Water woes and energy policies

Published: June 17, 2015
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The writer is a post-doctoral researcher in Biocomputing and Developmental Systems Group at the University of Limerick, Ireland

The writer is a post-doctoral researcher in Biocomputing and Developmental Systems Group at the University of Limerick, Ireland

Earlier this year, Khawaja Asif, the minister for water and power, warned that Pakistan can become water-starved over the next six to seven years. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already described Pakistan as one of the most water-stressed countries, with 1,000 cubic metres available per person per year. Having dropped five-fold since 1947, this availability matches that of drought-stricken Ethiopia. Given poor water management, a national predilection towards extravagance, the highest population growth rate in South Asia, and a largely agrarian economy, the impending disaster is quite evident.

Water is also politically volatile. Domestically, it courts controversy as a shared resource, internationally it can ignite an already-hostile neighbourhood: neighbouring India has been accused of constricting Pakistan’s water supply and thus indulging in ‘water terrorism’. Under these circumstances, Pakistan should have declared a water emergency. However, it hardly appears to be bothered. Even the foreseeable energy development has only a small share of hydel projects. Consider the CPEC, for example: out of $34 billion reserved for the energy infrastructure, only $3.3 billion goes to hydel projects that generate 1,570MW together as against a short-fall of 6,000MW, while about $25 billion will fund the projects based on imported fuel and LNG. Innovative water management also attracts no funds. Without being ungrateful, this spectrum of investment doesn’t improve Pakistan’s energy security significantly. More tellingly, the water woes remain.

For a country prone to routine floods, water reservoirs are critical. Pakistan thus sees the Diamer-Bhasha Dam as a solution to many problems. To be built in Gilgit-Baltistan, it can store 8.1 million acre feet of water and generate 4,500MW. Also, being upstream, it can block sedimentation in Tarbela Dam thereby extending its life by 35 years. Moreover, had it been constructed before 2010, the Diamer-Bhasha Dam could have saved an estimated $10 billion by mitigating floods.

The project costs $14 billion though, and funds are hard to come by. Donors like the World Bank and the ADB have shied away due to Indian objections that the project locates in “disputed territory”. There are also environmental challenges such as relocating 30,000 people and a loss of heritage due to construction, as well as engineering challenges in a mountainous region.

Nevertheless, the government insists that the project is both essential and feasible having assessed so formally. Also, in March 2015, the government approved a mammoth Rs101 billion to acquire the requisite land and to rehabilitate those affected. Furthermore, last year, the USAID awarded an $18 million contract to an American firm to assess the feasibility of the project independently. Under these circumstances, the investment for the CPEC should have been a godsend. Clearly, the Chinese should be least perturbed by Indian objections, having already shrugged them off over the CPEC. They are also vastly experienced, being involved in building some 330 dams in 74 countries, including those with environmental risks.

It is not to be so, however: the Chinese Three Georges Corporation, which is building the Karot Dam as a part of the CPEC, met International Rivers to discuss environmental issues, and indicated a disinclination to fund the Diamer-Bhasha project. A separately reported reason for this disinclination is the risk that a hefty investment in a single project entails. Without an official word on the subject though, it is unclear as to what ultimately discourages the Chinese to fund this project, even as the US calls it the “smartest choice” for investment, while the USAID sponsors a feasibility study. Perhaps, the government could arrange this feasibility study much earlier to convince the Chinese. Also, to demonstrate readiness, the government should have acquired the land and rehabilitated those affected by now. If, however, the timeframe for constructing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam is a concern — as the CPEC needs to be energised sooner — some funds can help run the existing energy infrastructure of over 22,000MW to capacity to cover the prevailing energy shortfall.

If the situation persists, at the projected commissioning of this project in 2037, the per capita water availability will touch a rock bottom of 711 cubic metres, well below the levels in drought-stricken African countries. It may also expose the country to devastating floods in the meantime. It is about time we re-explored the heights and the depths of our relations with our all-weather friend to chart a sustainable future

Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • pnpuri
    Jun 17, 2015 - 2:38PM

    pakistan population in 1947 was 24 million which is grown to 190 million. but even 1000cubic meter as available now is be sufficient if properly utilized. israel has 265 cubic meter per person per year. may be world has to learn conserve waterRecommend

  • Dr Musadik Malik
    Jun 18, 2015 - 3:46AM

    LNG is a game-changer and the only solution to Pakistan’s current energy shortages. Minister petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is the architect of LNG import policy. LNG is a game-changer and the only solution to Pakistan’s current energy shortages; the viability of Pakistan’s energy future is directly linked to import of LNG from Qatar. If Pakistan had committed to LNG 10 years back, we would not have any power or energy crisis today. Hydropower development in Pakistan is challenging task and gigantic task to get funds. The Energy projects for CPEC were carefully crafted by the Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, him-self, considering hydropower facilities development in past have large environmental impacts by changing the environment and affecting land use, homes, and natural habitats in the dams area.

