Mega Dams: What Is At Stake?

Mega dams: what is at stake?

By Aziz Narejo

Reinforced pronouncements about the construction of Kalabagh, Akhori-Sanjwal, Bhasha and other dams prove one thing: the praetorian masters continue to ignore the voices of the small provinces. One is at loss to understand why they are so unresponsive – and why do they want to destroy the very few remaining bridges between the people of the four provinces?

 

One wonders how hard it would be for anyone with a minimal intelligence to figure out that the overwhelming majority of the people of Sindh were deadly against the construction of any mega dam on the Indus River . If there were a democratic setup or a true ‘federal’ government in the country, the people at the top would have respected the opinion of a federating unit or at least they should have tried to understand the reasons behind their stand.

 

If the powers that be had sincerely tried, they might have found out that the people of Sindh already faced annihilation. What should one expect from them? Seeing everything in black and white how could one suggest to them to agree to their death warrant and change their views of the Army, the Punjab and the Center – the parties that they think were responsible for their plight in the first place? How can it happen just like that?

 

The powers that be or the ‘Establishment’ could have also easily known if it had tried that the people in the lower riparian province believed that the over-exploitation of water resources upstream has already caused irreversible losses to the economy of Sindh – to the agriculture, the livestock, fisheries, deltaic life, flora and fauna, eco-system and the environment – and also that they strongly believed that any further damming of the river waters would completely ruin the province. The people of Sindh just don’t have anything more to give or take.

 

It is not only Sindh. The people in the NWFP (Pukhtoonkhwa) are also against the construction of the Kalabagh Dam. They fear inundation of their fertile lands and several towns. Three out of four provincial assemblies have passed multiple resolutions against the dam. How can a uniformed ruler arbitrarily decide otherwise and embark on a quixotic pursuit of building mega dams that may bring catastrophe to the country?

 

It may be true that the present fragile government at the Centre is working under tremendous internal and external pressures. It lacks the popular mandate and hasn’t been able to convince the world of its legitimacy. It may be in dire need to please its own constituency and a powerful lobby in the bigger province to continue in power. But the question is: are these reasons good enough to put the country at stake?

 

Also shouldn’t we know that it is not only the agriculture that makes a country great? There are other ways that many developed countries have adopted to increase their per capita incomes and reach formidable positions in the comity of nations. Merely destroying agriculture at one place and irrigating some lands at other places would not ensure our greatness.

 

The sanity calls for prudence and looking into the available alternates. Would they – the powers that be – for once opt for the reason instead of exigencies? One is afraid they may again make a wrong decision. We should know by now that wrong decisions in the past have played havoc with the country. This will too. It is guaranteed.

 

(Letter published in daily Dawn in August, 2005)

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