Kalabagh Dam Political, Environmental & Humanitarian Disaster in Pakistan

Wed, 8 Jul 1998

Ayaz Latif Palijo

In spite of rejection of Kalabagh Dam Project by the environmental and irrigation expertsand by the three out of four peoples and provinces (Sindh, NWFP, Balochistan) ofPakistan through their duly elected Provincial Assemblies, On June 11 1998 PrimeMinister of Pakistan announced his government=92s decision to construct Kalabaghdam. On the very next day Sindh and NWFP (Pakhtunkhwa) erupted in protest and thousands of people came to streets in different cities and towns raising slogans against this disastrous decision. Three complete general strikes have taken place, an Anti-Kalabagh Dam front(AKDF) has been formed and different political, social, religious and environmental organizations have started protest marches, hunger strikes and demonstrations. Political leaders Benazir Bhutto, Wali Khan, Rasool Bux Palijo, Ataulah Mengal, Nisar Khoro, Wishnoo Mal, and Afzal Khan and experts, writers and intellectuals Qamer Zaman Shah, Abdul Majid Kazi, A.N.G. Abbasi, Jamal Rind, Taj Haider, Ibrahim Joyo, Aly Ercelawn, G.N.Mughal, Ayaz Latif, Hasan Zaidi, Abdul Rasool Memon, Abid Shah, Aijaz Qureshi, Shahnawaz Chandio, Munawer Leghari, Sassui Palijo, Ibrar Qazi, Nadeem Jamali and Karamat Ali have termed the decision as grave threat against the interests of the three provinces and a deep rooted conspiracy to politically and economically destroy Sindh and NWFP.

Background :    

Indus River and Water distribution:

The area of present-day Sindh province was the center of the ancient Indus Valley/ Mohen-jo-daro Civilization(2300 BC-1750 BC), it was named after Indus, the great Trans-Himalayan river of South Asia and one of the world's longest rivers, with a length of 2,900 km. The Indus (also called Mehran and Sindhoo) rises in southwestern Tibet at an elevation of about 18,000 feet (5,500 m) and flows in a northwesterly direction along the slopes of the Himalayas, crossing into Jammu and Kashmir from the southeast. The Shyok, Shigar, Zaskar, Gilgit and other streams carry snow and glacial waters to the Indus from the Himalayan, Nanga Parbat and Karakoram ranges. The river crosses the western Kashmir border and then turns southwest to enter Pakistan. In Pakistan it emerges from the highlands and flows towards the semi arid Punjab Plain where it receives its tributaries Jhelum, Ravi, Chenab, Beas, and Sutlej rivers. Afterwards Indus becomes much wider and flows at a slow speed, depositing large enriching quantities of silt along its course in the plains of Sindh. In the district of Thatta the Indus begins its deltaic stage and reaches the Arabian Sea in the southeast of Karachi.

The irrigation and hydropower structures constructed throughout the 2,900 km length of Indus and on its tributaries include 2 dams, 19 barrages and 43 canals. After the partition of subcontinent (1947) following structures were made on Indus and treaties were signed and executed:

1-Kotri, Tuansa and Guddu barrages were built in 1955, 1958 and 1962 respectively.

2-Indus Water Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 and 33 MAF(million acre feet) water of the Indus’s three tributaries Ravi, Beas and Sutlaj rivers was exclusively assigned to India without consulting Sindh.

3- Under 1960’s Indus Water Treaty India has been allowed to develop 1.35 million acres of irrigated land without any restriction on the quantity of water.

4- Mangla Dam was built on Indus92s tributary Jhelum river in 1967 for the storage of 5.3 MAF water.

5- Tarbela Dam was built on Indus in 1975 for the storage of 9.3 MAF water.

6- At the time of independence (1947) about 64 MAF of water was being utilized annually in the irrigation canals in the country and as per Sindh Punjab Draft Agreement of 1945, 48.33 MAF water of Indus was allocated to the province of Punjab and 48.74 MAF was allocated to Sindh. But according to Water Accord signed in 1991 by the then federally nominated/ sponsored Chief Minister, 117.35 MAF water have been allocated to the provinces, out of which 55.94 MAF has been given to Punjab (increasing 7.61 MAF) and 48.76 MAF has been allocated to Sindh (increasing just 0.02 MAF).

7- Chashma-Jhelum link (21000 cusecs) and Taunsa-Panjnad link (2000 cusecs) were constructed after Indus Water treaty (1960) for providing water of Indus to Punjab.

Kalabagh Dam and its Salient Features:

The proposal of Kalabagh dam officially surfaced in 1984, in July 1985 the federal Minister of Water & Power formally announced that the project work had been started and the dam would be completed in 1994. Since then at least Rs 1.3 billion (US$ 28 million) have already been spent on the various phases of this most controversial project in the country's 50 year history.

