THE KALABAGH DAM
Kalabagh (Black Garden) Dam is big brothers baby (a province of Pakistan controlling 60% of all resources and all opportunities) and the smaller ones have not only to live with it but suffer it too. A well-organized campaign is going on again and again in a bid to develop consensus by coercion, intimidation and refutation of all reason; and this will continue till the dam, work on which is already in hand, is complete. Those opposing its construction will have to accept the realities: its existence can't be denied, lot of money has been spent and calling `wolf' is souring the throats. The World Bank is the main instigator.
The two provinces NWFP and Sindh have shown their reservations to the construction of the dam. The Pakhtoons are quite vociferous and outrageous. They have threatened and even left the government partnership, a highly coveted prize, for a principle. They are not ready to barter their loyalties for the sufferance of their people. They have valid reservations and most important one is the submerging of their homes in the valley and fertile fields, and, to live on the barren hills.
The province of Sindh has its own reservations. These are based on technical feasibility of the dam, overall economy of the country and environmental degradation of the deltaic region. These objections are being brushed aside casually and unceremoniously. WAPDA appears to be the spokesman of the big brother and those at the helms of affairs, even belonging to other provinces know that if they don't act as HMV will be replaced; and the consensus will be created anyway.
The newsmakers call them basic and fundamental. Had these objections any basis the sane people must have accepted. Were these fundamental, the people of Sindh would not have accepted to be detracted in behind the curtain dialogue. They would have been frank to call it a day: `no compromise on basic and fundamental issues' would have been their response. But there are some who say, `we agree but let our people get tired and say Allah will fight with them on their behalf'.
Objection 1: The project will turn the province into a desert.
The response from the sponsor allays this fear by saying that after the construction of Kalabagh dam, canal withdrawal of Sindh would further increase, most of which would come in the crucial early kharif cotton sowing season. The dam would not consume water and instead would store water during flood season and make it available on crop demand basis for the remaining dry period. Citing the example of Tarbela dam, Sindh's withdrawals before it was 35.6 million acre feet which rose to 44.5 MAF, showing 22 percent increase, after its construction. Thus the oft-repeated apprehension regarding desertification of Sindh defies even the basic logic of a storage reservoir.
The development of an analogy between Kalabagh and Tarbela dams smacks a grave mischief in itself. The main source of water for Kalabagh dam is Tarbela dam itself as is said later in the reassurance against next objection. The other sources of water will be discussed readily to project the futility of the adventure.
Sindh will not only become a desert, it will be a catastrophe Sindh has ever witnessed. Desert does not mean sand dunes. It means incapacitation of the land to support life. Sindh is going to be doomed forty years earlier than the rest of the valley, is a common saying. The signs of this have already begun to appear. These are:
(a) Shortage of water
This objection of Sindh is being taken on its face value. There is no doubt that water withdrawals have increased after the construction of Tarbela dam because it offers the facility of regulation of releases. But these additional withdrawals have been not able to improve the land utilization factor of the irrigation canals. It has improved the water carrying capacity of the canals through remodeling of the canals, but this water has been used to raise high delta crops which are mainly cash crops and the province (nay the country) has suffered grain shortages. The excess use of water has increased waterlogging and salinity , and thus converted Sindh (nay the country) into a desert. The shortage of water has increased in the area and any amount of water will not meet the shortage. Sindh will be a most terrible desert.
(b) National Drainage Programme
The country is proud to have every thing largest in Asia. It is proud to have World's largest contiguous irrigation system. The irrigation is always complemented with drainage system. The irrigation system as originally designed took care of this but the same system when overloaded has plunged the country in heavy debts. These are necessary because if this malady did not exist the existence of organizations like WAPDA, etc would find no valid justification. The removal of drainage affluent would require a parallel Indus which will begin from Chaj Doab and end into wetlands around Naokot in Sindh. Kalabagh dam will add to the discharge of Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) and the resultant overflow in the flats of Sindh will not only increase to Sindh desertification but add to ground water salinity.
(b) Downstream Kotri Water flows
The delta is reclaimed are from sea due to silt deposits. Geological data confirms that there exist a sea shelf extending about two hundred miles into the sea. The development of this shelf has slowed due to construction of barrages. However it continues to raise due to silt load during flood season. Kalabagh dam intends to put a full stop to it. Other environmental effects apart the international concerns about global warming will have more precarious effects on the low slope Indus delta. Could we deny to call it salt water intrusion and give a lie to hydrological balance?
Objection 2: There would be no surplus water to fill Kalabagh reservoir
The reasoning to brush aside this statement states that Indus Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 has allocated on the average 12 MAF additional supplies of water to the provinces. In order to provide additionally allocated water over the years; a storage of 3.6 MAF would be needed, while by the turn of the century, existing three storages would lose about 3 MAF of live capacity. About 6.6 MAF of surplus water would become available and against this, Kalabagh live storage capacity is 6.1 Maf. Hence there should be no doubt that surplus water would not be available to fill the Kalabagh dam reservoir.
