Water Imperatives

By: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Muzammil Hussain
Published: May 1, 2017
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All of Pakistan’s critical problems – ranging from terrorism and financial crises to unemployment and social inequality – are directly or indirectly linked with water and electricity. Our problems began when India, soon after the creation of Pakistan, blocked the water from Ferozpur and Madhupur Head Works.

Pakistan and India negotiated over water rights for 12 years and the Indus Water Treaty, the result of World Bank mediation, was eventually signed in 1960. As a result of this treaty, Pakistan constructed two large reservoirs of water, the Tarbela and Mangla dams, as well as five barrages and several link canals.

Fortunately, in the early 1960s, gas was discovered in Pakistan and the combination of water and gas resources was extremely beneficial, with two-thirds energy being generated by hydel and one-third by gas. The economic development and industrial revolution which occurred in Pakistan in the 1960s can be attributed to a highly appropriate energy resource mix.

Unfortunately, since 1974, there has been no mega water project even as our population levels soared, as did our requirements. Things have come to a head because our hydel energy mix has deteriorated, new water reservoirs are not being built, and there is a high level of mismanagement and bad governance.

Pakistan’s demand for electricity is increasing from eight percent to 10 percent annually. We require an estimated 23,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity while our production capacity is currently between 16,000 to 17,000 MW. Unless we have a sustainable long-term plan, which focuses on enhancing water reservoirs and increasing our reliance on hydel energy, things cannot improve.

The per capita water availability is less than 1000 cubic metres with Pakistan ranking among the 15 countries facing water scarcity

When I took over as the Chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) in August 2016, there were as many as nine projects which faced a variety of issues. We made a plan to address them all. The plan had three core pillars.

Firstly, we had to put all our projects, caught up in a strategic trap, back on track and begin all the projects that were scheduled to be initiated as soon as possible. Secondly, we had to resolve financial difficulties in the projects. Thirdly, we had to create harmony in our own institution, WAPDA, and manage our human resources efficiently. We made considerable progress in seven months. However, a lot more needs to be done.

The Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project was conceived more than 25 years ago. Unfortunately, its initial feasibility cost had been projected at Rs. 30 billion. But by 2002, the figure had reached the Rs. 80 billion mark. Studies were done for the project in 2004 which revealed that it would be difficult to complete the plant within Rs. 80 billion.

Regrettably, after the massive earthquake, which jolted Pakistan in 2005, the scope and design of the project had to be changed. We conducted a new series of geological surveys which revealed that a couple of locations of the area for the dam and headrace tunnel fell in the seismic zone.

To address this problem, the scope and design of the project were changed altogether. Almost 90 percent of the project is underground and only 10 percent is above the ground. Once this project is completed, it will be regarded as an engineering feat.

It’s imperative to initiate this project so we can protect our water rights. We can run this project with almost 60 cubic metres of water per second for one generating unit that falls into River Neelum. India’s construction of the Kishanganga Dam will affect the Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project and we will get 10 percent less water because of this controversial Indian scheme.

When the Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project is constructed, we will be able to produce 969 MW of electricity. It must be noted that from June to August, all the rivers of Pakistan become high-flow areas. We take a cumulative average of the total water available to us throughout the year, but whatever water we get for the low-flow areas will be sufficient to run at least one of our units.

It is important to note that the gestation period of hydel projects is quite long. Many small dams take several years to complete. There are many projects in the pipeline, such as the Dasu Hydropower Project which will begin in May and will be completed in 2021.

We require an estimated 23,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity while our production capacity is currently between 16,000 to 17,000 MW

The Dasu project is divided into two stages. In the first stage, we will generate upwards of 2,160 MW of electricity, and in the second stage, another 2,160 MW will be added. Between December 2017 and May 2018, three of our projects – Neelum-Jhelum with 969 MW, Tarbela with 1,410 MW, Golen Gol with 106 MW – will be completed.

In effect, approximately 2,485 MW of electricity will be available from December 2017 to May 2018. The government will generate another 3,600 MW from the projects in Balloki, Haveli Bahadur and Bhikhi. Another project will also be launched in Sahiwal in 2017 which will produce 1,320 MW of electricity.