-Proposed location is 200 km downstream of Tarbela Dam near Mianwali in
Punjab province.

-Project study was initiated in 1953.

-Storage capacity is about 6.7 MAF of water.

-Proposed height of the KB Dam is 260 feet.

-Total estimated project cost in 1987 & 1992 was about US$ 4.9 billion.

-Expected donors are World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Governments of China, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Japan.

Advantages claimed by WAPDA, Fed. Govt. & representatives of Punjab

-Kalabagh Dam will generate/provide 3600 MW hydro-electric power (the
royalty of this power will be given to Punjab)

-The Dam will provide water for the irrigation of four million acres mainly located in the province of Punjab, out of which 380000 acres will be irrigated in Mianwali, Khushab and Jhelum districts and 2150000 acres will be irrigated in D.I Khan.

-Kalabagh Dam project will provide 35000 jobs.

-KB Dam is also essential because storage capacity of Tarbela and Mangla Dams is decreasing due to sedimentation.

Kalabagh a disastrous threat to the existence of Three Provinces:

For the last fifty years our insincere rulers have been plundering the national wealth, acting against democracy and reducing the common people to a state of acute poverty by rendering them jobless and failing to control the soaring prices of essential commodities. At this crucial stage if they will continue their malpractice=92s and if any unilateral decision is imposed regarding the construction of Kalabagh Dam, it would have a far reaching adverse impact on political, economic and geophysical set-up of three provinces. The Dam is not just a technical issue, it is now a socio-political, environmental and humanitarian problem which involves the fate of thousands of people of Sindh and NWFP provinces. The construction of Kalabagh Dam is not only detrimental to the interests of three small provinces but it would be the fatal blow for the peoples unity and lethal attack on the national integrity and existence.

Following are the major threats and objections raised by three provinces:

-Kalabagh dam will not only store 6.7 MAF water of Indus but 12.8 MAF water will be diverted to left bank and right bank canals for the irrigation in Mianwali, Khushab, Jhelum and Dera Ismail Khan districts. Therefore the KB dam will be consuming 19.5 MAF water of Indus.

-Under the provisions of Water Accord of 1991, a quantity of 10 MAF has been provisionally earmarked for out flow to sea which in fact will not be available after storage at Kalabagh dam.

-There is already a deep distrust created between Sindh and Punjab on the two irrigation links. Chashma-Jhelum link (21000 cusecs) and Taunsa-Panjnad link (12000 cusecs) have been kept open for the last several years without prior consent and permission of the Sindh provincial government in flagrant violation of the inter-provincial agreement. Due to their past malpractice=92s and breaches of trust people of Sindh do not trust WAPDA and Punjab irrigation department. People believe that the aim of Punjab regarding building a dam is to keep a life and death grip on the life line of Sindh, in this way the ruthless and unscrupulous ruling coteries would be able to control the very existence of four crore (40 million) Sindhis.

-WAPDA has exaggerated the figures of water availability and has reduced the figures of system losses, outflow to sea and India's authorized uses on western rivers, to some how arrive at a high figure of net water availability. WAPDA has used mean year calculation method instead of 4 Out of 5 years (80% Probability)method, has ignored lean (acute shortage) years , and has deliberately submitted pretentious and inflated figures which is evident from the following comparison:



WAPDA’s Claim

Actual figure

Available Water in West. Rivers

(Indus, Jhelum & Chenab)

143.1 MAF

125.3 MAF

Eastern Rivers Contribution

(Sutlej, Beas & Ravi)

4.0 MAF


System Losses

10.0 MAF

14.0 MAF

Out flow to sea

5.8 MAF

10.0 MAF

Accord Allocation to Provinces

117.35 MAF

117.35 MAF

Net Water Availability

(+)14.0 MAF

(-)16.0 MAF

-As far as the environmental and ecological aspects and threats are concerned the shortage of water for out flow to sea has already caused reduction in the volume of silt. Indus river once brought down 600 million tones of silt out of which half reached the sea and half fertilized the alluvial plain. Today, just 36 million tones passes the upstream barrages and dams. The Indus delta was spread over in 350 sq. km before the partition, it also had more than nine perennial streams, now it has only two perennial streams and covers just about 25 sq. km. This reduction has resulted in the erosion and degradation of the delta, elimination of 0.6 million acres of riverine forests and destruction of mangrove forest area, which has reduced from 263,000 hectares in 1977 to 158,500 hectares in 1990.

