Volume 21 Issue 7 July 2017


During a visit to Washington in 1963, President Muhammad Ayub Khan impressed upon the World Bank the need for a Development Plan beyond Tarbela Dam. The WB set up the ‘Indus Special Study’ under international experts of repute. After three years, they produced a report titled ‘Development of Water and Power Resources of West Pakistan.’

It was made clear that if Pakistan wanted to maintain its pace of progress, it must have a third large dam by 1992 and the preliminary engineering work on the dam must begin in 1977. This large dam should be based in Kalabagh, followed by the Basha Dam. WAPDA started investigations in 1977 and feasibility reports on the Kalabagh Dam were prepared twice. Work was completed in 1988. It became obvious that the Kalabagh Dam, located near the town of Kalabagh, would be a big and feasible reservoir.

The important benefits that would accrue to Pakistan once the Kalabagh Dam was built would be that it would generate a large amount of low cost hydro-electric power close to major load centres; complement reduction in the storage capacities of Mangla and Tarbela reservoirs, supply adequate and timely water for agricultural, industrial and domestic uses; control the extreme flood peaks of the Indus, the Kabul and the Soan rivers; provide irrigation facilities to new areas and improve supply to non-perennial and perennial areas; reduce dependence on imported fuels and substantially reduce average power generation costs.

The consequences of not building the dam would be a population explosion that would subject the economy to an additional burden through numerous impacts; by 2020, the loss of storage capacity of on-line reservoirs (Mangla excluded) due to sedimentation would result in increasing shortage of committed irrigation and absence of new storages would give rise to bitter interprovincial disputes. It was estimated that the annual energy generated at Kalabagh would be equivalent to 20 million barrels of oil producing thermal power. Now, thermal generation has upset the thermal-hydel mix in the system, causing a prohibitive rise in the power tariff. Had the Kalabagh Dam been built, electricity today would be available at Rs. 1.5 per unit. At present, growth of domestic industrial and agricultural sectors is being impeded due to the high power cost.

Also, due to non-availability of enough fresh water, secondary salinization of lands has become difficult to control. For instance, there is a fertile virgin tract of land of about 850,000 acres in Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan Districts which is still bereft of irrigation. This means that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has lost a major development opportunity for agricultural growth. Sindh could also have been a major beneficiary from the Kalabagh Dam and would have received additional supplies of 2.257 MAF from the Dam’s storage supplies. Balochistan would have benefited by using additional supplies equal to some 0.732 MAF in the Kachhi Canal and Pat Feeder Extension. The total cost of failure to build the Dam works out to a horrendous figure of $900 billion.

Pakistan is highly deficient as far as its existing water storage capacity is concerned. Out of total flows of the Indus and its tributaries of 140 MAF, the present storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77 MAF which is only 8 % of the total annual flows. The storage capacity in Aswan Dam (Egypt) is 132 MAF which is 350% of the annual flow of the Nile River.

After the Indus Waters Treaty, signed in 1960 between India and Pakistan with the World Bank as the arbitrator, India got about 33 Million Acre Feet (MAF) water and has constructed many dams. The Bhakra Dam on the Sutlej has a storage capacity of 5.60 MAF and can generate 1325 MW, besides irrigating 17 million acres. Pong dam on the Beas River has a capacity of 5.91 MAF and can generate 360 MW. The Thein Dam on the Ravi River has storage of 2.65 MAF and generation capacity of 600 MW. Pakistan has constructed no dam after Tarbela and Mangla which have a total capacity of 14.262 MAF.

The ecological disciplines which can possibly be affected in Sindh downstream of the Kotri Barrage by construction of upstream storages on the Indus River are sea water intrusion, mangrove forests, fisheries, riverine forests, riverine irrigation and domestic water supply. Based on the results of detailed studies, the international panel of experts identified the need for continuous water escapage below Kotri Barrage (5000 cusecs) for such purposes as checking salinity encroachment in the river aquifer and coastal zone, providing coastal stability, ensuring a sustainable environment, maintaining fisheries, preventing salinity accumulation and providing water for riverine forests, riverine agriculture, pollution control and drinking water supply. River Indus downstream of Kotri Barrage remains dry for 8 months each year. This perennial supply of 5000 cusecs will substantially improve the ecological conditions in the 170 miles reach of the river downstream of Kotri Barrage.

Sindh holds the view that canals are proposed to off-take from Kalabagh Dam, which will draw excessive water and, as a result, supplies to Sindh will be reduced. According to one point of view, “there appears to be no justification for any new canal from the Kalabagh Dam.” The factual position is that the Kalabagh Dam project does not include any canals from the left or right flanks. Construction of any canal does not increase the share of a province in the river water. All such objections are baseless assumptions.

