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An Examination Of The Kalabagh Dam Controversy Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3123 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Since the Independence of Pakistan in August 14th 1947, Pakistan had many dams but the three main operating dams were Tarbela, Mangla, and Warsak. For the past decade following the new millennium, there has been an immense electricity shortage in the country of nearly 3000 megawatts due to severe water logging and siltation in the dams. Thereby President Pervez Musharaff in 2005, realizing this great problem, re-opened the idea of Kalabagh dam, in December 2005, It was said to be in the greater interest of the nation. This dam was to be built on the Indus River. It was situated in Kalabagh in the Mianwali district which is in the province of Punjab. The dam would be bordering the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area. This multipurpose dam would provide a storage capacity of 6.1 million acres, which would not only provide water for irrigation but for the development of new projects under the Water Appointment Accord (WAA) of 1991. However, even though this project was already proposed in 2008, when the people’s party government came into power, Raja Pervez Ashraf the Federal Minister for Water and Power cancelled the plan by stating that there was fierce opposition from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and that the project was no longer feasible.

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This disagreement arose due to a conflict of interests between the three provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa . Main reason was that there would be unequal benefits to the provinces. However, after the heavy floods that touched Pakistan in the year of 2010, many believed that the construction of the Kalabagh dam would have helped save a large amount of devastation.

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The main importance of dams is to stop the flow of water, divert water, generate hydroelectricity, and provide water for irrigation, improving navigation, supply water to a town or a city, flood control, and generate power for that specific area. The main controversies that exist in this issue can be highlighted as water availability, food security, energy, the environmental and ecosystem impacts, the technical and financial feasibility of Kalabagh, social impacts; these include community displacement and rehabilitation.

The debate on the Kalabagh dam takes its importance from the fact that if it had been built it could have saved the country from its worst ever natural disasters in which 20 million people were displaced. Apart from this, the dam if built would be able to produce 3500 megawatts of electricity which could have in turn saved the country from the power crisis it is facing today. However, this debate can be rebounded through another theory that if the three operating dam’s Mangla, Tarbela, and Warsak flush the silt, the country would almost be rid of its power shortage in the first place and it would mean a huge misallocation of resources in a time where the country is already in great debt. There seems to be a chronic mistrust and conflict of self interest between the central governments, land owners and politicians from which some fear that the building of the dam could mean more floods, and eventually destroy their crops.

The Kalabagh dam would cost an estimated US $3.4 billion and was scheduled to be completed in a time span of six years.

Literature Review

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The Kalabagh dam is a huge and costly multipurpose project. Its main focus will be to provide electricity, and water for irrigation. The Kalabagh mega dam will professedly be able to generate 3600MW of electricity and store 6.1 MAF of water which will be able to irrigate 2 million acres providing for the food, and power needs of Pakistan. However, it will result in severe degradation of land by water-logging in about 20 year’s time. The other issues are the financial issues related with the building of Kalabagh dam. There is a very tiny possibility of our government in getting financial aid from international organizations. Most probably the dam will only increases are countries debts. However, if private infrastructure funds are attracted to finance the Kalabagh dam at a high return rate, it is uncertain that the project will still stay fiscally and cost-effectively feasible.1

The thought and possibility of building a large scale irrigation and power generation project at Kalabagh has evoked fierce criticisms among stakeholders. This has enabled this topic to still be a debated argument, and idea without a clear conclusion The very thought of building a large scale dam and not many smaller ones, to the thought of providing fair compensation, and the tremendous environmental and social impacts has emerged Kalabagh as an intensive and extensive field of argument. Clear cut information gaps, with low credibility of the government and the operating agencies, puts Kalabagh as an obstacle to informed debate. People supporting the construction of kalabagh dam argue that it is essential to meet the growing demands of an ever increasing population for cheap food, energy and that it will also increase the useful life of Mangla and Tarbela dams through reducing siltation.

There seems to be an absence of systematic comparisons of Kalabagh with alternative ways of increasing deliveries of water in the irrigation system. It remains seemingly doubtful whether water flow in the Indus are violated or modified. Second, if fresh water below Kotri are reduced, the impact upon people dependant on agriculture and fisheries in coastal Sindh is highly disastrous. This will further result in the violation of the Water Accord. Another harmful effect of severe irrigation increase could also cumulate to further high levels of water logging and salinity in the Indus basin.

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Continuous failures by the government in Tarbela, Ghazi barotha and Chotiari inspire little confidence in the government. The seminar also raised fundamental issues about the collection of funding for the construction of the kalabagh dam. If this project was to take place, hundreds and thousands of people will have to be resettled.1


The Kalabagh mega dam will professedly be able to generate 3600MW of electricity and store 6.1 MAF of water which will be able to irrigate 2 million acres providing for the food and power needs of Pakistan.

