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Where our priorities went wrong

“Ninety per cent of my time is spent on resolving issues relating to terror, power crisis,” says Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Action reflecting these aforementioned words is hardly visible. Unfortunately, people of Pakistan have not been able to experience any such scenario that can save their lives by solving their problems. Commitment and openness is regrettably missing. Things could not have been worse than May 2015 when ECC approved Lahore Orange Line Metro Train, the brainchild of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, of worth PKR165 billion that is only confined to the city of Lahore.

On 28th May, 2015, All Parties Conference was held where Prime Minister reiterated the same agenda of overcoming energy crisis via the CPEC projects. Energy projects under CPEC are mostly coal based and LNG based plants at Balloki and Haveli Bahadurshah. If LNG imported from Qatar, at $14/MMBtu is used in the power sector then what will be the impact on average price of energy basket that is already extremely high? Is this not daylight robbery? Complete silence is being observed in the economic corridor with respect to the tariff, economic impact of energy projects.

It merely appears to be a joke for the people of Pakistan as they are not only being deprived from energy at affordable rates but are also victims of severe water shortage. It seems like the interminable water crisis in Karachi and the people of Thar who are calling for help from the global community are not making any impact on the decision-makers. Are there any steps being taken for the development of dams, for water storage from swelling rivers and heavy rainfall in monsoon?

In addition, the country is badly caught up with the issue of terrorism. It has become a nightmare that is haunting every citizen of the country. A general observation suggests that socially and economically deprived areas are nourishing the bread of terrorists.  When the Minister of Water and Power of the current regime declared energy a bigger security threat than terrorism, it made a little impact on the kitchen cabinet. These kinds of statements do make headlines but have never been able to go beyond papers, bringing concrete results is another story. Till today, nothing substantial has been done to find sustainable solutions of the water and energy crisis.

Pakistan is a country where commissioning of first hydropower project was done century ago. Its two multi-purpose dams, the mighty Tarbela and Mangla, offer solutions to the challenges of water, energy, food security and flood mitigation but failed to draw the attention of decision-makers to replicate such projects. Nevertheless, owing to the LNG haunted brains, chalking out the strategy to combat the energy crisis has not been made possible.

It has been three decades yet the nation has not come out of the disagreement over Kalabagh Dam. End to this controversy is not expected anytime soon. However, Kalabagh is not the only option. There are other alternate sites that are economically and technically viable for the development of dams. One such excellent site was identified after the catastrophic flood of 1929 during British Raj at Munda, Mohmand Agency in FATA on Swat River. It is a natural gorge and feasible for multipurpose hydropower projects.

The tedious work of detailed feasibility of Munda Dam has already been done by JICA in March 2000. This project had to be commissioned by December 2010 which has not even started yet. Munda Dam has a storage capacity of around 1.4 million acre feet, with approximately 800 MW installed capacity. The cost of the project was $1 billion in 2000 and has now swelled to $1.4 billion because of abnormal delay in physical construction.

Ignoring the construction of Munda Dam caused the country to pay heavy cost to the nation when unprecedented rain in 2010 in the watershed of Swat River played havoc in downstream areas of Pakistan. Damage caused by the flood to the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world, Punjab and Sindh provinces, is still unknown. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank, flood had a huge economic impact of approximately $19 billion; several dam projects could have been initiated using this amount. The flood of 2010 is a powerful reminder that there lies an emergent need for the development of multipurpose hydropower projects.

The energy mix of Pakistan is heavily tilted towards fossil fuels, which make power generation at an unaffordable rate while hydroelectricity is the cheapest. The unit generated through hydropower is less than one cent. If Munda Dam is developed at $1.4 billion, as of 2012 estimate, then realising the price of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), basic calculations imply that it would not take more than 3.5 years for Munda Dam to recover all the capital costs. Thus, it would show tangible result by lowering the average basket price for the end consumer.

The fact that Pakistan has ignored its water storage capacity is terrible. It is only for 17 days against the minimum requirement of 120 days while most of the developed countries have 1-2 years of water storage capability. Burgeoning population, climate change and manipulation of Jhelum and Chenab rivers by India are other challenges faced by Pakistan.

Advancement in these multipurpose hydro projects will boost and accelerate economic activities as well as help Pakistan to meet its energy needs. Munda Dam will create job opportunities at a massive scale in FATA. Denying the importance of Munda Dam, the current regime has been keeping the project at the backburner from the very first day of its reign. Indeed, it takes empathy to put national integrity ahead of personal interests. Efforts need to be made to resolve the problem of water scarcity and energy crisis right away.

Having said that, can there be a better solution than developing dams? Is increasing the share of hydro mix not enough to meet the energy crisis? Will hydropower not be able to reduce the tariff? So what do the people of Pakistan want? A city or a nation? National integrity or personal interests? Train or water, energy, economy, flood mitigation? Now is the time to choose between the need and the luxury. Time and money are too valuable to waste on unbeneficial self-serving projects that are only for publicity. Strategies that would boost economic livelihood need to be adopted. Together we shall move ahead as a nation to make a real difference.

Maariyah Wasim, Omama Tahir also contributed to this article. They are electrical engineers and work at SDPI, Islamabad.