A controversial project, the Kalabagh Dam has faced opposition from people living along its banks and from Sindhi nationalists, some from KPK, and from Punjab as well. A lack of support from the government has also slowed construction. Irrigating infertile lands in Pakistan with the water of the Indus River was the idea behind the Kalabagh Project, which began in 1953.
But even though construction has been halted, there are several reasons why Pakistan needs this dam, not least of which is the need to combat climate change. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of building this important structure.
How Essential Is Kalabagh Dam?
One of the key reasons for building the Kalabagh dam is to lower floods. In 2010, around one-third of Pakistan was flooded following heavy rainfall. As a result, billions of dollars were lost due to property damage, power outages and interruption in the water supply.
In the recent Pakistan floods of 2022, more than 33 million people have been displaced in Pakistan as destructive monsoon rains continue to wreak havoc. Over 1,500 people have died in floods since June 2022 as a result of heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers.
The best way to reduce flood damage is to install a reservoir on upstreams so that as soon as there is heavy rainfall, water can be stored before it reaches agricultural land or villages. However, many people argue that this would affect farmers who rely on irrigation for their crops and livelihood.
In addition, if more water is collected downstream, this could lead to the siltation of dams like Tarbela (which generates most of Pakistan’s electricity) since rivers have less energy when they meet low-lying areas.
Some also argue that the Kalabagh dam will not provide any substantial increase in irrigation, but instead create problems with river flows downstream. Finally, the project has been delayed for decades by disputes over its location.
The PPP government had proposed an alternate site, while Nawaz Sharif’s government favoured the original plan. After winning the elections in 2018, Imran Khan initially said he would revisit both options but now appears inclined towards moving forward with construction at the original site.
It is unclear how the Kalabagh dam will affect Sindh’s social and ecological systems as of yet. There may be an opportunity to better align subnational concerns as the IWT needs to be renegotiated. In the event that diplomacy between India and Pakistan fails, Sindh will likely become more vulnerable to Punjab’s and India’s upstream developments.
What Are The Kalabagh Dam Benefits?
Here are some of the benefits of the Kalabagh dam for Pakistan.
- Relieves water shortages in southwest Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of ex-FATA.
- Curbs overdrawing of groundwater reserves by providing a reliable supply of surface water.
- Energy savings of $4 billion annually
- The benefits of irrigation result in savings of Rs. 132 billion
- Provides greater access to clean drinking water.
- Prevents famine due to irregular rains and floods.
- Facilitates the use of land for crops and farming activities by reducing the risks associated with floods and droughts.
- Reduces poverty levels as water becomes available at an affordable price
- Prevents soil erosion.
- Saves wildlife habitats.
- Increases income from the fishing industry due to the abundant flow of fresh water in the river.
- Prevents illegal encroachments on government lands and prevents illegal trade of forest products.
- Supports economic development in agricultural and industrial sectors by promoting electricity generation from hydropower projects like Bhasha Dam to generate more than 14000 MWs of electricity.
- Helps achieve socioeconomic stability through increased job opportunities and enhances living standards.
- Mitigates the impact of climate change with less intense flooding and drought conditions due to regular rainfall in this region of Pakistan.
- Boosts social security with irrigation facilities that also help support agriculture as well as reduce unemployment rates.
- Generates employment for people who will be required to work on these construction sites which will contribute towards their livelihood.
- Promotes tourism as it will make places along the course of the River Indus such as Kalabagh accessible to tourists.
Who Can Benefit From Kalabagh Dam?
Everyone in Pakistan benefits from Kalabagh Dam. More than three-quarters of the country’s population lives downstream of this reservoir, where they will have access to a more stable, reliable water supply. In turn, rural farmers can irrigate their crops year-round.
Finally, hydroelectric power would be generated as a result of damming the Indus River – which could lead to cheaper electricity for all citizens across Pakistan. The construction of Kalabagh Dam has been delayed since it was first proposed in 1953 due to political unrest between different provinces.
In 2008, the government issued an expert panel report on whether or not to construct the dam that found that there is a dire need for it if Pakistan wants its agricultural sector to prosper. Despite this evidence, no action has been taken. The Pakistani people deserve to know why the dam hasn’t been built and what factors have contributed to its delay.
Where Will We Get Water From After Building The Kalabagh Dam?
One of the major issues that all Pakistani citizens face, especially those living in Sindh, is a lack of access to clean drinking water. Millions depend on groundwater reserves which are depleting at an alarming rate. Every day, we lose billions of gallons of water to pollution, leakages, and over-pumping by large landowners.
To put it in perspective: If we don’t find new sources soon, our groundwater reserves will run out in less than a decade. The only possible way to provide clean water for all people across Pakistan is through the Kalabagh dam.
The projected benefits from this dam include economic growth and job creation due to irrigation improvements, prevention of natural disasters such as floods due to better water management, and improved health conditions as a result of the availability of safe drinking water. With these benefits in mind, how can anyone oppose building the Kalabagh dam?
Some say that if they build the Kalabagh dam now, they’ll never have to build another one again. Others say that there’s not enough energy demand to justify the cost of the project. These arguments may be valid but do not address the need for more water resources in Pakistan.
The government has a responsibility to address these problems so they don’t get worse- but where will we get water from after building the Kalabagh dam? A no-brainer solution would be constructing the Kalabagh dam. We cannot afford to keep ignoring this problem any longer!
Water Shortage In Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar
The population of Pakistan is rapidly increasing, with Karachi being one of the fastest-growing cities in Asia. This rapid growth leads to higher water demand, which puts strain on Lahore and Peshawar, which are reliant on groundwater.
High demand coupled with low supply has made Karachi a water-scarce city, requiring large volumes of imports from India (the Indus River is vital for Pakistani agriculture). Unless present conditions change, estimated millions of people will be at risk of having their drinking water cut off in coming years.
To meet this shortfall, experts have proposed building the Kalabagh dam in the northwest province of Punjab. The dam would allow irrigation and provide much-needed relief to other areas suffering from shortages such as Sindh province, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
However, some oppose the construction of this dam due to its negative effects on ecology and the economy.
Main Reasons Behind The Delay In The Construction Of The Kalabagh Dam
Many of the reasons cited for not proceeding with the construction of Kalabagh Dam are economic, but given all the economic benefits to be gained from this project, it is difficult to see why any rational investor would want to stop construction.
One major argument against the dam is that it will incur heavy initial losses due to low-efficiency agriculture being converted into higher-yield farming. However, since some analysts believe that the cost of power generation may come down in future years as a result of higher oil prices, building the Kalabagh dam now could well prove profitable.
Another objection raised is overcompensation to affected people if they had their land taken away by authorities. However, given all the relocation work done in Sindh and Punjab provinces on various infrastructure projects (such as Tarbela Dam), there should be no difficulty in compensating those who will lose their land through this project.
All that needs to be done is to set up a special authority or court to deal with compensation cases arising out of relocation from the area where Kalabagh Dam will be built.
Given all these arguments, it’s very strange that the Pakistani governments continue to shy away from undertaking this project which has such great potential for providing energy security and alleviating poverty in our country.
When will Pakistan make peace with itself? When will we find that our differences outweigh our similarities? Instead of thinking of how India is stealing our water supply, we should be realizing how much electricity can be produced from the reservoir when completed.
Instead of being obsessed with why they won’t build Kalabagh Dam, we should start coming up with solutions to help us power our economy even more than we already are. To grow economically, we must make this dam a reality soon.
Disclaimer: The information on the Kalabagh dam in Pakistan has been gathered from research on the internet. Readers are not required to accept the facts, figures, and opinions presented throughout the article.
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