    New multipurpose water reservoirs in Pakistan may cover people’s homes, important natural areas, agricultural land, and archeological sites. So building dams requires relocating people. Methane, a strong greenhouse gas, form in Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs and be emitted to the atmosphere at great extant.
    This short note is based on my own in-depth analysis of Pakistan’s energy issues and the use of LNG as a viable solution for our energy challenges. The bottom line is simple – LNG is the only cost-effective solution for Pakistan’s energy problems in the short to medium term perspective.Recommend

  • Amir
    Jun 18, 2015 - 2:20PM

    Water conservation is necessary but will not mitigate floods. same goes for LNG, which is good for energy in the medium term but in the long term it does not provide energy security and surely will not take care of water problems. Water conservation and water reservoirs are both necessary for water security, unless we have some formula for converting LNG energy into water using some form of E=mc^2

    Besides, when the government has already allocated 101 billion, it was reported that people were happy with the compensation. Recommend

  • Atif
    Jun 18, 2015 - 5:47PM

    I second Amir’s concerns above. It appears Dr Malik has largely bypassed the article’s concerns. First off:

    If PML-N feels that hydel projects are bad in the light of above comment, then why did it sanction a whopping Rs 101 billion earlier this year for bhasha dam? See the report below

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/846820/ecnec-meeting-govt-approves-funding-for-diamer-bhasha-dam/

    Did the PML-N govt feel that 101 billion can just be thrown away?

    Besides, how will the LNG cover our water shortage, stop sedimentation in Tarbela, and mitigate floods as the article highlighted?
    Recommend

  • Avtar
    Jun 18, 2015 - 11:50PM

    The issue is well known. In South Asia, we seem to be stuck on big dam or one big solution. Experience in some countries have shown that small dams in several locations are appropriate. It is easy to get funding for smaller dams and reservoirs.
    Conserving water is one aspect of the equation. Not many Islamic countries want to tackle the issue of population growth. Unfortunately, the natural resources do not grow with population. We need to adopt to climate change as well.Recommend

  • Qaiser
    Jun 19, 2015 - 1:39PM

    I feel the larger point of the article is the water shortage and flood related disasters. Be it through a large reservoir or several smaller reservoirs, there should be a visible move on that front.

    I second the point that if the govt has committed 101 billion rupees to the project, and yet doesn’t want to take it seriously, then what was the money allocated for?

    Besides, the location of the dam upstream of Tarbela is also a concern which should not be ignored. Overall there should be a visible move on this front. Recommend

  • Atif
    Jun 19, 2015 - 5:35PM

    Dr Musadik Malik raised the issue of greenhouse gas emission from large water reservoirs. I would like to draw his attention to several points in that regard.

    The greenhouse gas, methane (CH4) has also been shown to be an auxiliary source of energy if harnessed properly. The reported claims are that it can be harnessed cheaply. In fact, up to 80% of the methane gas can be reclaimed for energy production. Please look at the paper available from: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-008-9542-6 for details. Since upto 70% of methane degasses when the water releases into spill ways and turbines, mechanics can be used to limit deeper water flowing into the the turbines, whereas before that, the deep water still in the reservoir can be used to extract methane.
    Another interesting fact is that the greater the methane concentration, and hence the potential to damage environment, greater also is the efficiency of methane recovering systems world wide. In fact the paper reported above shows that between 22MW to 2000MW energy can be generated from reservoirs in Brazil.
    Moreover, the amount of greenhouse gas released to the atmosphere is at its highest at high temperatures. This makes sense, because a gas trapped inside a liquid is likely to be released more when the temperature raises. Whereas, the Bhasha dam is in the mountainous North, where temperatures are likely to be low.
    Recommend

  • Romeo
    Jun 28, 2015 - 1:36PM

    @Dr Musadik Malik:
    Sir Wat about the floods? The devastation, loss ofinfrastructure , life and property they cause every 2-3 years? The dams are not only important for producing Hydrel electricity but also to control flood waters. Recommend

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