Dear Chief Justice Sahab, Here’s Why Building Large Dams May Not Be The Best Solution To Pakistan’s Water Crisis

By Alveena Jadoon | 31 Jul, 2018

The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Mian Saqib Nisar, who has been very proactive in responding to the demands of the people took another initiative this year to curb the problem of water scarcity in Pakistan. Active campaigns have been launched to collect donations for Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dams. He set the precedent himself by donating a hefty chunk of his own salary for the initiative and then urged the people to follow suit. Donations as less as Rs. 10/- are also being collected for the dam by all major banks.


While the concern behind the initiative was legitimate, there was no apparently planning on how to execute the whole thing

Setting up a fund without the support and planning of the government machinery is easy but it is not the official job of the Supreme Court (SC) to run such projects, which is why there is confusion among the relevant people and authorities as to how this plan will progress further and how the funds will be managed properly.



The Chief Justice just added more fuel to the fire by now saying that building dams is not his job

While the statement is indeed true, it also reflects the lack of planning on part of the judiciary because they took an initiative without consulting the Parliament on a matter as serious as management of the on-going water crisis.

There is a lot of research that goes into building them and how effective the dams will be. Whether or not the country needs dams at this point, and how the collection of funds needed for the execution of the project will be carried out, are all matters for trained professionals who have expertise in the matter.

Megaprojects such as dams are not built by donations alone – if authorities think that it is the best possible option then a committee, comprising of professionals with experience and skill on such technical projects, needs to be formed working solely for the purpose and updating the populace on how much has been achieved. Random donation drives at random points might look very good for PR but it has no concrete evidence of actually showing the desired results.


The committee formed by the SC to look over the matter – Committee of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams (ICBDMD) – should consider more than just one plausible solution to the scarcity crisis

They’ve currently concluded it to be to build Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dams and all resources are being spent on fund collection for now but the committee needs to consider alternatives. More than spending a hefty amount of the budget on dams, maybe the need of the hour are small reservoirs which will be less costly and can cover several points in Pakistan. We have witnessed the same result in India, which has focused primarily on small reservoirs instead of dams and seen success in water conservation, to an extent.


At the same time, there are several downsides to building large dams

It has a great impact on the environment of the region, especially on the people living nearby. The people living in the area then suffer from communicable diseases and often the construction leads to a social disruption. It also does not guarantee the provision of water and energy in that area. All of these aspects need to be considered by the ICBDMD.



The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) has also suggested taking a loan of $2billion from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Swiss banks to gather funds for the dams

This is a more reliable source of funds and will ensure results because donations from uninformed public alone can never ensure a multi-million dollar project. Construction of large dams requires a long time lead and with our five-year tenure in place, smaller dams are more feasible. The country has built 50 small dams and there is space for at least 750 more dams. Developing countries like India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal have also shown a favorable trend for building smaller dams. India is considered a leading dam building nation and they have over 19,134 small dams. Sri Lanka has 12,000 small dams and Nepal has more than 2000.

Smaller dams have a positive result on groundwater development as well, which at this point is infected with arsenic. The groundwater that the Pakistani population has at the moment is filled with arsenic. Around 150 million people are at the risk of developing chronic diseases as a result of consumption of the infected groundwater. The acceptable limit for the presence of arsenic in water is 10 milligrams per liter, however, the samples used in a case study show 50 milligrams per liter. The project which was launched for improving this situation in Punjab, called the Saaf Paani Project, already has corruption charges and an ongoing inquiry.


It is now the job of the new government to take charge of the situation and consider all the best possible options as a state

At the same time, individuals and groups must be refrained from taking up the acts as big as building dams upon themselves, and rather direct the government to perform its duty. A lot of government resources have already been utilized for the marketing of the dams along with the mobilization of the finance sector. The plan should never have been just the launch of an initiative and then asking the government to take over, rather a concentrated effort was required to deliver the dream promised to the nation.


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