As stated earlier, the main sources of water to fill the Kalabagh dam are spill over Tarbela dam, Kabul and other minor rivers west of Indus (Kurram, Gambila, etc.) and its catchment area i.e. Potwar area. The Mangla dam becomes out of question to contribute to Kalabagh dam. The flow from Tarbela is not in addition to present apportionment. The contribution western rivers is very low and the rainfall in the Potwar is very negligible. Ex-Senator A.N Kazi has conducted extensive study on this subject to prove the point. No one has been able to disagree with his estimates.
(3) High level outlets would be used to divert water from the reservoir.
The sponsors admit that initial studies did indicate that construction of high level canal at Kalabagh is economically not viable. However if any province wants to build then its share would be strictly governed by the Indus Water Apportionment Accord.
It is evident that only the Punjab would have such access. Historically Punjab has limited right to Indus waters. This will result in infringement of both: the Accord and the historical rights. Even if we get trapped into national considerations, we have history as witness that Sindh was not shown any sympathies when there was general shortages of water. Punjab took its full share at rim stations, since it could do it.
(4) Cultivation in riverian (sailaba) areas would be adversely affected.
This impression is dispelled with the reasoning that Kalabagh dam will have no such effect since there are no such areas in Sindh. The riverian areas of Sindh, which receives moisture during flood season, are adjacent to the main river and creeks. Farmers provide irrigation through shallow tubewells. There was a 0.3 million cusecs flow that would provide moisture to 0.66 million acres of land by inundation. This flooding will halt by impounding this water in Kalabagh lake.
The author feels that this needs no comment. Every one knows the human population and cattle wealth sustained by sailaba cultivation, besides the only forest area of Sindh. This is also not hidden fact that below Gudu Barrage, the Indus was contained between the protective dykes and the area between them is much more than that stated above. The reader has to judge for himself the consequences of this unfounded logic.
(5) Sea water intrusion in Indus estuary would accentuate.
It is argued that such fears have not been substantiated by factual data. Besides, the intrusion of salt water would make little effect on the groundwater contained in aquifer which is effectively saline as far as north of Hyderabad.
The truth of first statement is verifiable from the statistical figures of the fish catch specially that of Sindh Salmon (pulla) and shrimp. The variation of figures relating to the area under the mangroves would testify the truth. These are facts and can not be denied on the basis of non-production of factual data. The onus of proof lies equally on the shoulders of each stakeholder.
As regards the second point, the population did not depend on deep tubewells for their municipal water needs. They dug shallow open wells to use skimming layer of sweet water. This layer was created by infiltration sweet water. Kalabagh dam would steal this opportunity from the population of delta as far as north of Hyderabad. This requires humanitarian considerations and is fit case for Human Rights activists and the international communities dealing with rights of indigenous people.
(6) Mangrove forests, which are already threatened, would be further affected adversely.
As far as Kalabagh dam's effect on mangrove forests is concerned, NED University of Engineering and Technology has conducted a study. It suggests that reduction in mangrove is essentially due to frequency of tidal inundation being too small instead of fresh water reduction caused by upstream abstractions, which started with Sukkur Barrage in 1932.
This statement suggests that the tidal wave action has reduced. There is no second thought about it. The sea is receding as is evident from location of Kothari Parade on Clifton beach of Karachi. This phenomenon results in recovery of land from sea. The Scandinavian countries are spending million of dollars to reclaim land from sea. Pakistan is getting additional land at no cost. This land is gift of river Indus and the construction of dams and barrages have reduced this opportunity. The relative benefits between the two have to be weighed as a separate issue.
As far as mangroves are concerned, the theory developed above must aid increase in the mangrove forest area as more land area is becoming available. This is not happening since the fertile silt load has been denied. Kalabagh dam will give the final blow to this environmental monument on Pakistan's shores.
(7) Fish production and drinking water supply below Kotri would be affected.
The sponsors have closed their eyes to the evidence and claim that Kalabagh is unlikely to have any adverse affect on fish production in the area. Those who make this statement must not pretend to be so ignorant of the behaviour of salmon. It breeds in sea and travels upstream in the sweet waters only if it flows with great velocity. Once there is slow moving recharge water streaking down, one can not expect salmon to adorn his table and satisfy his appetite for quality fish.
The same argument holds good for drinking water. It has been mentioned above as underground water. The natural flowing water will be totally denied to these people. The revival of a dead horse needs hard labour and riding it to win war of words is wastage of time. The stage is ripe to bury the issue of Kalabagh dam forever and not make it Blackmirage dam for special considerations.
* The author has remained Secretary, High Powered Water Distribution Committee, Government of Pakistan, Islamabad