War Over Kalabagh Dam?

Pakistan's President Musharraf claims that building the Kalbagh Dam will alleviate the water crisis in Pakistan. Pakistan is one of the hardest hit countries regarding water scarcity, so on the surface the idea of building this dam might seem like a good idea. However, understanding the political cronyism involved, the environmental factors, the history of the land, and reading about the years of inactivity on this issue and the socio-economic rivalries of the peoples there may lead you to another conclusion.

This issue regarding the Sindhi and the Punjab in Pakistan is so complex and huge, it would be impossible to explain it all in this one entry from the beginning. However, here is a link that provides a timeline for the Indus Water Treaty that dates back to British rule and independence of the area to lead you to why the water crisis is at the crucial level it is in Pakistan now.

Indus Water Treaty.

A 2003 UN report entitled, "Water, A Vital Source of Life" also concluded that 44 percent of the total population of Pakistan does not has access to safe drinking water. That percentage is going up and will continue to increase the longer proposals are made based on politicization, and peoples' in the area continue to feud. The main issues of this report surrounded storage and sustainable use of freshwater resources, irrigation being one of them which is a source for about 70% of the waste we find world wide regarding our water resources.

The scarcity of water in Pakistan has also become a problem due to the variability of the climate, the continuing growing population, and the declining quality of freshwater resources because of the entry of sewerage and industrial elements into the country's freshwater streams. As with many of those countries suffering from water scarcity, more effective mangement of resources is essential to alleviating the problem. However, again, political and socio-economic feuds and mistrusts are standing in the way of this happening, and I have not read Musharraf offering alternatives to the dam which makes me suspicious about his reasons.And this is where this dispute has led Pakistan today:

Parched Pakistan Feuds Over US$18 Billion Dam Projects

PAKISTAN: June 28, 2006 KALABAGH, Pakistan - High above the Indus river, straight white lines painted on the chaparral-covered hillsides mark the site of an ambitious, US$7 billion dam project. President Pervez Musharraf wants to build five dams -- of which the Kalabagh dam, his top priority, is the biggest -- to head off Pakistan's looming water crisis and cut energy costs. "We cannot delay. I will not let Pakistan commit suicide over water shortages," Musharraf said recently. The dams, which could cost as much as US$18 billion, are meant to be completed by 2016.

Pakistan has talked for decades about building a dam at Kalabagh, but work has barely started because of fierce rivalries between the various provinces -- North West Frontier Province, Punjab and Sindh -- through which the Indus river flows. "This is Pakistan, it happens over here, projects are started, then stopped when new people come," says Zareen Khan, a turbaned 65-year-old villager in Kalabagh. Khan has seen surveyors visit his village, whose name means "black garden", many times before. "They just draw lines and leave." Dormitories that were originally built for teams of engineers, now provide shelter for the village goats. The engineers left in the 1980s before excavations even began. For all Musharraf's sweeping powers -- he amended the constitution following a coup in 1999 -- he is unable to force through plans for the controversial dams, especially with elections due in 2007. Kalabagh, downstream from where the Soan and Kabul rivers flow into the Indus, is in Punjab near the boundary with North West Frontier Province, or NWFP.

Of Pakistan's four provinces, only the central province of Punjab is in favour of the dam. "They are against the Kalabagh dam because they are against the Punjabi people, as there are more of them in the armed forces and bureaucracy," said Sher Afgan Khan Niazi, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and an advocate of the dam which is likely to create jobs in his constituency in Punjab's Mianwali district. WEALTH AND POWER Punjab is one of the wealthiest areas of Pakistan, a cause of much envy in other provinces. Punjabis also dominate the officer class in the army, which has repeatedly played a role in the country's politics, leading to widespread resentment.

"We don't trust them at all," said Qamar-uz-Zaman Shah, a critic of the project and veteran opposition leader from southern Sindh province, where the Indus drains into the Arabian Sea. Sindhis fear that if the dam is built, Punjabi landlords will use the water to irrigate their lands, depriving farmers in Sindh of a precious resource and causing an ecological calamity in the Indus delta. And politicians in NWFP say that an estimated 90,000 people will be displaced by the reservoir. But proponents dismiss this as political scare-mongering: Sindh will have more than enough water, and displaced people will be relocated easily and generously compensated. Desperate for an economic breakthrough to support the world's sixth-largest population, Pakistan needs more energy and water. Kalabagh's 3,600 MW power station will pump out low-cost energy equivalent to 20 million barrels of oil a year. At today's prices of around US$70 a barrel, that would mean savings of about US$1.4 billion in Pakistan's oil import bill.

