By Massoud Ansari
Field studies for the Kalabagh Dam began in 1953. According to the plan, the dam is to be constructed at Kalabagh, a town about 120 miles downstream from the Tarbela Dam. If all goes according to plan, the reservoir created by the dam will extend into the town of Nowshera on the right bank of the river Indus in NWFP. It will also serve the administrative districts of Mianwali and Campbellpur in the Punjab and Kohat and Nowshera districts in the Frontier province.
Those in favour of the Kalabagh Dam project maintain that it will not only generate 3600 MGW of hydro-electric power, but will also provide an effective means of controlling the water used for irrigation purposes. They point out that the quantity of water stored in Tarbela and Mangla dams is decreasing because of sedimentation and maintain that an additional storage dam is urgently needed, otherwise a dream of a green revolution in the country is not sustainable.’ The dam advocates also say that its construction will help reduce the effect of floods by storing the extra water during peak flood flows.
Meanwhile, experts in Sindh believe that 1.9 million acres of thick riverine forests, 1.3 million acres of rich grazing lands and 6 lakh acres of cultivated land are entirely dependent on inundation by the river Indus. If the quantity of water flowing down the river is insufficient, then food crops, fodder and drinking water supplied from wells are adversely affected. They cite the 1985-86 drought as an example. At this time, since the Katcha area was not inundated, many families were forced to migrate to urban areas, adding to the population explosion in cities.
Another cause of concern among Sindhis is the danger that the dam would pose to the stretch of mangrove forests in the Indus delta. Spread over 65, 000 acres, they are the sixth largest mangrove forests in the world. If the dam is constructed, they will be completely destroyed. The mangrove forests are fed by nutrients carried in the silt of the river and its estuaries are rich in botanical and aquatic wildlife, especially prawn. The mangrove forests are a principle component of the delta ecosystem and any harm to them will be an immeasurable loss.
Salinity poses another threat. The flow of water of the Indus effectively checks the salt-water intrusion from the Arabian Sea to the lower flood plains of the Indus. By reversing the flow of salt water into the southern part of Sindh, the sweet water will get contaminated and will add to the salinity of the irrigated lands. The unthinkable has already happened, however. The entire coastline spread over two districts of Thatta and Badin in Sindh, have been badly affected due to non-availability of freshwater. A survey carried out by the Board of Revenue shows that unabated sea intrusion has inundated over 1.2 million acres of farmland in the eight coastal tehsils, dislocating almost a quarter million people, and inflicting financial losses of over 100 billion rupees so far.
Official estimates put the complete devastation at more than 450,000 acres of farmland in 72 dehs (villages) spread over eight tehsils in Thatta and Badin. These include six tehsils in Thatta, which are Shah Bunder, Ghora Bari, Kharo Chhan, Mirpur Sakro, Jati and Keti Bunder. Two tehsils in the Badin district – Badin and Golarchi – are now under threat of the advancing seawaters. In other 87 dehs of the same eight tehsils of two districts of Thatta and Badin, sea water intrusion has substantially damaged about 500,000 acres of land from where the population has moved away in search of food and water. Not only this, the reduced water supply to Keenjhar lake has also put at risk, the already short, fresh drinking water supply to Karachi. The survey suggests that the areas of the Keti Bandar, Shah Bandar and Kharo Chan subdivisions are the worst hit. At present people, in Keti Bandar and Kharo Chan have been bringing drinking water from Ghahro, at a distance of 15 km.
However, Sindh’s main opposition to the Kalabagh Dam is based on the years of mistrust and suspicion with which Sindh views all efforts by the Punjab and WAPDA to tap the waters of Sindh. Such apprehensions stem from past events. In 1972, the Sindh government signed the Chashma-Jhelum link canal (C.J Link Canal) agreement with the Punjab. Under the agreement, the Punjab government was allowed to take the water of Sindh after seeking permission from the Sindh chief minister. However, irrigation experts allege that Punjab had continuously stolen the waters of Sindh from the C.J Link Canal. In 1985, the year was a lean one and water was scarce in Sindh. However, the Punjab Governor, General Ghulam Gilani, and the WAPDA Chairman, Safdar Butt, flew to the C.J Link Canal and forcibly had Sindh’s water released for the Punjab. Naturally, this created a great deal of resentment. When General Gilani was told that Sindh was already facing a water crisis and it was obligatory to get the Sindh chief minister’s permission to open the canal, he retorted, “To hell with Sindh.” Sindh, therefore, questions why they should accept Punjab’s guarantees, given its dishonest past track record.
Likewise, experts in Sindh said when the Water Apportionment Accord was signed in 1991, it was agreed that the water would be released downstream of Kotri to check sea intrusion. Para 7 of the Water Accord 1991 reads, “The need for certain minimum escape to the sea, below Kotri, to check sea intrusion was recognised. Sindh held the view that the optimum level was 10 MAF, which was discussed at length, while other studies indicated lower/higher figures. It was, therefore decided that further studies would be undertaken to establish the minimal escape need downstream of Kotri.” However, these experts said, despite the fact that the sea had started intruding into agricultural lands, experts in Punjab continued to suggest that the water released into the sea was being wasted. Scientists in Sindh wanted more water released downstream, and in seasonal patterns more attuned to the ecological needs of the lower basin. “Some of the studies even suggest that at least 30 per cent of the total water generated in any river needs to be released to check the sea intrusion in the lower Indus,” said Syed Murad Ali Shah, a PPP MPA. He said, “If we calculate 30 per cent of the total water that will amount to a huge number, but even the 10 MAF that was considered in the 1991 Accord has not been released and this continues to cause havoc for the people living in Thatta and Badin districts.”
