Monday, March 07, 2005

Which dam?

This letter was published in Daily Times, Lahore on March 7, 2005

Sir: Re your editorial, “General Musharraf, Kalabagh Dam and power sharing,” (DailyTimes, March 4).

General Musharraf has been trying to build a consensus, in his own ambivalent style, on the Kalabagh Dam (KBD) for the last five years now. But the consensus doesn’t seem to be in sight. In fact, the more he talks about it the more controversy he stirs up. We have been doing this for the past twenty years now, including five years of Musharraf. So, let’s forget about KBD for the time being and get on with building non-controversial dams like Basha and others. This is what a former chairman of WAPDA had said publicly in the early days of Musharraf’s government, but no one paid any heed to him.

Talking about the advantages of KBD over other dams clouds facts and confuses even the otherwise well-informed public. It would be appropriate to refer to a study carried out in the early 1980s by a Canadian consulting company, Montreal Engineering, at a cost of about five million dollars. In its report submitted to the government in 1984 the company recommended several potential sites for constructing dams — all upstream of Tarbela. They were, in order of priority: Basha, Dassu, Bunji, Thakot, Pattan, Yugo, Yulbo, Ranikot and Tungus.

Basha and Yugo were storage dams while the others were run-of-river dams, meaning that they would only be used to generate electricity. KBD was not on the list. Basha would have stored 7.7 million-acre feet (MAF) of water and generated 4,500 MW of electricity, as opposed to KBD’s 6.3 MAF and 3,600 MW. (Incidentally, the figure of 9 MAF for KBD quoted by General Musharraf in his Nowshera speech doesn’t sound right because total surface water in Pakistan is hardly more than ten MAF).

Also, Basha would have been cheaper to build because the site is located at a narrow gorge. KBD, on the other hand, located in a relatively plain area, would cost much more. (Incidentally, no one seems to mention a credible cost figure for KBD in the ongoing debate). Another benefit of Basha would be that it would reduce the amount of silt flowing down the river, thus prolonging the life of Tarbela. Plus, the number of people displaced by Basha would be negligible compared to those displaced by KBD. All these facts were ignored and KBD is being touted as the “do-or-die” option.

Now it is said that Basha will take longer to build and we cannot waste any more time. The way things are proceeding, five years from now we will probably be where we are today, still arguing the same points over and over.

Islamabad

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