History of South Asia - General discussion and research 
Subject:  Kalabagh Dam, Pakistan (Longish!)
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Dear Netters,

The following article was received by the authors following a request to inform people about the plans to build a major dam in Pakistan.

It may be of interest to you all since dams of this nature would have a considerable effect on the "natural history" of the catchment and command areas of the Indus River and its delta within Pakistan and adjoining parts of India. This is in addition to the hardship and effect it will have on the lives of the people in the region.

Without wishing to add fuel to fire on where the South Asian Natural History network is heading in terms of what is discussed, from a personal and work point of view, I would like to state that I have enjoyed the mix of natural history notes, related questions and discussions,  conservation issues and counter issues being raised by contributors. True there have been mood-issue swings one way or another, but on the whole I think it has been a healthy balance.

Taej Mundkur
Coordinator, Waterbird Conservation Programme

Wetlands International - Asia Pacific
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Tel: +60-3-7572176
Fax: +60-3-7571225
Email: taej@wiap.nasionet.net
Home page: http://ngo.asiapac.net/wetlands


Aly Ercelawn (creed@awara.khi.sdnpk.undp.org)
Karamat Ali (b.m.kutty@cyber.net.pk)
Omar Asghar Khan (omar@oak.sdnpk.undp.org)

The authors are partners of the creed alliance in Pakistan, an 
advocacy group for efficient and equitable reforms in development. Aly 
Ercelawn used to be a senior economist at the University of Karachi;
Karamat Ali heads the Pakistan Institute of Labour Economics and 
Research; Omar Asghar Khan leads the SUNGI Development Foundation.
No matter how cynical we get, we just can't keep up

creed  (http://sangat.org/creedwetlands)
citizens alliance in reforms for efficient and equitable development
44 Darulaman Society 7/8    Sharea Faisel    Karachi  PAKISTAN
ph (9221) 453-0668  452-8884  499-0566  fax 454-9219 499-0566 777-2752

For many years, Presidents and Prime Ministers of Pakistan would
have us believe that a another large dam on the Indus -- now at 
Kalabagh downstream of Tarbela dam -- is a harbinger of national 
prosperity. This suggestion has been roundly and repeatedly rejected 
by people of all provinces except Panjab which directly benefits from 
the dam project. Immediately after presiding over the first-ever 
nuclear test explosions by Pakistan last May, PM Nawaz Sharif become 
emboldened enough to commit the federal government to building 
Kalabagh dam. His announcement was met yet again with widespread and 
sustained protest across the country. Sitting on the fence, former PM 
Benazir Bhutto agrees that the dam is a good idea but Panjab should 
get other provinces to see the light.

    With 6 MAF storage, Kalabagh dam will be the third large dam in
Pakistan after Tarbela (also on the Indus) and Mangla. At a cost 
of over $6 billion (excluding new canal systems), the new dam is 
designed to bring many thousand acres of Panjab and NWFP land under 
cultivation, and produce as much as 3000 mw of hydel power. Where 
will the dam get its water from? The federal irrigation agency, WAPDA 
(Water and Power Development Authority), has a simple answer: the dam 
will use water that is now "wasted" by flowing into the sea through 
the southern province of Sindh.

    The federal government argues that Kalabagh dam has a particular
urgency to speed economic recovery in Pakistan. International
sanctions against nuclear tests have exacerbated an already weak
economy. Food security is threatened, and privately generated thermal
power is too expensive. According to government, self-reliance
demands the Kalabagh dam, whose engineering plans have been ready for 
many years. It dismisses the need for a comprehensive environmental 
impact assessment of the dam.

    Pitted against the federal government and the Panjab establishent
are the peoples of the remaining three provinces of Pakistan --
Sindh, NWFP (North-West Frontier Province), and Balochistan. Both
NWFP and Sindh protest that Kalabagh dam will bring immediate,
widespread, and irreversible damage to their lands and forests.
Water-starved Balochistan fears that its plans to expand agriculture
from current shares of Indus waters will come to naught. Hoping to
defuse tensions, the Prime Ministers seemed to have agreed to
proceed with the dam project only with unanimous agreement of all
four provinces. But, called upon to evolve a consensus, federal
ministers and agencies have shown a distressing disregard of their
primary obligation to safeguard the federation.

