Kalabagh Dam: An Ecological Disaster.
Source: The Frontoer Post, Peshawar Pakistan.
The majestic River Indus originates at 5183 metres above sea level in the glaciers of northern slopes of Kailash Parbat in Tibet. Starting as a tricklet, it collects rainwater and melting snow from a catchment area of 940.000 sq km to become one of the mightiest rivers of the world, ten times bigger than Colorado River and twice as large as the Nile.
On its long voyage of more than 3,000 km it is augmented by 10 major rivers __ Kabul, Swat, Kunhar, Haro and Soan in the northern Frontier Province and Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Bias at Panjnad in the province of Punjab. The ferocious Indus, more than a million cusecs at its peak flood time, passes through 500 km of Sindh province to disperse in the salt water of Arabian Sea.
This large body of water varying widely between 200 to 120 million acre feet (MAF), depending upon the quantum of rainfall and snowfall in the Himalayas, provides agricultural and water needs of 130 million people of Pakistan and lately a large population of India. But for the province of Sindh it has a unique and significant presence.
Flowing through the whole length of Sindh and literally bisecting it River Indus inundates, a swatch of land, at an average 4 km wide, during its peak flood season (July 20 to Sep 30). For this strip of about 2 million acres, 595,000 acres of which are dense forests and 600,000 acres rich grazing land, River Indus is the only life line providing it with rich nutrient and moisture. At the ends of its travel the river cascades into a delta where, over the centuries, it has developed a 650,000 acre thick mangrove forest which sustains exotic and colourful life in plants, reptiles and mammals.
All of this, and much more is under threat now. Since 1859 when through upper Bari Doab Canal water was first drawn from Ravi, 19 barrages and 43 canal heads with 48 offtakes have been built on Indus River system creating world's largest contiguous man-made system consisting of 61,000 km of canals and 105,000 water courses, irrigating 35 million acres of land. When in 1960 Indus Basin Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan, India was apportioned the exclusive use of Ravi, Sutlej and Bais and further right on the water of remaining 3 rivers to irrigate 1.3 million acres of land. In compensation Pakistan was helped to build three storage dams: Mangla on Jhelum river for storage of 6.4 MAF and Tarbela and Chashma on river Indus for storing 11.9 MAF and 1.8 MAF, respectively.
The effect of the loss of three rivers to India and demand of further 114 MAF for irrigation needs of 4 provinces of Pakistan has reduced the once mighty Indus to a trickle when it passes through Sindh.
While the kutcha area and deltaic eco-system is under threat of their survival, government of Pakistan and Punjab and the most populous and powerful province, wish to build a mega dam professedly to generate 3600 MW electric power and store 6.1 MAF water but to actually draw a further 6 MAF water through 2 canals to irrigate 2 million acres.
The consequences of Kalabagh will be felt severely by Frontier Province:
1. 182,000 acres of productive land will be lost under the reservoir.
2. 34,000 people will be displaced (with another 59,000 in Punjab).
3. Nowshera, a sizeable city of Frontier Province, will be threatened (Nowshera town itself will stand 24 feet below on the height of Kalabagh storage) with, at worst, horrible termination if the dykes break, or at best, serve degradation of land by water-logging in about 20 years times.
Sindh the worst sufferer of degradation of nature
1. Availability of Water:
As lower riparian, Sindh has suffered the most due to ill-planned and ill-conceived withdrawals of water from Indus river system. Despite much tinkering of figures by those who favour Kalabagh dam, fact remains that measured at rim stations of the 3 western rivers (Indus at Kalabagh, Chenab at Mangla and Jhelum at Marala), the water availability 4 years out of 5 (80 percent probability) is 123.59 MAF. The water accord between provinces of Pakistan signed on 15.3.1991, apportions 114.35 MAF for their needs and the system losses (occurring in the bed of the rivers) projected by WAPDA is 10 MAF (much below the actual system losses of 16.2 MAF calculated by WAPDA between 1977-91, after Tarbela dam was constructed). The balance is negative 0.76 MAF flowing into the sea.
