Diamer Bhasha Dam is regarded as one of the most vital projects for ensuring water sustainability in Pakistan. Pakistan, an agro-based economy, heavily dependent upon its agricultural produce for exports cannot afford a scarcity of water. The South Asian nation sticks its hopes on the Diamer Bhasha dam to ensure food and energy security of Pakistan.

The dam is being constructed on River Indus, 315 Kilometer (Km) upstream of Tarbela Dam, 180 Km downstream of Gilgit, and 40 Km downstream of Chilas town.

The project, after being shelved by successive governments for 40 years, was taken up by the incumbent Prime Minister Khan on priority. A dam fund; the PM-CJ Diamer Bhasha dam fund, in this regard was launched to generate funds for this expensive project. This large-scale project is scheduled to be completed in 2028-29. It has three core objectives namely water storage for agriculture, flood mitigation and hydel power generation.

The dam will have a gross water storage capacity of 8.1 million acre feet (MAF) to irrigate 1.23 million acres of additional land.

The project with installed power generation capacity of 4500 megawatts (MW) will provide more than 18 billion units per annum to the National Grid.

What caused the delay?

The Diamer-Bhasha dam could not be built for the last four decades due to the reluctance of the past political governments and the project supervising authority. There was a complete lack of political will.

Read more: Has SBP caused Supreme Court a loss of millions on dam fund?

However, Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to go ahead with the project and tasked former Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director-general and incumbent China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority Chairman Lieutenant General (r) Asim Saleem Bajwa to ensure immediate execution of the project.  Since assuming the charge of Chairman CPEC authority, he has been instrumental in pushing the project and due to his efforts, the project is now ready for the start of construction work at the project.

The dam will help provide cheap energy for the country’s industrial development besides helping irrigate 1.23 million acres of barren land mostly in Sindh province. The irrigation would also help the country develop its food needs and also export vegetables and food resources while it would also deter floods.

In the past, negative propaganda on different social media platforms promoting anti-dam sentiments was one of the many factors that influenced decision making in Islamabad.

The rise of anti-dam propaganda on social media sites was not countered with facts and awareness campaign.

Read more: Diamer Basha Dam – letter to the Editor

Companies building the dam and on what cost?

The project is being executed by a Chinese state-run company, China Power along with the Pakistani Frontier Works Organisation (FWO). The government signed a contract of Rs442 billion with China Power for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. The dam project with a total financial outlay of about Rs1,406.5 billion would be completed in 2028.

China power holds the majority of share in the project. It controls 70 per cent and the FWO, a commercial arm of the Pakistan Armed Forces, has 30 per cent share in the consortium.

The contract covers construction of a diversion system, main dam, access bridge and the 21MW Tangir Hydropower Project. The dam is essential to cope with the increasing water and electricity requirements of the country.

The total financial outlay, according to Chairman WAPDA, includes land acquisition and resettlement, confidence-building measures for social uplift of the local people, construction of dam and powerhouses.