Bhasha: The Damned Dam
Pakistan’s plan of constructing the Bhasha dam has led to widespread protests in Gilgit. The Bhasha project has led to a major controversy as the dam is currently being debated in Pakistan as a second choice or an alternative to the proposed Kalabagh dam in Sindh province. The Bhasha dam is being opposed by people in Gilgit as they fear that it would affect the social, economic and ecological balance in the region and would inundate 32 villages of Diamer district in Northern Areas, rendering thousands of people homeless.
The Bhasha Dam
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had announced in a televised speech in January 2006 that his administration would construct the Bhasha dam. Though President Musharraf was supposed to inaugurate the project on 15 March 2006, the ceremony was postponed due to bad weather. The Bhasha dam will be located on the Indus, about 200 miles upstream of Tarbela Dam and just downstream of Chilas Town. Its catchment area is beyond the range of monsoons. The average annual flow of Indus there is 50 Million Acre Feet (MAF), that is entirely the snow-melt water. The total storage capacity of the dam is 7.3 MAF and once completed, the dam would produce about 4,500 MW of electricity from 12 units. The proposed earth-rock-filled 660-foot dam will be 3,018 feet long and it will have a reservoir and catchments area of 27,700 acres and 152, 100 square kilometers respectively. If Pakistan opts to continue with the construction of the Bhasha Dam, it would require upgradation of 323-km of Havelian-to-dam site road and relocation of 140-km of Sazin to Rajkot Bridge. The project would also need regradation of 310-km of approach road which would also need substantial widening and improvement before the start of construction on the main dam for transport of heavy-moving, construction and power house machinery. Two circuits of 500-KV transmission lines would also be needed over long and difficult stretches of seismically active hilly region for connectivity with the National Power Grid, the nearest point being Tarbela.
In its Vision 2025 report, Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) has proposed the height of the dam to 660 feet with storage capacity of 5.7 MAF, and installed generation capacity of 3360 MW. In 2025 Vision the WAPDA had estimated Rs 400 billion ($6.60 billion) as its total cost, but the Work Bank and WAPDA’ joint Review Panel of Experts, appointed in 1988, estimated its cost beyond $8 billion, keeping in view the price hike and inflation since 1988. The authority also indicated that the implementation of the project could take up to 10 years. However, independent experts say that following the devastating 8 October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, the implementation period of the project could take around 12 years. This is because the technical experts involved in the project would have to examine and investigate in a precise manner the high seismic risk of the project, and they would have to prepare its design in such a way that it could withstand an earthquake.
Ignoring Local Sentiments
Once completed, the Bhasha dam will inundate 110 kms of the Karokaram Highway (popularly known as KKH) and every low-lying village in Daimir from Railkot Bridge next to the fairy meadows right below Nanga Parbat. In its report, WAPRA has also observed that there is local resistance to the project as the people feel that the Bhasha dam would affect the economic and ecological balance in the Northern Areas. Those opposing the Bhasha dam give several reasons for their opposition to the project. First, the local population resents the fact that the Pakistani government has taken the decision to construction the dam without taking them into confidence. Given the history of alienation and oppression that people in the Northern Areas have suffered, they feel that the Bhasha dam is yet another indicator of the fact that Islamabad has no regard for their sentiments and concerns. Second, even the nomenclature of the dam is indicative of the Pakistani establishment’s outlook as the dam has deliberately been named Bhasha after a village in Kohistan in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) even though the location of the dam is in Gilgit-Baltistan. The Bhasha Village, which will house only one percent of the dam, is shown to be in the NWFP. Therefore, earnings from the dam are likely to go to the NWFP even though the major part of the dam will be situated in the Diamer District of Northern Areas. Third, the local population are demanding a share in the royalty as they fear that Islamabad would pass off all the benefits to the NWFP. Even though the entire land for the proposed Bhasha dam is in Northern Areas, the NWFP has been made the primary beneficiary as it have the online power station to distributed the electricity generated from the dam. Fourth, the dam is to be located in an extremely sensitive seismic zone. Locals fear that the dam may cause widespread destruction if another earthquake like that of 8 October 2005 takes place in that region.