Put together, these projects will generate 10,000 MW of electricity between August 2017 and May 2018.  There are also a few other public-private partnership projects in the pipeline which will generate 2,000 MW to 3,000 MW. This means that the government will be able to end load-shedding by 2018.

We are also negotiating with the Chinese government to bring the Diamer Basha Dam under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) umbrella and the Chinese are also keen about it. The foundation stone of the Diamer Basha was laid in 2006-2007 and work on it has resumed after a gap of 10 years. The project was essentially halted due to financial issues as international financial institutions refused to finance it despite promises made earlier.

We have now made a financial model for the project with the approval of the Prime Minister. Under the model, broadly-speaking, the Diamer Basha project is worth $14 billion, including $3.0 billion of Interest During Construction (IDC), and will take approximately seven years to complete. Hopefully by the end of this year, we will be able to start work on it without assistance from international donors.

Pakistan requires both energy and water but water is a very basic need, therefore, the Diamer Basha tops WAPDA’s priority list. Its gross capacity is more than eight million acre feet (MAF) and live storage is 6.4 MAF.

No hydroelectric project can be executed without considering two core issues: the availability of land and finance. The Dasu Hydropower Project, at Stage 1, is worth $4.2 billion. The World Bank is giving $1.0 billion for this project, while WAPDA and the government are funding the rest collectively.

We did not have land for the project and we had allotted five preparatory contracts. Once the contracts had been given, we became defaulters due to the non-availability of land.  After taking over in August 2016, the first thing we did was to acquire 500 acres of land, the credit for which goes to my team.

We have achieved success in several other projects as well. We had lost a whopping 57 billion rupees in the Kachhi Canal project which had failed to serve its core purpose: providing water to the people of Dera Bugti. We devised a strategy whereby by August this year, availability of water for 55,000 acres of land will be ensured.

The other project is Kurram Tangi, a dam planned on the Kurram River in North Waziristan Agency. This is a three-year-long project which we began about two months ago. One of the best dams in Pakistan in terms of ecology, geology and hydrology is the Mohmand Dam. If we manage to complete it in the next four years, and the Diamer Basha dam by 2025, we will be in a much better position to conserve water.

We have no option but to build more dams to generate electricity and conserve water. Given our energy requirements, Pakistan needs at least one mega project every 10 years

Despite several new projects, there’s a general perception that Pakistan suffers from water scarcity. There are several aspects to this argument. The per-capita availability of water 50 years ago was around 6,000 cubic metres but we were a less populated country then. Today, the per capita water availability is less than 1000 cubic metres with Pakistan ranking among the 15 countries facing water scarcity.

The total available water is upwards of 140 MAF while we are able to store barely 14 MAF in Mangla, Tarbela and Chashma dams. The storage capacity, which used to be 16 million acre feet a few years ago, is now reduced to 25 percent due to sedimentation. Almost 30 million acre feet of water flows into the sea every year on the average because we have no reservoirs to conserve it.

The harsh reality is that we are not getting the full share of water allotted to us under the Indus Water Treaty. The treaty has three basic terms. According to the treaty, India has the right to make a pondage (small water reservoirs at power plants) at the three western rivers for the purpose of generating electricity. India already has a larger number of pondages and if you make more pondages, you will be able to conserve a specific amount of water.

Then there’s also the design issue. For instance, Indians go for LLOs (low level outlets). They release water in Pakistan when it’s not needed causing floods and stop it when Pakistan desperately needs it.

Looking ahead, we have no option but to build more dams to generate electricity and conserve water. Given our energy requirements, Pakistan needs at least one mega project every 10 years. Moreover, we need to build modern financial models. We also need to increase WAPDA’s human resource capacity and make its governance more efficient.

About the Author
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Muzammil Hussain
The writer has been the Chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) since August 24, 2016. He had a distinguished career in the Pakistan Army, last serving as Inspector General Training & Evaluation at GHQ. He is a keen reader and is a regular speaker at various international forums on security issues.