Home Global Village Water woes of Pakistan – Planning ahead – Hafeez Ullah Awan

Water woes of Pakistan – Planning ahead – Hafeez Ullah Awan


Hafeez Ullah Awan |

Historical Perspective

Pakistan has been blessed by nature with abundant water resources. River Indus with its tributaries forms one of the largest irrigation basins in the world sustaining the agriculture in the two most populated provinces of Punjab and Sind. The agriculture sector in Pakistan not only provides employment to more than 50% of the labor force in Pakistan but also provides food security to its 220 million population besides being a major contributor to its economy and exports. Agriculture thus is the lifeline for the people of Pakistan and water is the lifeline for agriculture and therefore a guarantee for a sustainable economic future of Pakistan.

At the time of independence in 1947, Pakistan inherited one of the largest irrigation systems in the world built by the British. This system was split into two parts due to the partition of Punjab creating a water-sharing dispute between India and Pakistan. This dispute was finally resolved by the World Bank sponsored and guaranteed “Indus Basin Water Treaty” between the two countries in 1960. Under the treaty, Pakistan was given full rights over the use of waters of three western rivers i.e Indus, Jhelum and Chenab while India was given same rights on the use of waters of rivers Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej.

The basis of the report is the annual per person availability of water which has drastically decreased from 5600 CUM in 1947 to 1000 CUM currently. This situation has put Pakistan in the category of ‘water scarce’ countries.

In the wake of the Indus Basin Water Treaty, Pakistan undertook a major effort to develop its irrigation systems in the 60’s by constructing two major Dams at Mangla on Jhelum river and Tarbela on Indus river which was commissioned in 1967 and 1974 respectively. These two dams not only provided much-needed storage of water of around 13 MAF but also provided cheap electricity to the tune of around 3000 MWs. Eight major link canals with a number of new barrages were also constructed to transfer surplus waters of rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to the areas in central and southern Punjab which were adversely affected by the stoppage of water flow in rivers Ravi, Sutlej and Beas.

Recent History

A study was carried out by WAPDA in late 70’s and early 80’s to look for potential sites at Indus river where large storage dams and run of the river projects could be constructed and a number of such sites were identified. Considering the financial and technical suitability, Kalabagh Dam site was considered to be most appropriate. This was the only site which could store waters of Indus, Kabul and Swat rivers, was easily accessible, was suitable for providing water to southern districts of the then NWFP and had adequate water storage and power generation potential.

Read more: FM stresses arbitration for resolution of Indo-Pak water dispute

Unfortunately, however, this project became controversial due to strong opposition from not only political circles in Sind and NWFP but also from some technical experts from these two provinces. Any discussion on the merits of the objections from Sind and presently KPK provinces is not within the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say that some of these concerns are genuine and must be addressed but largely it is a result of mistrust between the provinces which is most unfortunate.

The Current Debate

The current debate on the need for construction of large water reservoirs has been triggered by a report by PCRWR predicting a severe water shortage in the country by the year 2025. The basis of the report is the annual per person availability of water which has drastically decreased from 5600 CUM in 1947 to 1000 CUM currently. This situation has put Pakistan in the category of ‘water scarce’ countries. It must, however, be clarified that this decrease is not primarily due to an overall reduction in the quantity of water in our rivers but is mainly due to around 6 times increase in population, from around 35 million in 1947 to 220 million currently.

There are no two opinions regarding the need to construct adequate water storage reservoirs but we have to look at the best options available which are financially and technically feasible and are least controversial.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan after taking notice of this alarming situation has ordered the construction of Diamir Bhasha Dam at Indus river and Mohmand Dam at Swat river without any further delay and has also constituted a fund for this purpose where people have been asked to donate generously to arrange to fund for these projects. The government has also fully endorsed the initiative of the Supreme Court and has urged all Pakistanis, in a country and abroad, to donate generously for these vital national projects. An attempt to fully comprehend the issues involved in the “Dams debate” is being made in the subsequent paragraphs to arrive at the most suitable short-term solution to avert the impending water crises in the country.