Several protests against the construction of the Bhasha dam have been held in Pakistan. On 15 February 2006, an all party conference criticised Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for not taking the people and political leadership of the Northern Areas into confidence with regard to the construction of the dam. The protest was organised by the Gilgit-Baltistan Alliance and was attended by religious, political and nationalist leaders of the Northern Areas and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). A joint communiqué issued and signed by local leaders of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Jamaat-e-Islami, JKANP, Pakistan People’s Party and both Pakistan Muslim Leagues opposed the construction of the dam, saying it would submerge the district of Diamir – the proposed site of the dam.
Despite the local opposition against the Bhasha dam, the Pakistan government has announced that it would go ahead with the construction of the dam. Given the fact that people in the Northern Areas are denied basic fundamental and political rights, mobilising a large movement against the dam is not possible. The so-called Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) elected by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan has no real executive power to protect the interests of the people in Northern Areas as all decisions are taken in Islamabad by the secretary in Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. For Pakistan, the Bhasha dam appears to the best option among all proposed schemes as it will involve minimum human displacement, land submergence while providing maximum power availability. Analysts say that before proceeding with the construction of the Bhasha dam, Pakistan should first ensure that the territorial boundary and political and constitutional rights of the region are well defined and guaranteed by law. Pakistan should also ensure that the Northern Areas get the full royalty from the electricity generated by the dam and that those displaced by the project are adequately compensated. If Pakistan fails to take into account the local sentiments and concerns over the construction of the Bhasha dam, the issue could lead to widespread protests in a region that has already suffered decades of alienation due to the policies of successive Pakistani governments.
Diamer-Bhasha Dam project gets go-ahead
By Sher Baz Khan (Dawn)
ISLAMABAD, Nov 11: The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to the Diamer-Bhasha Dam project.
Work on the dam would begin in September next year and the total cost of the project has been estimated at $12.6 billion. The deadline for completion is 2016.
The Ecnec meeting, presided over by the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance, Shaukat Tarin, also sanctioned Rs60 billion for land acquisition for the dam.
Pre-qualification of bids for the 272-metre-high dam, with a capacity to generate 4,500MW of electricity per day, will start by the end of the month.
After completion of pre-qualification, civil work will begin on the main dam, diversion of tunnels and an underground power house.
Ecnec also approved upgradation of the Karakoram Highway to facilitate the dam’s construction.
The Minister for Water and Power, Raja Pervez Ashraf, told a press conference that about 28,000 people, or 4,250 families, would be affected by the project in the NWFP and Northern Areas.
The minister said that leading companies from China and Middle East were ready to invest in the dam.
He said Chinese companies were willing to form a consortium and invest in the project on build-operate-transfer basis. Arab companies were also ready to proceed on the same lines.
Mr Ashraf said that European companies, however, wanted to operate on the basis of ‘supplier’s credit’.
“We can easily generate an investment of $1.5 billion per year required for the dam.”
When asked as to how the government would resolve a possible tussle over royalty between the NWFP and N. Areas, the minister said royalty would go to the area in which the main dam would be built.
The project would pay off its cost within seven years of commissioning, because it would generate electricity worth $1.5 billion and supply irrigation water worth $600 million per year.
An investment of $30 billion was needed by 2015 to raise electricity generation capacity from 18,000MW to 33,000MW, the minister said.
In reply to a question, he said that the government would announce relief in the power tariff in a few days.
Wapda Chairman Shakeel Durrani said that the process for land acquisition and payment of compensation would be completed in a few months.
Discovery of Buddhist artifacts
On April 4, 2008, it was reported in several major South Asian newspapers that Buddhist artifacts, possibly numbering in the thousands, have been recovered at the site of the Diamer-Basha Dam. According to these articles, the beleaguered engineering firm Lahmeyer International, which has been involved in planning out the dam, has suggested a museum be built to house the artifacts. Also, an unnamed German scholar affiliated with a German archaeological university (possibly the German Archaeological Institute) has traveled to Pakistan to study the artifacts.
2. ^ On the recent loss of World Bank funding by Lahmeyer International due to allegations of bribery, see http://ethisphere.com/lahmeyer-international-loses-world-bank-support-because-of-connection-with-lesotho-highlands-water-project/
3. ^ Buddha relics found at Bhasha dam site: http://thenews.jang.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=13918
Rs116b for Diamer-Basha Dam land acquisition
September 19, 2008 (The Nation)
ISLAMABAD- The government on Thursday approved 51 development schemes with a total cost of Rs 262.4 billion including land acquisition project for multi-billion dollars Diamer Basha Dam.
