24 November 2004 Wednesday 11 Shawwal 1425
Dams, canals & CBMs
The water issue is gaining serious dimensions in Pakistan. The increase in population, mismanagement, wastage, unjust distribution, water theft, an outdated barrage system, poor maintenance, ill-planning and greed by some at the cost of the tail-enders and the lower riparian are but a few causes of the pervasive malaise.
For quite some time now it has been the need of the hour to handle the issue deftly and take some immediate measures to build confidence among the stakeholders. But unfortunately the government is doing just the opposite.
Instead of being objective and impartial, the government has become a party. It is doing the bidding of a powerful lobby that enjoys the goodwill of the so-called establishment. Its policies have alienated a large number of people and created mistrust and disharmony among the provinces. This doesn't augur well for the future of the country.
What measures can the government take to prevent the situation from deteriorating? First, it must give up its cavalier attitude and start listening to all the voices. It should not serve the interests of only a powerful section of society.
It shouldn't favour any province at the cost of the others. For example: there are multiple resolutions passed by three out of the four provincial assemblies against the Kalabagh Dam.
The Sindh Assembly has also demanded that work on the Greater Thal Canal project should be stopped, fearing that water shortage in the province would worsen if the gigantic irrigation project becomes operational. What does it tell us when the government ignores these concerns?
For its own good, the government has to take seriously the argument that there is no extra water for any new mega dam (Mangla and Tarbela dams could not be filled this year even though it is claimed that they have lost capacity due to silting).
Future cuts in water availability as India diverts more water under the Indus Basin Treaty and any possible dams on Kabul River should be kept in view too. Water losses due to seepage and evaporation from a huge reservoir can't be ignored either.
Plus there are world wide concerns against mega dams. One should take note of the violent anti-mega dam protests in China, India and other countries. Several alternatives suggested by experts should be given due consideration.
The government also needs to take some confidence- building measures to create an atmosphere of goodwill and trust among the provinces. The CBMs could include implementing previous accords and understanding on the distribution of water (starting with the 1945 Sindh-Punjab water agreement), operation of the Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Panjnad link canals, filling of Mangla Dam and compensation to Sindh in lieu of the operation of certain canals, provision of required water for downstream Kotri, provision of adequate water for human consumption for Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and other cities and towns, keeping in view the increase in population.
The CBMs should be given some time to work. In the meantime talk of divisive mega dams and work on the Greater Thal Canal should stop. After a reasonable cooling off period, a democratically elected government that enjoys the confidence of all parties and doesn't depend on the politics of water for its survival may try to reach a just and lasting solution to this vital issue.