Sultan M Hali
Pakistan is still reeling under the impact of the recent spates of devastating floods, which have wreaked havoc across the country. More than 20 million people having been affected, the death toll has risen over 1600 and an outbreak of epidemic, which may cause more than 3.5 million children’s lives at risk, is causing nightmares to the people. With communication infrastructure having been devastated and schools, colleges, homes, factories and workplaces having been washed away by the deluge, it will take years and billions of dollars to rebuild the lives of people. On top of it, the tottering economy, little or no help from foreign donors and the unabated threat from terror attacks, it will be difficult for Pakistan to meet the challenges alone. Along with the sense of impending doom, there is the realization that we have been let down by successive governments, who failed in the task of water management, falling prey to political whims and deferring the decision to build more dams. The notion that flood water caused so much devastation and the surplus water in a country, which till recently was crying for more water, will see the waters rush to the seas wasted and unutilized for energy irrigation. Rivers and creeks overflowed inundating the entire areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), swamping villages and towns in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan and creating real emergency for the people of Pakistan who were least prepared to deal with such an extraordinary challenge. Incessant rains not only brought fresh waves of gushing water but also caused landslides killing many people in Northern Pakistan with districts of Skardu and Hangu most affected. The awesome deluges razed buildings of thickly populated areas leaving thousands marooned and homeless. The communication infrastructure being the worst hit impeded the relief operation. International friends and donors including UN Secretary General made emotional statements but their response remained sluggish and paltry. The people of Pakistan are optimistic that relief effort will gear up soon and their needs will be met.
The moment of truth has arrived, whereas past political expediency lost the opportunity to build more dams, it is still not too late. While the nation needs to extend all possible assistance to relief providing agencies as a token of their expression of solidarity with the flood victims, the political process must start building up to consider permanent solutions to such disasters. We need to build more dams and enhance our water storage capacity. This will enable us to better deal with the floods and avoid its shattering impact.
The efficacies of building dams and water reservoirs cannot be underscored. While building dams do cost money, yet they can pay back multifold in a matter of years. The US state of California, which is 70% the size of Pakistan, has more than 1400 federal and state jurisdictional dams in California. Approximately 200 of these fall under federal jurisdiction. Ten reservoirs have storage capacity greater than 1 million acre-feet (the amount required to submerge one million acres under one foot of water); 910 reservoirs have capacity less than 1 thousand acre-feet. Most of these water reservoirs have been built not on existing water features but to trap flash floods, store the surplus water and put it to domestic or commercial use, before they can wreak havoc. The idea behind giving this example may appear lopsided, since the budget for the State of California and Pakistan cannot be compared. However, it indicates that the correct emphasis has been laid in California on the use of water, and saving millions of lives from devastation in the case of floods. Pakistan may not be able to afford 1400 dams; let it build 700 dams, or if that is too much then let there be 350 dams or at least a hundred dams constructed. The time to build the dams is now. While the people, who have lost near and dear ones, property, cattle and their mental peace, will not be averse to supporting the decision of building more dams. The lies of the politicians have to be nailed. People who said that if Kalabagh Dam is built, Nowshehra will be submerged below water, they should only visit Charsadda and the adjoining area to get to the truth. According to WAPDA sources, Pakistan has been heading towards acute water shortage as the per capita surface water capacity has not kept up with the rapid increase in population, with increased population. The minimum water requirement to being a “water short country” is 1,000 cubic meters.
Not building dams has exposed Pakistan to another serious threat. India, which has built more than a dozen dams in Occupied Kashmir alone, controls all rivers flowing into Pakistan, including the River Indus. The only river, which flows in through Afghanistan is the River Kabul. Even that is controlled by India, since it has built the Sarobi Dam for Afghanistan and is maintaining it. Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that the current floods were not the cause of unprecedented torrential reasons or the melting of glaciers, alone but were aggravated by the Indians releasing the floodgates of Sarobi Dam on River Kabul, which wreaked havoc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while India unleashed the forces of destruction through releasing surplus waters in Rivers Chenab and Indus, which have swept away southern Punjab and Sindh. For decades India has threatened that it has the capacity of turning Pakistan into an arid desert by shutting off the water or flooding Pakistan with surplus water. India’s name for this strategy is “water war”. It appears now that this particular strategy has become a reality and has caused tremendous devastation in Pakistan because it has also destroyed standing crops, causing acute food shortage, which may lead to the outbreak of famine.
Pakistan’s strategic planners must take the factor of India’s “water wars” into consideration too since building more dams and reservoirs can offset India’s macabre stratagem of drowning Pakistan or turning its fertile plains into a desert.