineer, who had spent about six years at Tarbela and many years with TAMS, advised the ministry of water and power that by using the existing low-level tunnels three and four for sediment sluicing, the existing storage capacity of Tarbela can be preserved without the construction of new tunnels and dyke.
Syed Shahid Husain, former power and water secretary, also strongly advocated use of
tunnels three and four for the sediment sluicing of Tarbela. Experts suggest that the
expenditure on the de-silting process will only be a fraction of the cost of a dam.
Raising the height of Mangla will also provide an increased storage capacity to offset any
loss. The government should consider the feasibility of a dam. It will require huge amounts of foreign and local resources.
The country is already under heavy burden of foreign and local debts. Will a mega dam
deliver as much as it is projected to? What will be its costs in national and human terms? How will it affect the unity and the integrity of the country? Have we explored and exhausted all alternatives?
(Letter published in daily Dawn).