-From aquatic conservation point of view the famous Palla fish, Bulahan(Indus dolphin), Khagga(Sea cat) and other aquatic species have become nearly extinct due to water shortage. The annual production of Palla has been reduced from 5000 tons to just 500 tons.

-Further reduction of fresh water flows below Kotri will be a disaster for the common people & fishermen (Munhanas) who depend upon agriculture and fisheries in coastal Sindh.

-Water quality at Sehwan (Town of Sindh) on the Indus River has deteriorated by 24 % during 1968 to 1980 and by 1985 it has reached a level of 50 % deterioration. As the quantity of river

flow is decreased, the water quality is correspondingly degraded.

- Govt. claims that Tarbela Dam never affected Sindh but in fact for the last twenty years , in times of scarcity of water, Sindh's share never reached it since it was siphoned off to the Punjab. Even after the controversial Water Accord of 1991, Sindh has continued to be deprived of its share agreed to in the said accord.

-Indus river plays a vital role in the formation of psyche, society and culture of the Sindhi people. The construction of the dam is likely to keep Indus below Sukkur dry most of the year. Many fishermen living on the Indus will become homeless and the Indus that is the Darya Shah (living legend) for Sindhis will be polluted and reduced from once mighty river to mere expanse of shallow water. This is equal to the cultural invasion and devastation of the thousands year old cultural heritage of Sindhi people.

-Kalabagh Dam will be a grave threat to the fertile Peshawar valley and thousands of acres of NWFP=92s most fertile agricultural land will be destroyed. According to govt..=92s own figures a total of 35,000 acres of land will be inundated/submerged by the Dam, out of which 3,000 acres are irrigated while 27,000 acres are barani.

-As a result of rise of water level due to pounding up at Kalabagh, the water level in Kabul river will rise due to back water effect, thus posing serious threat to the Nowshera (a city of about 200000 people) which will be fully waterlogged within few years.

-Water quality will be polluted by salinity due to nearness of Khewra and Kohat salt formations.

-As the KB Dam will cause the displacement of 250,000 people, there will be an issue of implementing compensation and resettlement of the thousands of men, women, and children who will lose houses and lands submerged by KB.

-Mardan Salinity control project will be affected because of lower level.

-Several roads, structures, bridges & railway lines would be affected in NWFP.

-The province of Balochistan has been irrigating about 300000 acres with the supply from Pat feeder of Guddu (a barrage of Indus) which will be affected by the shortage of water.

-The destruction of wildlife/bird Sanctuaries, riverine forests and natural lakes like Manchar, Kinjhar, Hadero, Haleji and Chotiari will affect biodiversity, specially the migratory birds of Siberia and Kazekustan and endangered aquatic as well as terrestrial species.

-As the system losses will increase with the construction of a high KB Dam, additional losses will be about 4 MAF.

-KB Dam will trap an estimated two-thirds of the sediments of the Indus River, which has the fifth highest sediment load in the world

-The Dam will increase salinity and water logging and will further degrade agricultural productivity of the Indus Basin

-Shortage/ absence of required quantity of water (27 MAF) for outflow to sea will increase the expansion/rising of ocean waters due to Greenhouse effect/Global warming.

-Shortage of water near, and in, the river's estuary would cause a lot of environmental degradation in the coastal areas, destroying Tamar (mangroves) and marine life as well as causing considerable ecological damage to the Indus in its lower reaches. Arabian sea water might travel upwards for considerable distances submerging/immersing large regions of lower Sindh. The shortage of water created by Dam will dry out the forests and Kacha (riverine) areas along the banks of the river Indus converting huge areas of Sindh into desert. The river Indus will loose its assimilative capacity due to reduced/lost flow converting it into practically a drain merely to carry sewage and industrial wastewater and rendering all aquatic life in the river dead either due to toxins or lack of dissolved oxygen. Use of this contaminated water for public water supplies and other consumption would result in grave health problems.

As for as the irrigation of Punjab=92s Seraiki areas are concerned, the lands along the proposed canal sites are already owned/purchased by the settlers and absentee landlords and it will result in adverse demographic change in Seraiki belt, starting a powerful process of reducing the Seraiki-speaking people to a tiny minority in their
thousands year old homeland.