Fresh water availability has fallen from 5,200 cubic metres per capita in 1947 -- when Pakistan was formed from the partition of India following independence from Britain -- to less than 1,000 cubic metres currently, making it one of the most parched nations in the world. During that time, the population has shot up from around 30 million to 160 million, and the economy is picking up steam.
It is easy to then see where this could lead if the Kalabagh Dam is built....war. Those for it claim it will provide the area with much needed energy and water for irrigation (Punjab,) while those downstream believe it will cause environmental degradation and take water from them (Sindhi.) Again, a battle between rich and poor. This then goes beyond being simply an issue of politics to these peoples. It is one of spirituality, tradition, economics, and survival. This is a site that explains the feelings of the Sindhi:

Why Sindh Opposes Kalabagh Dam


Punjab and Sindh have had a long-standing dispute over Indus water. After independence of Pakistan in 1947, as Punjab has imposed its will on Sindh in every other matter, it has also freely violated agreements with Sindh about the Indus water. Kalabagh Dam will give complete physical control of the flow of Indus to the Punjab dominated central government. Through the history of Pakistan, Punjab has repeatedly violated Sindh's rights on Indus waters. When necessary, concessions have been illegally extracted by Punjab through unrepresentative "leaders" installed by the center to govern Sindh.

To give some recent examples, the 1991 "Water Accord" and the 1997 "National Finance Award", both were signed to the detriment of Sindh. The latter was extracted from an unelected care-taker Chief Minister of Sindh, appointed by the central government. The former "accord" too was signed by an unrepresentative government installed through widespread rigging admittedly funded by the federal intelligence agency, ISI. Further, even these very agreements have been blatantly violated repeatedly. For decades the Tarbela Dam (constructed in 1976) has been used for illegal diversion of Indus waters toward Punjab. Link canals are illegally kept open through most of the year with little recourse for Sindh. In these circumstances, Kalabagh will only serve as an additional tool in the hands of Punjab to effectively deprive Sindh of its water.The current military dictatorship in Pakistan has attempted to change loyalties of the staunchest opponents of Kalabagh Dam by offering them lucrative positions in their illegal government. Some of them recently resigned from the Sindh government. Others are are still serving.

To be honest I had mixed feelings regarding this dam, but I lean to be being against it and honestly so based on the political reasons for it and the fact that Musharraf pushed this out without the consent of the three poorer provinces. I think there are alternatives to the dam that will reduce environmental devastation and can still provide a water source to all areas amicably. Small storage dams and power generation units (preferably relying on alternate energy (solar)) are preferable to building mega dams. Storage units built to catch flood waters that eventually run into the Arabian Sea from the Indus River would go a long way to solving this problem. Lining of irrigation networks could also save water which would possibly save more water than the amount of water stored in a mega dam. This would also alleviate the problem of waterlogged land and soil erosion which also washes away nutrients causing degradation of the soil which causes famine.

Many others believe this as well:

Day Of Action 1

Day of Action 2

I also believe that conservation techniques seriously put into play could go a long way in solving the water scarcity problem of Pakistan (and many other countries) in such a way as to bring about a more sustainable solution which will hopefully also maintain peace. Of course, the rights to the waters of the Indus River will be in dispute the longer the government insists on giving special treatment to Punjab over the other provinces, and in putting political reasons over the true reasons why these efforts must be undertaken: to preserve a way of life and tradition that is sustainable to all people, and to provide safe, potable water to all the people of Pakistan. I do believe that should conditions remain as they are, however, and the Kalabagh Dam go forward, that war may ensue.

Save Indus

Those who oppose the dam are already being charged with treason. And this is the government that is supported militarily and economically by the Bush administration. I suppose it isn't hard to see where they stand on this. However, is such a huge and expensive project funded by political concerns and the World Bank worth the total devastation of a way of life for an indigenous people? Is it worth war? Where water is concerned, the answer will always be yes by those seeking to control it. It must always be no for those who cherish life, peace, and the willingness to speak out for their survival. In this case, however, forces of nature will surely play the biggest part in that decision. I will be continuing to monitor what happens regarding this dam.