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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bhasha Dam as vital as N-programme

Editorial of Business Recorder | Bhasha Dam as vital as N-programme

When nukes-centric security against foreign aggression became imperative Pakistan had it by making the bomb. Now the country needs water security to ward off the demons of anger and hunger by judiciously utilising its water resources. This is essential for sustainable development, now under threat of disruption given the lingering curse of energy shortages and less than needed supply of water for irrigation. Now therefore there is the need to build new dams, and none seems more viable at the moment than to go ahead with urgent construction of Bhasha Dam. The Bhasha Dam project, says Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, is "as important as Pakistan's nuclear programme once was". Therefore, "we have decided to build this dam at any cost, even if it requires us to tighten our belts". Already, a sum of Rs 250 billion has been set apart for it in the current budget for the purpose of purchasing the land for the dam site and its vast reservoir. That is, of course, not enough of tightening the belts; much more funds would be required as the work progresses. But even then Pakistan would need foreign financial assistance. So, Ahsan Iqbal is now in Washington, and had spoken to the International Food Policy Research Institute, before his meeting with the World Bank chief. He rightly warned that if dam is not built in next 10 years or so "we will have a water crisis so acute that people will forget the energy crisis". Not building the dam means having "millions of half-fed and unemployed people" in Pakistan, and that is going to negatively impact the entire South Asia and beyond. 

It is that Ahsan Iqbal's 'threat' of implosion in Pakistan should be the only incentive for the World Bank and other international financial institutions to muster support for the Bhasha Dam project. Conserving water resources is the growing challenge; fresh water availability is decreasing all over the planet given the global climate change. The world may or may not go for a nuclear exchange but if not attended in time the water scarcity is bound to trigger not only regional conflicts but also trigger serious economic disruptions and huge transmigrations. Thanks to global warming - the Himalayan snowmelt is already in progress - generating fear that these snows may completely disappear by the turn of the century. Disruption of fresh water caused by global warming is bound to alter agricultural productivity, negatively impact fresh water supply for human consumption, unleash out-of-season flooding and take away the livelihood of millions of fishermen. So, if nuclear proliferation was a threat to international peace during the last century, the absence of water security is going to be a no lesser threat to international peace in the 21st century - obliging the international community to construct effective counteraction mechanism. Should this issue be treated less indulgently it has the right potential to feed inter-state regional tensions, disrupt intra-state cohesion and stability and produce food-searching hordes across the national borders - all of these, the ammo for future water wars. 

For many reasons, some political and some economic but most of these consequential to poor government planning, Pakistan now faces not only crippling energy shortages, reduced supply of irrigation water but also heavy floods with related misery to millions of people. Working together these problems have significantly added to number of Pakistanis living below the poverty level. It's not that the Bhasha Dam project is going to take care of all these problems. But it shall make the difference, a difference that would be visible to the naked eye. On completion, it will produce 4500 MW of electricity, store some 8.5 million acres feet of water, extend the life of Tarbela Dam by 35 years and greatly help control the annual bane of floods. But Pakistan cannot build it on its own, requiring timely financial assistance of international financial institutions. The viability of the project has been established, which is evident from the fact that quite a few renowned consultant firms are in the race to join this project.