    Leading the evangelists for Kalabagh dam, WAPDA confines itself to
proclaiming the dam's necessity and feasibility; casually dismisses
the concerns of adverse impacts; and stubbornly refuses to
acknowledge better alternatives to meet the dam's objectives -- all
in defiance of resolutions against the dam by three provinces as well
as the Senate Standing Committee on Water & Power. Fearful of
repeated rejection of the dam by the Indus River Systems Authority, 
the President has now ordained that this oversight body will now be 
entrusted to loyal servants of the State rather than nominees of 
public representatives of the provinces.

    Spokesmen for Panjab and the federal government base their crusade
for Kalabagh dam on the following grounds. First, a rapidly growing
population and feeble economic growth need more water and energy to
fuel agricultural and industrial growth. Second, the dam will
irrigate additional lands and produce electricity through Indus
waters otherwise wasted. Third, people of Panjab and NWFP displaced
in the vicinity of the dam can be compensated adequately. Fourth,
there will be no other significant adverse impacts upon people or the
environment anywhere else in Pakistan. Fifth, Kalabagh dam is
economically superior to other feasible alternatives for increasing
food and energy supplies.

    This note explains why Kalabagh dam will be both inefficient and
inequitable use of the federation's resources. The dam is unnecessary 
because there are superior alternatives. If built and used as 
planned, the dam will benefit a small number of people but impose 
enormously high costs on a substantially larger number of people now 
as well as in future generations through large-scale environmental 
degradation. The note ends by proposing specific steps towards a 
democratic process for resolving such conflicts.

    Through land lost to the reservoir and seepage, the
dam will directly displace between one and two hundred thousand men,
women, and children. After the dismal performance of WAPDA in
compensating and resettling a substantially smaller number of people
displaced by Tarbela dam, Ghazi-Barotha Hydropower Project, and
Chotiari Reservoir project, there is absolutely no reason to believe
that the federal government and its agencies have the will, resources
and capacity to tackle an enormously larger number of people
displaced by Kalabagh.

    WAPDA makes much of a lower dam height and sophisticated water 
release techniques in order to protect nearby cities and villages 
(in Nowshera district) from the heightened risk of damage by floods. 
Witnessing the outrageous conduct of WAPDA during earlier floods when 
it put Mangla dam ahead of people downstream (in Jhelum), the 
communities of these regions refuse to place their lives and 
livelihoods in certain jeopardy at the hands of dam engineers.

    All dams cause the water table to rise in surrounding areas.
Kalabagh dam will be no exception. Substantial areas of the central
districts of NWFP and Potohar plateau of Panjab dam will be rendered
waste through water logging and salinity. Such communities are
unlikely to receive anywhere close to adequate compensation because
WAPDA has not historically been very responsible in these matters.

    As has been observed in many international dam projects, the most
pronounced but also most neglected are downstream adverse impacts.
WAPDA asserts that there will be no such significant effects of
Kalabagh dam. When the people of Sindh contrast the history of Indus
flows recorded by WAPDA with water allocations in the Water Accord
between provinces, they can only conclude that WAPDA is
self-servingly casual about the evidence of adverse impacts. It will
be an extremely  rare year in which Indus floods are large enough to
utilise the dam without reducing current allocations of flows to
each province. Years of normal flows will permit Kalabagh dam and
associated new irrigation schemes to be used only by reducing the
allocations to Sindh and Balochistan. Their political clout will
ensure that upland agriculture and urban supplies are always
protected. In which case, the people of Indus delta will bear the
brunt of damage to their lands and forests through reduced freshwater
flows and increased sea water intrusion. It is a travesty of national
development to build Kalabagh dam by the forced destruction of the
lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the lower riparian
region of Pakistan.

    Concerns of the Indus delta have unfortunately received short 
shrift by the infrastructure lobby. It is not just Kalabagh, but any
additional storage dam or barrage anywhere on the Indus that is a
grave threat to the livelihoods of millions of peasants and
fisherfolk along the Sindh coast - because such diversions of
freshwater promise to devastate the dwindling natural resources of the 
delta. These are not imaginary fears; it is Mandarins of the State 
who treat people of the coast as invisible victims of their
"development" agendas. Ever since the construction of the Sukkur
Barrage in the 1930s, and continuing with the barrages and dams into
the 70s, the Indus delta has been steadily deprived of fertile silt
and freshwater which nourish its land and forests. Commercial
interests of upland agriculture and "cheap" energy production have
colluded with construction carnivores to take cover behind the
self-serving myth of using "water flowing wasted into the sea."

