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The recent positive development of “Indus Partial Diversion” for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam has prompted this writer to provide an overview of the water sector. This sector holds the key to turning around our current fragile economy and addressing the core issue of food security for our rapidly growing population.

Among the myriad economic and food security challenges facing Pakistan, the insufficiency of both energy and water stands out, with their multi layered impact on food and human security, exacerbated by either scarcity or high costs.

Our future is intricately linked with energy and food security, yet we have fallen short in harnessing our inherent potentials, such as water, sun, wind, and the capabilities of our youth. Globally, water and energy are recognized as fundamental to economic prosperity, and major economies such as the US, China, and India have significantly invested in water storages and renewable energy resources.

Particularly, water remains pivotal to our challenges, and we have not effectively tapped into this vital resource. The Indus River tributaries receive an average of around 145MAF of water annually. The Indus cascade offers ideal locations for storage and hydropower sites, spanning from Shyok through Skardu, Tungus, Yalboo, Bunji, Diamer-Bhasha, Dasu, Pattan, Thakot, Akhori, and up to Kalabagh. Despite this potential, we find ourselves yearning for both quantity and quality.

While Tarbela, developed in the ‘70s with the assistance of the World Bank, remains the backbone of our inexpensive hydropower and a guarantor of food security, the neglect and procrastination in developing mega storages and hydropower projects along the Indus cascade have hindered our progress. Political interference and institutional inefficiencies have plagued initiatives like Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu dams.

WAPDA, once synonymous with excellence, is now taking on the task of commencing work on mega projects such as Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams. Serious bottlenecks in Dasu are being removed, and other projects, including Kurram Tangi, Nai Gaj, Tarbela 5th Extension, and Sindh Barrage are in progress. These projects have the potential to significantly increase water storage and add to our hydropower capacity. Some projects like Kacchi Canal in Balochistan and Neelum Jhelum Hydropower were delayed for years if not decades. The reasons are aplenty. Half-baked feasibilities, prolonged approval processes, poor financial closures, irregular cash flows, and ordinary supervision and management, and above all, the sector falling out of favor with the rulers. RDOB-II (Right Bank Outfall Drain) in Sindh commenced more than two decades ago and has no chance of seeing the light of day anytime soon.

Worse, at great perils for the people of Karachi, K-4 (a drinking water project) is yet another example of how not to do a project in the classical engineering and management sense (more on this later).

Our energy portfolio, with over Rs2.6 trillion of circular debt, has no clear signs of its control with any structural reforms or innovative strategies. It is perhaps the only sector with potential to implode or explode our economic edifice. Our energy mix with heavy reliance on damaging, expensive, and volatile fossil fuel is the key to our current lopsided energy profile.

Currently, WAPDA is contributing around 30% cheap energy to the basket (kudos to the teams lead by Engr Mohammad Zareen and Engr Arfan, who commissioned Neelum Jhelum and T4 in 2018, adding around 7 billion kWh units in 2018). Unless this mix crosses the minimum threshold of 50% anytime sooner, our economic growth will remain shackled by the monster called energy.

However, of utmost importance is the Sindh Barrage project, conceived in 2018 to address water availability, distribution, and combat sea intrusion in the province. Timely completion of this project can usher in a new era of development in the region and contribute to better water management strategies.

The financial aspect of these projects is critical, requiring robust, standalone financial models. WAPDA has successfully structured a portfolio of over $14 billion, incorporating a mix of Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), WAPDA equity, local and foreign commercial financing, and a groundbreaking debut green Euro Bond. This financial ingenuity has garnered international credit ratings from Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P, instilling confidence in the international donors.

While the participation of the private sector is crucial, the long-haul nature of hydropower development and storage construction necessitates a recalibration and reset of our development mechanisms. This should include capacity-building of our human capital and institutions, emphasizing a holistic approach for sustainable progress. It is an achievable task that requires concerted efforts from the government, WAPDA, and other stakeholders.

To sum up, the commissioning of these projects within scheduled timelines is imperative to prevent significant damage to the national economy. Balancing technology, policy, and the private sector involvement can play a pivotal role in ensuring our food security and sustainable development.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Lt-Gen Muzammil Hussain (retd)

The writer is the former Chairman of WAPDA


Comments are closed.

Fahad Dec 17, 2023 05:39pm
With due respect sir, plz elaborate what relevant academic credentials do you have to be writing on this topic or to be have been appointed wapda chairman in the first place?
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Ahmed Ali Dec 17, 2023 08:04pm
@Fahad, The only qualification he has is the title of Lt-Gen (Retd.) prior to his name, for being appointed Chairman Wapda. This is because we live in Faujistan. This whole country is their Toshakhana for the past 70 years.
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ISZ Dec 17, 2023 08:47pm
You got your retirement, now let other eligible young person to take responsibility.
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Princetonite Dec 19, 2023 04:56am
Sir, you clearly have no idea about what you are talking about. There is no argument to build Basha Dam. The water needs to flow through to the sea to ensure there is no salt water back flow and to ensure the health of the river and the delta and its people. Further there is no real water shortage. Our underground aquifers provide enough storage. 98% of water is used for irrigation with literally the lowest yield for water. We are basically exporting our water in our sugar and rice exports. To save water, line the canals properly. To prevent flooding disasters, make sure there are no people living on floodplains. Coordinate water management with India As for the hydropower argument. Building basha for hydropower makes that hydropower astronomically expensive. Instead build solar plants and upgrade the grid.
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