A Kalabagh expert, Ibrar Qazi, maintains that Sindh has no objection to the dam if it is constructed upstream of the Tarbela Dam: “There are other sites like the Bhasha Dam, for instance. Located at the junction of the NWFP in the northern areas, it is free from tectonic activity. It has the same storage capacity as is envisaged for the Kalabagh Dam and can generate 25 to 30 per cent more electric power than the Kalabagh Dam would. Besides this, there are the Basu, Bunji, Thakat and Patan dams, all on the river Indus. They can become medium storage dams with 5 MAF capacity. All are feasible sites for power generation.”
Other Sindhi opponents to the dam contend that Punjab’s intention is not merely to generate electricity, but to take control of Sindh’s water. “Punjab will then be able to irrigate 380,000 acres of land on both banks of the river in Mianwali, Khusab and Jhelum districts through a canal that branches out from the Indus. Additionally, another 15000 cusecs of canal water are to be tapped from the right bank of the dam to irrigate 2.12 million acres in the Khuram basin of Dera Ismail Khan,” says an expert on dams.
Kalandar Bakhsh Kalar, a former irrigation engineer from Sindh, maintains that, “Due to the location of the envisaged Kalabagh Dam, Punjab can easily steal the waters of the Indus and divert them into the desert. Punjab is not agreeable to the other six sites because they will not be as strategically beneficial to the Punjab as the Kalabagh Dam.”
Likewise, the NWFP is objecting to the dam on the grounds that when in operation, it will threaten a vast area of the land in the province through inundation, and displace a great number of people. The Attock gorge is expected to be made into a reservoir with a storage capacity of 7.9 MAF. The dam will rise to a height of 250 feet from the river belt. This will raise the water level of the Indus through the Attock gorge, through Haro all the way up to the Okara and Kabul river. Nowshera is a city where a population of approximately 2 lakhs resides on the right and left banks of the Kabul river. With the construction of the dam, downtown Nowshera will stand 24 feet below the river dykes. In the event of any weakness in the dykes, or worse yet a break, the city of Nowshera will be entirely submerged. Even apart from this worst-case scenario, with the construction of the dam, Nowshera will be in great danger of becoming waterlogged and as a result over 30,000 people, many of them poor herdsmen and boatmen, will be displaced from around the immediate vicinity of the dam. The opponents of the dam in the Frontier province also believe that the Attock-Nowshera road will be submerged by the Kalabagh Dam reservoir. Additionally, six new rail and road bridges will need to be built after the dam has been constructed. However, funds for these projects have not been included in the estimated allocation of funds for the Kalabagh Dam. Furthermore, project opponents say that the Mardan Salinity Control and Rehabilitation Project (SCARP) will be severely affected by the dam, as the SCARP drainage level will be lower than the upper level of the Kalabagh Dam reservoir.
And that is not all. Article 161 (2) of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan states that, “the province in which a hydro-electricity project is situated will get the net profit of the power generated.” In the case of the Kalabagh Dam, the reservoir area is situated in the NWFP whereas the power station is located in the Punjab. Thus, NWFP experts believe that the Punjab will receive the profit from power generation, while the NWFP will inherit the problems. The province of Balochistan is not riparian in the strictest sense, but the Pat Feeder canal from the Guddu barrage carries 3400 cusecs of water to irrigate about 3 lakh acres in the province. Balochistan recently requested the Sindh government to remodel the Pat Feeder canal in order to increase the flow to 6000 cusecs to make it possible to irrigate another 2 lakh acres. Hence, its opposition to the Kalabagh Dam is based on the apprehension that any future request to the Sindh government for more water from the Indus will meet with little success if the dam is constructed over the Indus, which can itself be deprived of its required share of water.
Though there are many valid reasons against the construction of the dam, both WAPDA and the President argue in favour of the Kalabagh Dam and still suggest that it is the only solution to meet the oncoming water shortage. They believe that it is a highly feasible site: it is only the name that has become controversial. However, Sindh’s politicians assert that they would not accept the construction of the dam even if it were named the “Madina Dam.” President Musharraf, meanwhile, argues that the Kalabagh Dam feasibility report is already there and they would need at least another three to four years to carry out feasibilities for other sites for water reservoirs. Musharraf also maintains that water accumulates in the river Indus not only from the glaciers of the Himalayas, but also through the monsoons. “If we construct a dam upstream of Tarbela, the country can still lose huge amounts of monsoon water which is collected at the site of Kalabagh,” he pointed out.
However, all the opposition parties in the country believe that no water reservoir is more important than the country itself. “The project that is to divide the nation has to be shelved,” Shahbaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League leader, who has remained one of the main proponents of the Kalabagh Dam in the past, told a press conference. “Kalabagh is a dead horse, it would not be of any use if they try to revive it,” says the PPP’s Makhdoom Amin Fahim. “This is not only an issue of life and death for the people, but it has now become an issue of life and death for the country.