2. The inundated kutcha lands:
inundates an average 4-km wide strip of kutcha land of about million acres,
595,000 acres of which are thick forests and another 600,000 rich grazing lands.
This strip husbands a substantial number of cattle, goats and fowls and
economically sustains about one million people. All this is now threatened.
i) The progressive decline of water over the last 50 years has led to soil erosion and accretion so that succession of fresh plants is considerably on the decline. The riverain forest is slowly but surely dying.
ii) Many plants specifically grow in kutcha
areas. One such species, populous Enphratica, the timber of which is exclusively
used for Sindh's famous craft, Janjhi (bright, colourful furniture) is fast
iii) Loss of moisture coupled with wind erosion has caused soil degradation and consequent desertification. No survey has been conducted recently but it is estimated that 2 million heads of cattle are reared on 600,000 acres of the grazing lands of kutcha. Further degradation will extract enormous cost in the shape of loss of dairy and meat products and economic and social well being of a million people.
iv) With recession of water comes drying up of wells and ponds in kutcha area, leaving no water for human or animal consumption.
3) The natural lakes
i) The changing of River Indus over millions of years has created thousands of lakes and ponds in Thatta and Badin, two southern districts of Sindh. Inundation of River Indus and consequent availability of water in canals helps fill up these lakes.
There is growing awareness among people to commercially raise fish in such ponds and many have started doing so. With shortage of water in Indus, a promising source of protein generation as well as economic well being of so many people will not materialise.
ii) Sindh is home to some of Asia's largest natural lakes, the Manchchar, Haleji, Hadero, Keenjhar and Chotiari. Manchchar the 700 sq km. lake in Dadu, that can store 1 MAF, and Chotiari in Sanghar that can store 0.4 MAF are filled through inundation of Indus. These lakes are winter and summer home to thousands of migratory birds from Kazakhstan and Siberia, who use what is known as "Indus Fly Way" to fly thousands of kilometres in a marvelous and awe-inspiring phenomena so as to beat the severe Siberian winter. All this is threatened to be lost for ever. The 222 type of birds that are so far reportedly seen in Haleji, Hadero, Meenjhar (Kalari) and Chotiari ranging from Pelicans to Pintails and from Black Drango to white swams make these lakes a bird watcher's paradise and have been declared a wild life sanctuary by the government of Sindh.
4. Mangrove forests are not "wastelands"
The mangrove forest in Indus
delta is spread over 650,000 acres and is the 6th largest mangrove forest in the
world. Fed through the nutrient carried by 100 million tons of silt by river
Indus each year, the mangrove estuaries
are the most productive forests, protecting and nurturing thousands of botanic,
aquatic and wildlife species.
According to World Conservation Union (IUCN 1991), "The mangroves are the principal components of the delta ecosystem, without them and the nutrients they recycle and the protection they provide, the other components of the ecosystem will not survive __ mangrove estuaries provide ideal nursery grounds for many commercial fish species specially prawns." The other wildlife species supported by mangroves is propoises, jackals, wildboars, reptiles, migratory fowl bird, 3 species of dolphins of the mangrove habitat is destroyed then the continued existence in the Indus delta of all those will be threatened, (IUCN Korangi ecosystem Project 1991).
5. Economic significance of mangrove forests
The mangrove estuaries are 4-5 times more productive than tropical estuaries without mangroves (IUCN). Compared to an agricultural land-growing wheat, acre for acre, mangrove is 3 times more productive. Significant economic benefits of mangrove are:
I) Timber resources for fuel wood and buildings.
ii) Fodder and grazing for cattle, goats and camels.
iii) Fisheries within the delta area.
iv) Fisheries for species using delta as nursery. It should be noted that Pakistan earned 2.25 billion rupees from the fish production of 0.4 m tons (1989 figures) most of which pass some part of its life in the mangrove estuaries of Indus Delta especially prawns.
v) Coastal protection from erosion.
vi) Employment of approximately 100,000 people and sustenance of their families in the Indus and its deltaic fishing industry.