Why Large Dams are Necessary

Our rivers are mainly fed through the glacial melt, snowmelt, and monsoon rains. All of these events occur in the summer season. The river flows are therefore highly variable during the year with almost 85% of the flow occurring in just 4 months (June to September) while remaining 15% flow occurs in the remaining 8 months of the year. This obviously results in the abundant availability of water in Kharif (summer) season and scarcity of water in the Rabi (winter) season.

Read more: Can India and Pakistan cooperate on water?

The surplus water available in the 4 summer months, therefore, needs to be stored in reservoirs to be subsequently made available for Rabi crops. The storage capacity of Tarbela Dam is reducing due to silting up and there is an urgent need to have an alternative storage built soon to ensure food security for our population. It is emphasized here that the decisions involving the construction of large water reservoirs are very complex in nature as these decisions involve very important financial, technical, environmental and social issues. Such decisions should never be taken on the basis of emotionalism alone. It is therefore imperative to seriously analyze the various options available for a short to medium term solution to the impending water crises.

The way Forward

It should be appreciated that large Dams like Diamir Bhasha requiring a colossal financial outlay of around 1600 billion rupees (including a huge amount of foreign exchange) cannot be constructed solely with public donations alone. There are no two opinions regarding the need to construct adequate water storage reservoirs but we have to look at the best options available which are financially and technically feasible and are least controversial. Before these options are considered, it would be appropriate to discuss the salient features of following relevant dams to arrive at the best possible option;

1. Mohmand Dam

Location: Near Munda in Mohmand Agency (Malakand Range) at Swat River 37 Km North East of Peshawar

Live/useable Storage Capacity: 0.70 MAF

Power Generation Capacity: 740 MWs

Current Estimated Cost: 2.5 Billion USD (300 Billion PKR)

Availability of International Funding: Yes

Construction Period: 5-6 Years

Linkage to National Grid: Easy

Canal Diversion: Not included but it will provide additional water in a lean season for an operation of Munda Head Works located immediately downstream of proposed Mohmand Dam.

Current Status: Detailed Design in progress and can be completed in a short time if the required funding is made available.

2. Diamir-Bhasha Dam

Location: Diamir District in Gilgit Baltistan at Indus River (Power House in Kohistan District KPK)

Live/Useable Storage Capacity: 6.5 MAF

Power Generation Capacity: 4500 MWs

Current Estimated Cost: 15 Billion USD (1600 Billion PKR)

Availability of International Funding: No

Construction Period: 10-12 Years

Linkage to National Grid: Difficult due to a long distance over mountainous terrain

Canal Diversion: Not Included

Current Status: Detailed Design completed, Land Acquisition in Progress, 100 Billion PKR allocated in current PSDP. Will require re-alignment of around 100 Kms of KKH.

3. Kalabagh Dam

Location: Mianwali District in Punjab at a combined flow of Indus & Kabul Rivers

Live/Useable Storage Capacity: 6.1 MAF

Power Generation Capacity: 3600 MWs

Current Estimated Cost: 8 Billion USD (900 Billion PKR)

Availability of International Funding: Yes

Construction Period: 7-8 Years

Linkage to National Grid: Easy

Canal Diversion: One canal on right Bank included to irrigate areas in southern districts of KPK.

Current Status: Detailed Design completed and some preliminary Works also completed by WAPDA since long. However further work stopped due to opposition from mainly Sindh and KPK. WAPDA had agreed to reduce the height of the Dam by 10 feet in 2003 to mitigate concerns regarding flooding in Nowshehra & Swabi but opposition to the construction of this Dam has not subsided.

