Water scarcity: Will Ghazi-Barotha ever get dammed?

Published: September 17, 2018
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PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: Even as the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi capital turn into a drought affected and water-stressed areas, a project which could have proved to be a panacea for the water problems of both cities has been skirted around by the federal government for over a decade.

The construct of the Ghazi-Barotha Dam and a water link to the twin cities was touted as a near-permanent solution to the water problems of an area which has seen its population double over the past 20 years. Expected to take two years to build, the project would have solved the water problem for at least the next two decades.

According to the proposed project, the dam would have supplied 200 million gallons of water per day. Of this, 100 million gallons of water was to be supplied to Islamabad while the other 100 million gallons would have been provided to Rawalpindi.

The project had been first proposed by the then chairman of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) Kamran Lashari in the General Pervez Musharraf regime. At the time, a project concept-I for the project (PC-I) had listed the cost of the project as Rs32 billion.

By the time the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government took charge, the cost of the project had risen to Rs36 billion. Lashari’s successor Tariq Mehmood tried to get approval for the project from the then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani.

He was later removed and Imtiaz Inayat Elahi was appointed as CDA chief.

Just after a few days after his appointment, Elahi divided the project into two parts, with separate PC-Is and lowered the cost to just Rs22 billion.

The new proposals were sent to the federal cabinet’s secretary for approval. However, it continued to gather dust as first Gillani showed a lack of interest towards the project while and then later prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

The election of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s into power renewed hopes for the construction of the project. The PML-N, following court orders, created the local government and Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC) Mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz was given the additional charge of the CDA chairman to fully address issues of the capital.

Juggling two ships, Aziz got embroiled in the city’s issues. He tried to address the issue of water shortage in the city. But he, like his predecessors, too failed to move the cabinet over the need for forking out large sums to build the dam.

A former CDA chairman had allegedly issued Rs300 million using his personal authority to kick-start work of the project, hoping that it would spark the government machinery. But later, this project faced delays because of unidentified reasons.

A senior CDA officer told Daily Express that one of the basic reasons why the dam project has failed to secure the green light from the government over the past 15 years is the increase in each successive estimated cost of the project. Price, therefore, has proven to be a persistent obstacle which the project has been unable to clear.

This has only exacerbated the situation for residents of the city who have been facing increasing water shortages each year the government failed to build the dam.

To make matters worse, the capital has seen dwindling rains over the past five years which are less than 30 per cent of what the city used to receive earlier. This most evident at the height of summer and winter when supply from the Simly and Khanpur dams fall coupled with a fall in groundwater levels — which means that tube wells are rendered ineffective.

The Rawal Dam, which was built at the time of Islamabad’s creation to address the by water needs of the capital, more often than not resembles a dried out pond.

Despite water being supplied from I-series’ several tube wells, water shortage intensifies every year. It remains to be seen whether the renewed emphasis of the cash-strapped Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on solving the water crisis and building dams, particularly in light of the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s fervent focus on building large reservoirs, would see the Ghazi-Barotha project surmount its biggest obstacle.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2018.

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