At present, actual canal withdrawals in Sindh are about 105 MAF. There is a shortfall of about 12.00 MAF which is not being utilized by the provinces due to lack of storage of flood waters and non-availability of stored supplies. With the construction of the Kalabagh Dam, this shortfall of about 12.00 MAF would have become utilizable and Sindh would be able to use an additional discharge of about 5.087 MAF over and above its present level of canal withdrawals.

One major objection against the Kalabagh Dam is that water would not be available for storage in the Dam. In this regard, two approaches have been adopted in the calculations by Sindh. In the upstream approach, water received at the rim stations and that utilized above these points is taken as the starting point. The rim stations of the western rivers are Tarbela for Indus, Nowshera for Kabul, Mangla for Jhelum and Marala for Chenab. In the downstream approach, the average water going to the sea is taken as 32.5 MAF. Surplus water availability due to siltation in Tarbela and Chashma reservoirs i.e. the loss in storage capacity of these reservoirs, will be added to 32.5 MAF. From this discharge, new commitments and future allocations will be deducted. Adding and subtracting all flows joining the river and withdrawals there from including existing and new commitments in future gives a surplus figure of about 11 to 13 MAF. As such, Sindh’s objection that no water would be available for storage at Kalabagh is nullified.

The Ministry of Water & Power constituted on November 15, 2003 a Technical Committee on Water Resources. The recommendations of this Committee focused on an urgent need for storage of water, top priority for the Kalabagh Dam and immediate construction of the Basha Dam to follow the Kalabagh Dam.

No doubt, the Diamer-Basha Dam is also a feasible project and is needed for boosting Pakistan’s economy. However, the Kalabagh Dam is a far superior project than Diamer-Basha Dam in many respects, such as a very suitable location, high river flows, modest height, longer life due to flushing through low level spillway, easy access, very economical transmission lines, shallower bedrock at dam site, lighter intensity of earthquakes, shorter construction period, increased power generation at Tarbela and low project cost.

Politicization of Kalabagh Dam
Before international tenders could be issued for its construction, the Kalabagh Dam Project had to be put on the back burner because of controversy arising on the political front. During 1986, a leading political leader in Sindh launched a virtual rebellion against the government of Gen. Zia ul Haq, opposing him for everything, including the Kalabagh Dam. In fact, an alarm was raised that Sindh would become a desert if the Kalabagh Dam was built.

The Water Accord of 1991 gave major concessions to lower riparian Sindh. These included river water distribution to be taken away from the controversial WAPDA and be entrusted to a new federal body IRSA (Indus River System Agency), Punjab agreeing to a reduction in its share from 40% to 37%, in order to increase Sindh’s share from 34% to 37% in all future dams and Sindh’s interest being further protected with a monitoring contingent of engineers from the Sindh Irrigation Department who were posted at major headworks in Punjab.

Playing politics by leaders in Sindh has deprived the country of a golden opportunity to resolve the dispute between Punjab and Sindh. The Kalabagh Dam also became a victim of politics when the political government inducted IPPs (Independent Power Producers) to overcome the prevailing power shortage. Oil, which was $10 per barrel at the time, increased to $100 per barrel, catapulting the cost per unit tenfold and forcing the government to subsidize power and run up a circular debt of billions of rupees.

It is very important to highlight here the major benefits that will accrue to Sindh through construction of the Kalabagh Dam.
i) The major area extending over about 170 miles below Kotri Barrage remains dry for 8 months each year. This will receive a continuous supply of 5000 cs as decided in the report of the International Penal of Experts (IPOE).

ii) Sindh will gain the maximum benefit, 5.087 MAF of water against 1.545 MAF share of the Punjab as per WAA allocations.
iii) The share of Sindh in all future storages on the Indus has been raised from 34% to 37% and the Punjab share has been reduced from 40% to 37%, although the area irrigated in the Punjab is much larger than the Sindh area.

In view of the above advantages, any resistance from Sindh is meaningless and damaging for the people of Sindh.

Some recommendations
The Kalabagh Dam Project stands ready for implementation since 1988. Delays in its implementation have hit the national economy hard in every sector. For reducing dependence on very costly thermal power and saving foreign exchange, it is recommended that the Kalabagh Dam Project be implemented without any further delay only as a “power project.” It would be a “run-of-river” project which would generate 3600 MW of power and would not supply any water for irrigation to any province. It will maintain the present position of full outflows, below Kotri to the sea. This will give a boost to the economy of Pakistan and substantial relief to its people who have been hit hard by load-shedding for the last 15 years.

Engineer Barkat Ali is the founding Chairman of National Development Consultants – an engineering consulting firm. He is known for his work in Water Resource Engineering. He worked on the design and review of Warsak Dam, Shadiwal Hydro-electric Project and the Kalabagh Dam Project. At the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) he worked on the design and review of the gigantic Indus Basin Project. He provided services to the World Bank on appraisal and construction supervision of numerous drainage and agriculture projects in Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Turkey.
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