4. Dasu Dam

Location: Kohistan District in KPK at Indus River (Run of the River Project)

Live/Useable Storage Capacity: 1.14 MAF

Power Generation Capacity: 4320 MWs in two stages (2160 MWs in each stage)

Current Estimated Cost: Total 6.2 Billion USD (750 Billion PKR), Stage I: 4.2 Billion USD (500 Billion PKR), Stage II: 2 Billion USD (250 Billion PKR)

Availability of International Funding: Yes

Construction Period: Stage I: 4-5 Years, Stage II: 2-3 Years

Linkage to National Grid: Moderately difficult due to mountainous terrain

Canal Diversion: Not Included

Current Status: A contract worth 180 Billion PKR already awarded to a Chinese firm for the construction of Dam structure & Spillway gates etc. Funding available by a consortium of Banks including World Bank for Stage I.

5. Akhori Dam 

Location: Attock District in Punjab. This is an offline storage based on Indus river over the spill in flood season. Surplus water from Tarbela will be diverted to the reservoir location through a 60,000 cusecs capacity canal. The stored water will be released back to Indus during periods of need for Rabi crops.

Live/Useable Storage Capacity: 7.0 MAF

Power Generation Capacity: 600 MWs

Current Estimated Cost: 3 Billion USD (350 Billion PKR)

Availability of International Funding: Yes

Construction Period: 5-6 Years

Linkage to National Grid: Easy

Canal Diversion: Not Included

Current Status: Preliminary design completed. An EPC contract can be awarded for its construction. No major diversion works (Tunnels) are required at Indus river as water released through Tarbela spillway will be channelized through the proposed canal to the Dam site. 

Parameters Governing the Formulation of Options Available

Before going on to the discussion on available options, it would be appropriate to define the parameters which should form the basis of these options. These parameters are as under;

a. PCRWR report which has triggered the current debate on the construction of large water reservoirs has mentioned that water situation is likely to become critical by the year 2025. Any option should, therefore, be capable of providing additional water storage capacity by 2025.

b. The options are based on the premise that 14-15 MAF surplus water is available in the Indus basin system for additional storage.

c. The present power generation capacity from all sources (hydel, thermal, wind, solar & nuclear) in Pakistan is around 32,000 MWs in summer peak season. The current peak demand for electricity in summers is around 24,500 MWs. However, due to capacity and other issues in the transmission & distribution systems, peak supply of electricity during this summer was around 18,000 MWs. Certain measures are in progress presently to remedy this situation and it is surmised that peak supply of around 25,000 MWs will be available in next 2-3 years through improvements in transmission and distribution systems. Certain power generation projects are also currently under execution (including operationalizing the full output of Tarbela 4th Extension and Neelum Jhelum Projects) which will add an additional 3000 MWs generation capacity in next 2-3 years. The dam options are therefore based on water storage as priority No.1 while electricity generation capacity has been accorded second priority.

d. Mohmand Dam is a stand-alone project as it is located at Swat river and there is no technical or political objection from any quarters. This project, therefore, must be part of all options.

Available Options

Based on the above basic parameters, available options have been formulated which are described subsequently as under;

    a. Option 1

  • This option is based on a simultaneous undertaking of construction of Kalabagh and Mohmand These two projects can be completed by the target year of 2025 if work is started without any delay. The combined live storage and power generation capacity of these two dams is 6.8 MAF and 4340 MWs respectively. The total estimated cost will be around 10.5 Billion USD (1200 Billion PKR) which can be arranged through International Financial Institutions. Power generated will be easily linked to the national grid. Large areas in Charsada/Mardan and D.I.Khan districts of KPK can be directly irrigated upon completion of these two projects. Additional water during Rabi season will be available to southern Punjab and Sind through waters of Kabul and Indus stored in Kalabagh dam.
  • There is however stiff opposition to the construction of Kalabagh dam by KPK and Sind provinces and national consensus on its construction is not likely to be achieved any time soon.

    b. Option 2

  • This option is based on a simultaneous construction of Diamir-Bhasha (Dam portion only) and Mohmand Since international funding for construction of Diamir-Bhasha dam is not

forthcoming, raising 1600 Billion rupees for the full execution of this project will be very difficult. It is therefore proposed to construct only the dam portion to allow storage of water while power generation component will be added later on. The dam alone can be constructed in 5-6 years at an estimated cost of 5 Billion USD (550 Billion PKR) which can be arranged through annual PSDP and donations/issue of investment bonds.

