Construction of water reservoirs ‘essential for survival’, declares SC


—Court urges construction of Diamer-Bhasha, Mohmand dams as ‘next best options’ after Kalabagh dam

In light of acute water shortage faced by Pakistan, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday declared constructing water reservoirs in the country essential condition “for the survival of the people and economy of Pakistan”.

The top court was hearing a suo motu case on a report by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) regarding acute water scarcity in Pakistan, as well as a petition by Barrister Zafarullah Khan of the Watan Party seeking directions for the construction of the Kalabagh dam.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar authored the court order declaring that Pakistan is in a dire need of water storage facilities for the very survival of its people.

The court order further stated that Pakistan, being an agrarian economy, increases the importance of water, particularly when it relies upon a single source, i.e. the Indus Rivers and its tributaries, to cater to almost all of its water requirements.

Pakistan ranks shamefully low in the world among countries who have mechanisms to store water, the verdict reads.

Citing Pakistan as the 23rd most water-stressed country in the world ranking, the court ordered to immediately begin to adopt measures to solve the problems that contribute to water scarcity.

The order recognises that though the world has successfully harnessed the various benefits provided by the building of dams, Pakistan lags far behind in fulfilling even its basic water requirements due to the fact it has low storage capacity.

Pakistan is wasting an average amount of 29 maf of water every year which totals a whopping cost of $14.5 billion per year. Furthermore, Pakistan has incurred total direct losses of $38.053 billion from 1950 to 2015, with 50 per cent of it being incurred in the recent years, due to the shortage of dams which results in greater flooding.

The court order further observed that the optimum storage capacity for Pakistan is about 23 to 25 maf, therefore an increase of at least 10 to 12 maf of storage is required from the present live storage of 13.86 maf.

The order also highlighted the decrease in storage capacity of Tarbela Dam due to sedimentation.

It said that the construction of Kalabagh Dam was to bring an added live storage capacity of 6.1 maf.

Expressing dismay that no progress has been made for the construction of Kalabagh Dam due to opposition faced by the project over the years, the court beckoned all Pakistani citizens “to honour public interest and the common good and strive harder to work towards forging unanimity with respect to the construction of Kalabagh Dam”.

Highlighting the need to take immediate steps to address water shortage and diminishing water storage capacity in the country, the court stressed for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams as they were Pakistan’s next best options.

The court also appreciated the donations made to the dams fund stating in the order that they have been “overwhelmed by the huge public response in the form of generous donations for this national cause and the nation’s confidence reposed in and respect extended to the Supreme Court of Pakistan”.

“To safeguard the trust reposed by the public in the fund, it is directed that the contribution(s) thereto shall enjoy tax-free status,” the verdict stated.

The court order also delineated other causes of water shortage including increasing gap in supply and demand, unsustainable use of groundwater, poor irrigation infrastructure and unregulated growing of water-intensive crops by farmers.

To tackle these issues, a list of measures was recommended to reduce wastage of water including improvement in infrastructure and public awareness for water conservation.