    In discussing the impact of the Provincial Water Accord of 1991,
IUCN's Peter Meynell bluntly stated that the Indus Delta was already
on the "brink of ecological disaster." This bleak assessment led him
and other experts to recommend a minimum flow of around 30 MAF
downstream of Kotri barrage. Sindh irrigation expert, and former
Senator, Kazi has argued time and again that historical records of
WAPDA establish that total availability of Indus flows cannot
satisfy committed allocations. In consequence, any additional
upstream reservoir such as Kalabagh will either lie unfilled in all 5 
out of 6 years, or the Indus delta will be lucky to get even a measly
10 MAF of water in only 1 of 6 years. After the inequitable 1991 
Water Accord and the 1997 National Finance Award it should be obvious 
who will be made the sacrificial goat by Islamabad.

    Do dammers in the mountains and plains really want to transform 
the Indus delta into "a desiccated place of mud-cracked earth, salt 
flats, and murky pools," as the Colorado delta has become for the 
Mexican "people of the river... who are at risk of extinction?" This 
is the bleak outcome of the Colorado River being so heavily dammed 
and diverted in the western US that "it literally disappears into the 
desert before it reaches the sea."

    Except to construction carnivores, Panjab's enthusiasm for the 
dam is inexplicable in the face of a number of well-known 
alternatives that will cost less money and completely avoid the 
massive human and environmental costs of another dam. Reducing waste 
within the irrigation system is an obvious measure, since at 
least half of the water is lost to evaporation, seepage, etc. At 
more than 1100 cm per capita, Pakistani agriculture gobbles more than 
half as much as what Egypt uses and 3 times more than what India 
consumes by way of freshwater. One estimate is that measures for 
lining water courses, land levelling and the like will cost only 10% 
of the cost of getting the same water from Kalabagh dam. All water for 
new cultivation in Panjab can therefore be recovered from investing 
in conservation measures for its own current share of Indus waters. 
This would be cheaper and pose no threat to other provinces.

    The present WAPDA power system incurs line losses of no less 
than 25% in transmission and distribution. Clearly, investments in 
reducing this waste are cheaper than building more capacity only to 
lose another one-fourth again. In addition, present generating 
capacity is already underutilised by a large margin, and a surplus is 
likely to remain when the Ghazi Barotha Hydropower project comes on 
stream in a couple of years. When getting power to the villages is a 
priority, decentralised projects of wind and solar power need to be 
taken far more seriously by provincial and federal governments.

    A recent study by TAMS and HR Wallingford for WAPDA compares the 
cost of desilting Tarbela dam with building Kalabagh dam. It 
concludes that desilting Tarbela dam and reducing future 
sedimentation will cost nearly one-half of Kalabagh dam to achieve 
the same irrigation and energy objectives. Action towards desilting 
Tarbela will also go some way in restoring the natural fertility 
regime of the Indus.

    A just and equitable water policy would become easier to plan and
implement only when citizens strive to give priority to communities
over the nation, to territory over the centre, and to the federation
over the state. This democratic vision suggests some concrete steps.

    First, and most importantly, federal as well as provincial 
governments must announce a complete moratarium on any more dams and 

    Second, the federal government and provinces should constitute a
National Water Commission. Its terms of reference should be two-
fold: to examine basin-wide social, economic, and environmental
impacts of all existing and proposed irrigation and drainage systems; 
and to propose alternatives for expanding irrigation and power 
supplies. To be credible, the Commission should be headed by an 
expert from the non-governmental sector, with commissioners 
representing dam affected communities, NGOs, technical experts, and
provincial governments. The recently formed World Commission on Dams 
can be of much assistance to the National Water Commission.

    Third, public representatives should subsequently ensure broad-
based public discussion and debate of the Commission's findings, with 
a view towards informed consent of communities affected by any water 
projects, including Kalabagh dam.

    Fourth, federal and provincial legislators would ensure that all 
water projects are given public hearings in Standing Committees, and
endorsed by provincial assemblies before qualifying as a subject for
negotiations at any federal forum. 

    Fifth, federal legislators would proceed with federal funding of 
only such projects as have received the Commission's approval, been
given provincial ratification, obtained unanimous agreement in the 
Council of Common Interests, and gained subsequent approval by 
the federal Senate.