The inundated “kucha” Lands along the river Indus are 595,000 acres of think forest land and 600,000 of rich grazing land. If kalabagh dam project is given a green light, it could result in the grazing of this land which will further result in the lost of economic and social well being of a million people. However, it could also result in solving the power crisis of the entire country. Furthermore, the mangrove forest in Pakistan is spread over 650,000 acres and is the 6th largest in the world. It protects and nurtures thousands of botanic, aquatic, and wild life species.

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Construction of Kalabagh will threaten the existence of these species. The total estimated cost of financing this project would be around US $8.0 billion (Oct, 1996 cost). The positive outcome identified from Kalabagh dam would be the Indus floods every five or six years, if there was a place to store this water, most of Pakistan’s problems concerning water availability would be almost over.2

Besides storing over 6 million acre feet of water for irrigation purposes, the dam would produce over 3600 MW. Kalabagh would be a source of cheap electricity and could serve to a massive advantage of many people. Petitions by some people have been filled against the federal government of neglecting the national interest by abandoning the project of Kalabagh which if constructed could serve hugely advantageous to the national economy. The dam would be a multipurpose project and should purely be falling in the domain of professional engineers as it seems that politicians oppose the dam more for political reasons than for any defect in the project.

Opinions of Provinces

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The leading political party in creating opposition was the Awami National Party which expressed fierce reservations on the issue. The then Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff supported the construction and said that it should initiate without any further delay. Stakeholders in the National interest say that the agriculture and industrial sector could be served with the construction of the Kalabagh dam. It would be able to serve 2400 MW hydel power which could be maximized up to 3600 MW. According to some prominent individuals, It seems to be critical that the Kalabagh issue be resolved as day by day the the storace capacity of Mangla, Tarbela, and Chashma is gradually decreasing by sediment deposits. A difference of opinion in the ruling provinces has risen with Punjab and the federal government vowing for and the other three provinces voting against. A wrong decision could indeed jolt the federation.3

The irrigation and hydropower structure constructed along the 2900 km long the length of the river Indus includes two dams, nineteen barrages and forty three canals. The proposed location is 200 km downstream of Tarbela and Mianwali in Punjab province. The project will provide 35000 jobs. Experts say that Wapda has exaggerated the figures of water availability and that the water quality will be degraded if project initiates. The Arabian sea water might travel upwards for considerable distances submerging/immersing large region of lower Sindh.

The shortage of water created by the dam could result the desertification of Sindh. Wapda has claimed that there is 17 MAF net available water but actually there is a shortage in the system and that Pakistan requires 16.0 MAF, so there is no surplus water for Kalabagh dam. It is also argued that if the water level in Mangla was increased without any major capital investment, what was the need for the construction of Kalabagh dam at the cost of Rs. 250 billion. Also, if farming practices were corrected, water logging and salinity could be reduced and there would be no need for the construction of Kalabagh.4

Division proportions

The Kalabagh debate facts are not transparent and key issues like how much Indus river water is available and for whose usage and what expense remains unanswered. The 6.1 MAF water stored at Kalabagh is planned to be distributed as follows: Here are the supposed calculations of the water distribution, NWFP 1.1MAF, Punjab 2.1 MAF, Sindh 2.1 MAF and Balochistan 0.7MAF. This clearly shows that water distribution will be far from proportionately divided. Recent studies by professional analysts also clearly show that Wapda has incorrectly calculated the eastern river flows.5

Matters to consider

Looking at the historical context, three trends can be seen, firstly, the need for water increasing, secondly, available water decreasing, and lastly downstream flow of water also decreasing. Like previously, it also seems unclear how the federal government plans to compensate the displaced persons, particularly the Sindhi’s who will be affected the most if the dam is to be built. From the information gathered, it can be noted that the construction of Kalabagh would mean a critical loss of natural habitat; we need more information on how Kalabagh will affect the Indus and Pakistan before making a decision.6


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The Kalabagh dam has many positive and negative sides to it. Many specialists believe that Kalabagh dam is a constructive and necessary project while others believe that it has too many substantial negative aspects to it, and that it would be a bad idea to go through constructing it.

My personal perspective on Kalabagh is that it should not be made and instead a better planned dam with less profound resistances, and difficulties should be implemented. Many facts show that Kalabagh dam could bring about major catastrophic problems, and yet would not guarantee the required supply of energy.