Sustainable development involves the continuing supply of resources for future generations and the policies for achieving sustainable development must focus on political, environmental, cultural and economic aspects and concerns. The development in Pakistan also needs the global vision and basic changes in the patterns of consumption and in the allocation of resources. Any unilateral initiative and authoritarian decision of the government which causes unequal distribution of resources and which affects historic claims of nations will be largely viewed as arrogant and oppressive denial of fundamental rights and democratic values. The unity of the four provinces upon which rests the very existence of Pakistan is obviously more important than the construction of any specific project. All of us know that huge dams have adverse effects on the people they oust, communities in which these people settle, and downstream residents. According to the reports of international experts, World Commission on Dams (WCD) and International Rivers Network (IRN) over the past 50 years, some 30 to 60 million people worldwide have been displaced by large dams. Tens of millions more living downstream have been impoverished due to falling productivity of their farmland and fisheries after dam construction. Many dams, such as Sardar Sarova/Maheshwar Dam on the Narmada River in India, Arun in Nepal, Kaeng Sua Ten in Thailand, and Bakun in Malaysia, are being opposed by the environmentalists . Pakistan is the signatory of the Declaration of Rio which states that "In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it." Kalabagh dam project is bound to score an environmental, humanitarian and political disaster, therefore 140 million people of Pakistan need its immediate rejection/termination.

Following are the conclusions made after the debate:

-WAPDA’s stand that the KB Dam is delayed just for political considerations otherwise no technical problems are left unsolved is totally wrong, besides political, humanitarian and economical reservations there are environmental concerns which are very much technical.

-WAPDA has claimed that there is 17 MAF net available water but actually
there is a shortage in the system and we require 16.0 MAF, so, there is no surplus water for construction of Kalabagh Dam. Even the quantity of 10 MAF decided for out flow to sea in the Water Accord of 1991 is not available for 48 out of 72 years, which will result in serious deterioration in the ecological conditions in the deltaic region.

-IUCN, an international conservation organization has worked out the annual requirements for out flow to sea for environmental sustenance to be 27 MAF. This corresponds to 0.3 million cusecs discharge flowing for a period of 45 days. Therefore in future accords and treaties the quantity for out flow to sea should be kept 27 MAF.

-The highest annual flow of water in the recorded history of the last 75 years (1922-1997) was 186 MAF in the year 1959-60 as against the minimum of 97.8 MAF in the year 1974-75, with an annual average of 138 MAF. There has been a drought cycle of nine continuous years from 1924 to 1933, when the river flows were below the average, therefore a careful approach is required in forecasting the quantity of water expected to be available in future, specially in the lean years.=20

-WAPDA can increase the water level in Mangla dam without any major capital investment, but instead they want to construct KB Dam at the cost of Rs. 250 billion. Tarbela is now expected to become inoperative due to siltation in the next 15 to 20 years. The dam came close to failure twice: in 1977 by the collapse of two of its outlets due to cavitation, and in 1978 by massive erosion of the plunge pool that began to erode the flow spillway. Since its construction, seismic activity has increased in the earthquake-prone Indus Basin, raising fears of a failure at Tarbela and catastrophe downstream. Government claims that Kalabagh is essential because Tarbela Dam has outlived its life due to siltation but if the life of the Tarbela Dam can be extended by its desiltation at a fraction of the cost of KB then what justification would remain for Kalabagh?

-As far as power generation is concerned, one must remember that once all IPPs come online Pakistan will have surplus electricity. If we remember, there was even talk of selling it to India. We will still have to buy the electricity from the IPPs (private power projects) since we have contracted to do so. Therefore the cost of electricity will not come down no matter how much cheaper the hydel energy will be. This is also evident from the existing situation when the actual cost of power generation and transmission is about 13 paisa (Rs.0.13) per unit from Tarbela, but the govt.. is charging consumers about Rs 3.60 to Rs 8.

-Some huge reserves of 22 billion tons of superior quality coal were discovered in Desert of Thar in Sindh, which could be used for power generation but WAPDA has taken no serious steps to utilize those coal reserves of Thar for power generation, to make KB Dam look indispensable.

-A number of sites exist where small hydel projects can be undertaken to generate additional energy which is said to be the major purpose of the KB.

-It is estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of the water released for irrigation is lost on account of seepage through the bed of the network of canals and channels. By lining the canals and the water courses the irrigation authorities can immediately prevent this substantial loss. If the farming practices which not only waste water but also reduce yields would be corrected, this will generate extra water resources for irrigation and at the same time will save the soil from water-logging.

The construction of Kalabagh Dam may offer prospects of lucrative kickbacks for our rulers and may bring some land under cultivation in Punjab but only at the cost of inundation and displacement in NWFP, ecological and environmental disaster in Indus basin and at the cost of destruction & desertification of green and fertile lands of Sindh and Ultimately there will not only be a net loss of food production in Pakistan but many areas of Sindh will even be deprived of drinking water. Let us not make the decision which may injure national unity beyond repair.

Ayaz Latif Palijo
Addr: B-48,
Prince Town, (QA), Hyderabad, Sindh,
Pakistan. Phone: 92 - 221 - 651947, 651725
Email : ayazl@paknet3.ptc.pk