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Dam to the rescue!

  • Aug, 2020
  • 239
  • Editorial

This July, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and declared that the government would build more dams to generate low-cost hydel power.

Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa tweeted that the 6.4 million acre feet water reservoir would not only add 1.2m acres of agriculture and 4,500 megawatts environment-friendly electricity, it would also boost steel, cement and construction industry by creating 16,000 jobs. The claims are although colossal, yet paradoxical in nature. The challenge of governance, the burden of history and an apparently bewildered team of the captain has already led itself into a quagmire that may even dampen with a slight seepage of this dam. The day the dam broke, metaphorically though, it would be an inexcusable mess. The dam does offer much, but whether the government possess the necessary skill to reap benefits from it. Claims and blames might win temporary popularity, but the day is won by those who achieve the desired goals. If water security is the goal, it is imperative to ensure the dam will rescue us.

Construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam is a challenging task. It must overcome several odds: geographic, topographic, and strategic challenges. It sits on a seismic Faultline and is in the region which the hostile eastern neighbour; however erroneously, claims to be its own. Northwards, it is connected to the Belt and Road heartland which promises to be a game changer. Southwards, the dam itself promises a prosperous agrarian sector and an energy secure future of a self-subsisting economy. Still it might prove ambitious. Although ambitions are made of stern stuff, yet reality is sterner. A reality check would reveal that the dam even if completed within the stipulated time that is by 2028, it would not meet all the water shortage in the country, which might soar up to 81 MAF by 2025.

Despite being the tallest roller compact concrete dam in the world, it might not be enough to address the challenge of precipitously plummeting ground water tables. Roller compacted concrete is a special mix of concrete that has the same materials as standard concrete but in diverse ratios, and with a preferential swap of fly ash for Portland cement. This eases thermal loads on the dam and lessens possibilities of thermal cracking. The dam has a suggested spillway with fourteen gates and five channels for flooding out silt. The diversion system includes two tunnels and a diversion canal. It will also include the construction of powerhouses. This multipurpose project will be used for water storage, flood mitigation, irrigation and power generation.

However, the project must also be viewed from a Chinese lens. Power China, who have already constructed Port Qasim Power Plant in Karachi, is a part of the dam construction. They will ensure that the dam will be built keeping in view the international standards. China, who aims to realign the power realities of international politics, envisions a region where her allies are strengthened to protect Chinese interests as well. The port of Gwadar might be hundreds of miles away in the south, but its progress and security lay hidden in the mountains up north. The shores of Gwadar would echo up to Astana if the mountains in Chilas guard the demography and geography between the Belt and Road economies. Currently, it is a watershed. In the future, it might be a citadel. These are exciting yet testing times. Fingers crossed! Finally, it is a dam to our rescue.

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