The Central Development Working Party, chaired by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Salman Faruqi, cleared Diamer Bash Dam land acquisition and resettlement scheme with a cost of Rs 116 billion.
The dam would be built on Indus River and after completion will have an annual 6.4 million acres feet surface water storage capacity, which would supplement irrigation supplies during low flow periods.
It will also harness renewable source of clean and cheap energy through installed capacity of 4500 megawatts and reduce dependence on thermal power, hence, saving foreign exchange. The total estimated cost of the project is over US $ 8 billion and it would pay back its cost in ten years.
A Planning Commission official said 99 per cent land of the mega dam is located in Northern Areas and only one per cent power area would be in North West Frontier Province.
“Today the government has initiated the single largest project of Pakistan in terms of cost”, said the PC spokesman Asif Sheikh in a press conference. The project will be completed without foreign assistance. The funding of the project has remained a major concern, as World Bank has reportedly refused to provide money due to strong Indian lobby on its Board of Directors.
Controversial dam issues
By Dr Sardar Riaz A. Khan
The country is facing serious water shortage for farming to meet the food and energy requirements of the burgeoning population. The population of 32.4 million in 1948 increased to 152.4 million in 2004-05 and is estimated to increase to 220 million by 2025.Even the conservative estimates indicate that it may increase to 208 million by this time.
As a result, Pakistan will have a shortfall of 11 million tons of major food grains by 2010 and 16 million tons by 2020. This food grain deficit will increase to 28 million tons by 2025 .
This reflects on the grave situation that the country will face unless a policy decision on the construction of new dams is taken, purely on technical and economical rather than on political grounds. It is a tragedy that none of the previous governments took any decision to build new major dam/reservoir after the construction of Tarbela reservoir in 1976.
On the other hand, the original storage capacity of 15.24 maf of Mangala Dam(5.34), Chashma Barrage (0.5 maf) and Tarbela Reservoir(9.40MAF) has declined by 4.68 maf by 2003 due to sedimentation and may further decrease by six maf by 2010. Since the issue has been highly politicized, a review of the Indus River System and its potential is made as under :
The flow of River Indus and its tributaries constitute the main source of surface water for the country. According to the Indus Water Treaty, the flow of three eastern rivers namely Beas, Sutlej and Ravi was conceded to India, while Pakistan is mostly dependent on three western rivers— Indus (including Kabul),Jhelum and Chenab. The decision though more favourable to India was agreed by General Ayub Khan.
The completion by India of Wuller ,Bagliar and Krishanganga , Uri-11Pakal Dul and Burser projects on western rivers of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to which Pakistan has the exclusive right according to the 1960 Indus Basin Treaty, will create serious water shortage. It will also enable India to divert water of western rivers as it already did once and created problems for Pakistan. Moreover, India can release water from eastern rivers during high floods, thus damaging crops in adjoining the areas along the eastern rivers in Pakistan’s Punjab.
It is argued by the opposition parties in NWPP that construction of Kalabagh Dam will flood Noshera and lot of fertile areas will be waterlogged,besides displacing a large number of people. It is interesting that General Ayub Khan decided to built Tarbela Reservoir in Haripur and adjoining areas in NWFP instead of Kalabagh Dam in spite of the fact that there was not that much opposition at that time to build it.
Moreover, the initial loan taken from the World Bank for the construction of Kalabagh was diverted for the construction of Tarbela Reservoir. Thousands of people were displaced and vast area was covered by Tarbela Reservoir and water-logging.But none of these opposition parties of NWFP raised any objection at that time as they are making now ,because royalty for hydropower of this reservoir was to be made to NWFP.
Punjab did not oppose these twin decisions of General Ayub Khan but also provided land to most of the people displaced due to the construction of Tarbela.
Again, the opposition parties are agitating against the construction of Kalabagh Dam, because it will cover lot of land of NWFP and displace thousands of people of the province. But they agree for the construction of Bhasha and other dams in Northern areas, despite the fact that Kalabagh Dam will cover 2900 acres and displace 42000 people of NWFP, while the rest be built in much bigger area and people displaced will be from Punjab. Bhasha Dam will cover 32000 acres and displace 24 000 people,Akhori Dam will cover 59,200 acres and displace 49,300 people.