Some major problems of the Kalabagh dam being implemented include the major problem of the Indus River running out of water or the water that remains there could get polluted due to salinity. The Indus river has already seen water shortages in the past decade, and the dams that are present already have not been able to be filled to their capacities. Besides this, the major conflict between the Punjab and the other three provinces is far too great. It is a common thing to believe among the people of the other three provinces that only the Punjab would be benefiting from the project. This belief amongst the three provinces can lead to a huge dispute within the country.

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The other major conflicts that caused for the plan to be rejected back in 1996 were that Kalabagh has been estimated to silt quicker than normal dams, the overall articulated performance of the dam seems not to be up to the required standard, and would have more cons than pros. It is estimated that the electricity that would be generated would be much less than the other already operating, and what is really needed. The electricity generation being so less, would mean that the maintenance, and operating expenses of the dam would be higher than the overall outcome. If the dam silts quicker this could cause the capacity of the dam and its performance to decrease even further.

Another serious concern of the Kalabagh dam project is the displacement of the people who live in the area near the projected dam. These people will have to be resettled elsewhere which is another serious cost to the government. There would be a huge loss in the fertile land of the country, especially in the Punjab and Khyberpakhtunkhwa provinces.

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The Kalabagh dam project is located near the forests where there is a huge amount of wildlife as well as trees necessary for man’s survival in that area. These trees have material necessary for manufacturing of certain herbs and medicines. Endangering the wildlife is in turn dangerous for us as well, as food chains and the environment would be negatively afflicted.


The structured building of the Kalabagh dam would also affect some of the major transportation routes in those particular areas. One of such bypasses is the Attock-Talang by-pass. These highways and bypasses would have to find a substitute route and this would cause further plans, implementation, and construction of new roads all across the province. This would further increase the cost, and would mean additional costs to the already weak project.7

The Kalabagh dam would bring more pressure on the river Kabul, and this would in-turn cause more water logging. Another disruption would be in providing gas. Kalabagh would disrupt the Sui gas pipe line between Peshawar-Rawalpindi, and Rawalpindi-Kohat. This would mean that new ways must be found to produce gas to these areas just as effectively and efficiently as these Sui gas lines do.

Kalabagh dam would need a high amount of capacity to be filled for storage and irrigation canals, and to fill these amounts Sindh and Balochistan would have to suffer from shortages in water availability. This discussion could go on and on, the list will keep growing. However, the last major issue that the project of Kalabagh represents is that the location at which the dam is designed to be built lies on a faulty piece of earth, where a major earthquake could result in a really massive disaster.8


In a world where the world’s less fortunate countries continue to be taken for granted by the more powerful nations, and where constant exploitation is norm, the World Bank continues on to show it’s state of readiness for the help of the Kala Bagh Dam, financially or otherwise. It has continued on to express that this project is the largest one currently present in the Bank’s Agenda. It has been in the Bank’s books since 1962 when Sir William Illif, the Bank’s chairman, along with USAID gave their votes for the Kala Bagh Dam. Wapda, on the other hand, were in the favor of the Tarbela Dam, which was later on selected by the country’s government and became the entity after a little while.

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The Kala Bagh Dam has been described as a social service for the country’s electricity users who are using it free of cost. It has also been noted that the main idea behind the whole Kala Bagh Dam Project was to construct another source of electrical power generation for Pakistan, which has been facing deficits in meeting its electrical power demand. The Environmental Impact of the project is also considered to be a major issue. Keeping all these things in mind, the project incurs more social costs than benefits if the project is accepted and brought into construction.9

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It can be concluded that Kalabagh dam is not going to be beneficial to the country. It obviously poses some positive points such as higher production of energy, more irrigation, but these claims are just claims and have not stood well under the analysis of technical experts. WAPDA along with the present government has had a reputation for being highly non reliable, and untrustworthy.

The projective supporters of Kalabagh seem to have not addressed the problems that would arise from the project in much detail. Even if the claims of the governments and the figures by WAPDA are accepted there are other major problems that cannot possibly be dealt with easily dealt with or avoided.

The pollution of the water in the areas of Sindh and Balochistan are major sources of disputes. Even on human grounds when people living in those areas would be displaced, besides the cost, the people would have to move to a whole new lifestyle and familiarize themselves to a whole new environment. The long term effects of Kalabagh dam are inevitable such as the environmental degradation of the forests and the wildlife being adversely affected.

Instead of constructing Kalabagh, the full capacity of the Pakistan’s existing dams Tarbela, Warsak, and Mangla should be utilized by clearing the silt, and increasing the height of the walls. Kalabagh dam is a mega project with huge risks as well. It would be wiser to construct a number of small dams which could produce the required energy, and not have major conflicts of opinion associated with their construction.

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