The flaws of Bhasha Dam

Dr Samar Mubarik MandNational Scientific and Engineering Commission Chairman Dr Samar Mubarik Mand has told an uncomfortable truth: that the Bhasha Dam project is not only expensive, but also suffers from several technical flaws, as the terrain where construction is to take place is difficult.

While addressing the Institution of Electrical Engineers of Pakistan’s National Conference on ‘Electric Power Deficit’, he also expressed regret that the decision was not taken to build the Kalabagh Dam. Dr Mubarik Mand has also mentioned that the Thar Coal project would be constructed in the next two months. With the completion of the project, it is hoped that the energy crisis would be resolved. Dr Mubarik Mand did not mention that apart from the coal-fired power that would be produced, the country’s expanding energy needs demanded that the generation capacity of both the Kalabagh and Bhasha Dams become available.

He should have also mentioned that while the coal-fired power would be cheaper than the oil-fired thermal power of the IPPs or the RPPs used to solve the crisis, the hydroelectric power produced by the dams would be even cheaper, not to mention that the environmental impact of hydel is much lower than that of coal-fired thermal power. Dr Mubarik Mand did mention that oil-fired thermal power meant that there was a higher maintenance cost for such plant because of the oil’s high sulphur content, but he should have noted that the Kalabagh Dam project was another which had been thoroughly studied, with a highly developed, positive feasibility report.

One aspect of the Kalabagh project that deserves mention, though Dr Mubarik Mand perhaps did not because of his audience, is that it is a storage dam. While Thar coal may be used for electricity, it cannot be used for providing irrigation water, nor can it be used for flood control, as the Kalabagh Dam can. Flood control will become more important as the phenomenon of global warming takes hold, and the last two years alone have shown how important flood control has become. It is perhaps ironic that the strongest opponents of the Dam include those in lower Sindh who have suffered the most from its absence, because of the ravages of the floods.

Scientific opinion, going by objective reality rather than the need for an issue to revive flagging political fortunes or please anti-Pakistan masters, is growing stronger as the power crisis continues, and as Dr Mubarik Mand’s remarks show. The government must take heed of these, and remove the barriers to the construction of the Kalabagh Dam. – Nation