Kalabagh Dam: Betwixt Economists and the Statesmen: By Mohammed Akmal Pasha


In the greatest interest of the economy, the rolling back of the plan of Kalabagh dam sounds a hasty, myopic and detrimental decision to economists, to statesmen only opportune one.
The economists lament arguing that, pathetically the per capita surface water for irrigation which equaled 5260 cubic meters per year in 1951 had reduced to 1100 cubic meters per capita in 2006 that is 21 %; after two years it has dwindled to 20 %. Now, as per universal standards, the minimum water requirement to avoid becoming a ¡water short country¢ is 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year and we have covered 91 % of the ground. Thus with the continued phenomenon, by 2012 Pakistan will degenerate to another stage ¡acute water shortage¢, the point where people tend to shed blood for water.
Kalabagh, once part of a feudal estate within Punjab, was rewarded to the Nawab of Kalabagh for his services rendered to the British. After partition, in 1953 the government of Pakistan in the wake of potential water shortages triggered the plan of building a dam at Kalabagh (Mianwali) and which for the next two decades continued to be reckoned as a mammoth water storage project. As a mega source the dam was supposed to meet among others the growing irrigation and energy needs of the country. In 1984 by virtue of assistance of the UNDP and supervision of the World Bank; the project was properly documented and WAPDA was to become the flagship.
The main objectives of the project remained to be to make for the storage lost on account of silting up of water from existing reservoirs, to provide additional storage and regulation on the Indus, to generate large amount of low cost hydroelectric power near major load centers, to increase the energy and power output of Tarbela Power Station through the joint operations of Tarbela and Kalabagh reservoirs, and finally to regulate and control the extreme flood peaks of the Indus to alleviate flood damage downstream.
In concatenation, in December 2005 General Pervez Musharraf amidst of meek provincial disagreement formally approved the construction of the dam. This rhetoric assurance of building the dam though pragmatically dominated over the thrust of provincial controversy but gradually it lost its substance. Today the very phenomenon has practically got reversed. This U-turn certainly has its repercussions; we can simply invert the benefits envisioned through project objectives or envisaged in the past. In terms of total project cost, it was estimated to be US$ 6124 million in 2005, today it has grown more than 1.63 times equaling US$ 10,000 million. Suppose the decision is again revised after a few years by some other government, the cost will roughly compound at the rate of 50 % per annum.
The Kalabagh Dam was assumed to yield direct annual benefit of almost Rs. 66 billion through the blend of irrigation supplies, power generation and flood alleviation. On irrigation water-supply front alone, the Dam was to augment about 6.1 MAF (Million Acre Feet) of irrigation supplies annually which if monetized equal Rs. 24.73 billion per annum.
In terms of energy generation, on average it was supposed to furnish 11,400 million KWH annually estimated as Rs. 35.94 billion per annum. The dam was also to cut down the frequency and severity of floods marring the potential damage in downstream areas equal to Rs. 5 billion per annum. On the whole, the Dam must have produced 4500 MW equaling 20 % of the peak demand for electricity boosting thereby the hydel to thermal ratio. The 11.4 billion units of low cost hydel electricity must have garnered additional tariff. The energy generation would have been equivalent to 20 million barrels of oil otherwise needed to produce thermal power, this loss will on the whole burden the economy with Rs.100 billion per annum. Not this much, this tendency will again disturb the thermal-hydel ratio redoubling thereby the cost.
Given that agriculture is the backbone of the economy, the 35 million acres land is indebted to canals and tube wells. However, by virtue of Chashma, Mangla and Tarbela the average annual water availability for canal withdrawals increased by 56.72 % from 67 to 105 MAF between the years 1947 and 1976. But unfortunately, the gross capacity of Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma reservoirs had depleted by 5.15 MAF (almost 5 %) by the year 2006. Again the continuing sedimentation is estimated to inflict a gross storage loss of 6.22 MAF by the year 2012.
Economists maintain, that due to shortage of water, the country will have to import food grains of 1.5 million tons, sugarcane 12.25 million tons, oil seeds 1.72 million tons, and forages 60.22 million tons by the year 2025 which will amount to Rs 200 billion per annum. According to Water Sector Investment Planning Study, Pakistan will face a deficit of 12 million tons in total grain production in the year 2012-13 that is 31% of projected target. The loss of storage capacity of the on-line reservoirs which is ascribable to sedimentation equaled 28 % in 2006, however it will rise to 43% in the year 2025.
On the other hand, the statesmen have their own stance in favor of foregoing the construction of the Kalabagh dam. In fact, the government appeared subservient in the wake of Sindh and NWFP passing resolutions against the construction of Kalabagh dam and if not honored the very act was feared to de-federate the ¡federation of politicians¢. Having abandoned Kalabagh dam, the government today is tinkering with identifying new alternate energy resources whereby it is learnt that government will venture into wind, solar and coal energy generation projects. But question is by what time these alternatives will be able to compensate for the energy loss and at what cost!
On redoubling water capacity or availability, the government is said to have planned to allocate Rs 120 billion for issuing ¡tenders¢ for raising the Bhasha and Mangla dams and also for Neelum-Jhelum hydro power project. Ultimately, only the time will show as to which patriotic officials will professionally approve these tenders, and which fortunate ones will be unleashed to make use of such a lucrative chance of serving the nation. In economic terms, the cost and benefit analysis will justify the substituting of the construction of Kala Bagh Dam.
Blatantly though, the government claims to pursuing a ¡comprehensive approach¢ that would eventually rid the nation of load-shedding. This destination is not far off rather it gyrates around December 2009 that is 18 months henceforth. On energy generation front, the government has claimed to have started energy generation on ¡war footing¢ and as a token of victory against its own ¡army of bureaucrats¢ it will be able to generate 2,200 megawatts electricity after just ten months. Out of this lot, 1,000 megawatts would be generated by IPPs, an equal amount by intrinsic resources and finally the remaining 200 MW by rental plants.
Still 3,000 MW will come through new projects and some 500 megawatts would be added by hydel generation and that too in a few weeks! Aggregated together, the whole amount equals 5700 MW which certainly shows a surplus of 1200 MW over and above the supposed energy generation capacity of the abandoned Kalabagh Dam.
In short, soon the nation will come to know whether discarding Kalabagh dam was an appropriate maneuver, or then what was the appropriate measure against the deserted measure; economists believe that it is a matter of two to three years. ¡I do not believe in the long run, for long run is not that far.¢ John Maynard Keynes

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