  • Upon completion of the two projects in next 5-6 years, the total available storage capacity will be 7.2 MAF while the power generation capacity of 740 MWs only will be available from Mohmand dam. Some technical experts have however expressed concerns on the location of Diamir-Bhasha dam being an active seismic zone which poses a major risk due to its considerable storage capacity. 100 Kms of KKH will also need to be re-aligned as original alignment will be submerged in the lake formed behind the dam.

    c. Option 3

  • This option is based on the simultaneous construction of Akhori Dam, Dasu Dam (Stage-I) and Mohmand Dam. The contract for construction of Dasu Dam component has already been awarded and funding through a consortium of international banks (including World Bank) is available. All three dams can be completed in next 5-6 years at a cost of around 11.7 Billion USD (1350 Billion PKR) out of which 4.2 Billion USD (500 Billion PKR) is already available while remaining can also be made available through international donor funding (soft loans).
  • The combined live storage and power generation capacity of these three dams will be 8.84 MAF and 3700 MWs respectively. Although Dasu dam is also located in a seismically active zone the risk is far less than Diamir-Bhasha Dam, as it is a run of the river project, its storage capacity is limited to the maximum of 1.14 MAF only.
Recommendations & Conclusion

Based on the pros and cons of each of the above three available options, OPTION 3 seems to be the most suitable option due to its obvious advantages over other two options and it is recommended for serious consideration. It is the least controversial of the three options available. It provides maximum potential for storage of water and adequate power generation capacity which can be augmented later by completing stage II of Dassu and subsequently Kalabagh or Diamir-Bhasha dams.

If 100 Billion rupees are allocated every year for next 10 years (to be shared equally between the federal and Punjab & Sind governments, it will help us in saving around 20-25 MAF water and improve the yield of our crops by about 25%-30%.

Construction of large Dams is essential to ensure availability of water for our future needs. However, a creation of additional water storage is part of the supply side management only. At the same time, it is imperative to manage the demand side of the water (water usage) also with equal if not more vigorously. This involves the reduction in wastage of water and water conservation measures at all levels. This must form part of our overall water management strategy.

93% of our present water usage is in the agriculture sector only. The demand for water for industrial, domestic and environmental preservation and improvement is also growing side by side. There is large scale wastage in our irrigation system due to seepage in unlined canals and watercourses, uneven crop fields and outdated irrigation methods. The total wastage in our irrigation system is estimated at a staggering 50-60 MAF. The per acre yield of our major crops is also very low even in comparison to India.

Read more: Water scarcity making country a wasteland

It is therefore strongly recommended to immediately plan and launch a 10 years water conservation plan to include the lining of canals and watercourses to reduce wastage through seepage which will also help in eliminating the menace of water logging and salinity. Laser levelling of our irrigated fields will help in reducing water wastage. Centuries-old irrigation methods must be discarded and modern techniques like furrow irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, and drip irrigation should be encouraged. Per acre crop yields should be enhanced by the use of improved seed varieties, change in cropping patterns and better use of pesticides and fertilizers.

These conservation measures should be undertaken by the relevant provincial governments with the support of the federal government. If 100 Billion rupees are allocated every year for next 10 years (to be shared equally between the federal and Punjab & Sind governments, it will help us in saving around 20-25 MAF water and improve the yield of our crops by about 25%-30%. Undertaking of the 10 years water conservation plan will also generate huge employment opportunities, in particular in rural areas and will also revitalize our industrial sector due to enhanced demand for construction materials and modern agriculture implements, pesticides, and fertilizers.

Engineer Hafeez Ullah Awan is an expert on water issues. He writes on political, social and environmental issues. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Facebook Comments