The overall climatic change of Pakistan has slowed down melting of the snow from mountains, thus reducing flow of rivers and leaving very little water for the winter crops (Kharif) in Punjab as well as Sindh. In the wake of this scenario, construction of high dams in the country is assuming highest priority as irrigated agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy.
Equally alarming is the fastest growing population estimated to touch 170 million mark by 2010, growing at 2.1% per year. If nothing is done, there would be approximately 18% shortfall in irrigation water supply and Pakistan will turn into a water-scarce country. Due to complete stoppage of any sizeable surface water resources development, the sustainability of existing irrigated agriculture is in serious jeopardy.
With a large arable land, Pakistan still has the potential of bringing several million acres of virgin land under irrigation. An important impediment in the way of this development is insufficient control over flood water of the rivers and let go large quantities of water into the sea.
A 25-year (2000-2025) National Water Resources Development Programme (NWRDP) has been formulated including multi-purpose projects. It is a package, including Kalabagh Dam Project, based on the concept of unified approach to tackle the threatening water shortages.
Kalabagh Dam Project would play a very important role by way of replacing storage lost by sedimentation in existing reservoirs at Mangla, Chashma and Tarbala, providing additional storage to meet existing water shortages during early Kharif sowing period of April-June, providing effective regulation of Indus river to meet additional Kharif allocations of the provinces under WAA-1991, regulation and control of high flood peaks in the Indus, generating a large chunk of hydro-power.
As part of controversy on Kalabagh Dam, a number of apprehensions/doubts have been expressed both by upper (NWFP) and lower (Sindh) riparian provinces. Most of these are based either on dis-information or there have been reservations in the mind of some quarters without any apparent rhyme or reason.
It is feared Peshawar Valley including Nowshera town would be flooded, cause water-logging and salinity in the surrounding area of Mardan, Pabbi and Swabi, and large number of people would be displaced.
The anxiety of Sindh province is that the project would render Sindh into a desert, sea water intrusion in Indus estuary would accentuate, and fish production and drinking water supply below Kotri would be adversely affected.
It is estimated that after Kalabagh, canal withdrawals of Sindh would further increase. A recent study has shown that there is no clear evidence to suggest that fisheries stocks in the river reach below Kotri have declined due to progressive reduction in the surface water supplies. As such, Kalabagh Dam is unlikely to have any adverse effect on fish production in the area.
Kalabagh with its installed capacity of 2400 MW (ultimate 3600 MW) would add to the system a very large chunk of cheap hydro-power. The energy generated at Kalabagh would be equivalent to 20 million barrels of oil per year. Kalabagh would reduce the frequency and severity of flooding along the Indus.
The overall direct benefits of Kalabagh Dam would be around Rs. 25 billion per annum, thus the investment cost of project would be repaid within a period of 9-10 years.
One dam is necessary to meet the acute water shortage, Musharraf said, adding, however, the country would also be in need of another dam, later. He stressed that all the decisions would be taken after evolving a consensus among the provinces. A decision be taken while keeping in view the Pakistan comes first consideration. If an immediate action is not taken, the National food security would be jeopardized, thus subjecting the economy to additional burden of importing food grains.