6. Health problems
There are about 40 major cities located on the banks of Indus or its tributaries. The raw sewerage of which is discharged directly into the water of Indus. Added to the decreasing quantity of water flowing in the river, the population has crested on epidemic like situation in Sindh where water borne diseases have registered a 200 percent increase in the last 2 decades.
An epidemic of eye disease known as viral conjunctivitis originates from Karachi and ravages the whole country almost every year. This viral infection is directly attributed to polluted water.
Respect nature: There is increasing awareness among the people of the world that nature has established a Blanca of elements that must not be disturbed in the name of development unless advantage of such a development far outweigh the disadvantages.
Out of the 40,000 small and big dams erected throughout the world, more than half of which are in China, many have brought prosperity and well being to the people but in the case of most mega dam the result is destruction of ecosystem, pollution of water and degradation of soil that enormously outweigh the advantages.
All those favouring Kalabagh dam must know that there is hard scientific evidence, collected in the United States and available to any one, that destruction of forests and mangroves leads to destructive erosion, loss of bio-filtration function and drastic reduction of biological productivity.
Natural forest and mangrove forest development is an incremental process, that takes 50 to 60 years for the trees to mature. When the soil is removed through erosion, a nutrient recycling becomes difficult due to shortage of fresh water, reforestation will be much more time consuming and the forests start to die.
In the United States, Colorado rivers used to flow into Gulf of California. With the construction of huge Hoover dam and myriad other hydro electric dams, the flow to the sea disappeared with horrific results wiping out entire Mexican fishing villages and denying a substantial part of northwest Mexico of its share of Colorado's water, The United States will be making reparation to Mexico forever.
There are alternatives to building mega dams.
The reasons advanced for building Kalabagh dam are:
(i) Production of 3600 MW of electric power and
(ii) Storing 6.1 MAF water, at a cost of US $ 5.0 billion (1987 cost). This cost has escalated to US $ 8.0 billion in Oct, 1996.
So far power generation is concerned, it has been established around the world that small storage dams and power generation units are much more feasible and maintainable than mega dams. WAPDA has estimated potential of 30,000 MW on streams and rivers up north. Ghazi-Barotha is such a project that can produce 1450 MW and is a run of the river project that does not propose storing water. Other identified sites are Dasu, Bhasha, Thakot, Skardu and Banji.
About storing water, all dams so far built, or proposed to be built, on Indus River System, are such that they will store about 150 MAF water in flood season for release in the lean period of the same year for wheat sowing (Rabi) season. Addition of 6.1 MAF of Kalabagh is expected to appreciably increase availability of water. However all dams are drained by 31st December of the same year.
Super floods occur in Indus River Systems once in every 5 or 6 years when more than a million cusecs water flows out of sea. If there were a dam to store this water, most of Pakistan's problems concerning water availability would be over. Aswan high dam in Egypt can store 124 MAF of water and can withstand 9 consecutive lean year (1978-1987). Unfortunately no site for such a dam has been identified in Pakistan.
Water conservation strategy
Out of the 114.35 MAF apportioned to all the 4 provinces of Pakistan 50 to 60 percent or roughly 60 MAF, is lost in the system (15 MAF is lost in river beds, 10 MAF through canal embankments and the rest, 25 to 35 MAF, in water courses and on farms). This percolation of water renders 100,000 acres of farms into a water-logged waste every single year.
Although losses through river beds cannot be stopped, at a fraction of the money earmarked for Kalabagh dam (US $ 5.0 billion at 1987 price) the entire 105,000 water courses in the irrigation network of Pakistan can be lined and crash training programme mounted for farmers in the proper leveling of farms and in water management, reclaiming at least 10 to 12 MAF double the storage capacity of Kalabagh. The added benefit will be the appreciable reduction in water-logging and consequent degradation of soil.