Similarly, Skardu-Katzara Dam highly recommended by the technical committee on water resources as the best option, may cover 90,000 acres and displace nearly 160,000peple. Besides, these dams are situated in seismic areas with greater chance of damage as compared to Kalabagh. The politicians should learn a lesson from an earthquake of October 8, 2005 followed by over 1563 seismics of different Ritchter scales.
Besides construction of Bhasha Dam will not only be more expensive and cover good chunk of Karakaram Highway creating problems of having alternate logistic links with China essential for the country’s defence and trade.
The fear of Nowshera being drowned if Kalabagh Dam is to be built, has already been dealt with technically by reducing the height of Kalabagh dam by 10 feet. Construction of Munda Dam simultaneously on River Swat will further remove the risk of flooding Nowshera. Again, Charsada and Mardan are over 50 feet higher than the height of the Kalabagh Dam. As a result, these areas will not be affected by seepage. Other reason for agreeing to Bhasha and other dams over Kalabagh Dam by the opposition parties is that Punjab will not be able to get link canals from any one of the other dams built upstream.
In spite of the fact that power generation of 3600-MW of Kalabagh would have no logistic problem and would be much cheaper for the consumers as compared to that generated at Bhasha due to logistic problems of longer distance and higher cost of installation of power turbines, NWFP insists on the construction of Bhasha Dam. The main reason is that it will enable the province to claim royalty as the power turbines will be located in the province.
Various figures were given by Wapda and national and international consultants for the loss of Indus water to the sea below Kotri since the commissioning of Tarbela Reservoir since 2003. These figures vary mostly between 30-40MAF. However, according to the Report of the technical committee on Water Resources (Annexure 11-6), the escapage of water below Kotri is 34.65 maf. But the seven members of the committee in their report of May 2005 have worked out their own computations of average water availability on down steam basis as 32.70 maf.
Again, different figures varying from 10 to over 10 maf of water have been given for down flow from Kotri to prevent sea intrusion and adverse effects on mangroves along the Sindh coast and protection of fish fauna.It is strange that the Technical Committee on Water Resources has not bothered to mention the potential of saving this water by constructing dyke along the sea intrusion zone and using this additional saved water according to 1991 Agreement for water distribution to various provinces.
If a country like Holland situated below sea level can protect it self by constructing dykes along its sea shore, why this technology could not be used along the sea intrusion zone in Pakistan for saving its precious water resource.
The Technical Committee on Water Resources indicates that storable surplus water is available only for 10 years out of 28 years on the basis of post-Tarbela period flows. The study also reveals that a dam of 6.0 maf at Kalabagh will be able to trap only 22 per cent of the surplus flood flows, while another dam of 6.0 maf will trap 18.9 per cent of the flood flows. These two dams together will trap about 41 per cent of surplus water and the rest 59 per cent of surplus flows will still remain un-utilized.
They further stated that a carryover dam like Skardu-Katzara with 35 maf capacity will utilize 84 per cent of this surplus water. However Wapda differed with this figure and stated that it will have carry over capacity of 27 maf. The technical committee recommended Kalabagh, Bhasha and Skardu-Katzara dam(with greater storage life period) and recommended greater priority for completing feasibility study of the last one , as the feasibility studies of the earlier two dams have already been completed.
Nevertheless, other members of the technical committee have divergent views than those of the Chairman of the Committee Mr Abbasi.
It is also surprising that this technical committee did not mention any thing on desalination of our huge sea water resource and using it for drinking and agricultural purposes along our 1050 km coastal region in Sindh and Balochistan.
There are over 200 centres in the world where sea water is being desalinized for drinking and agricultural purposes by utilizing the latest economical desalination technologies.
Nevertheless, it augurs well for the country that a decision has been finally taken by the government that the construction of Basha and Munda Dams will start from February, 2006 and that of other dams including Kalabagh, Akori, Skurdu-katzara etc, etc will be considered later on. (Dawn, 30 January 2006)
Sajjad Saeed Baig:
It is good news for the affecties whose land will be inundated by the dam, but the people of Gilgit-Baltistan should not just settle for compensation of their brethren in Diamer. 95% of the land inundated by the dam would be diamer district and hence the royalty of the dam should go the area. Some nationalist in NWFP are raising hue and cry about the royalty being the right of their province. The people of the area must show unity and should not forsake their rights.