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Mega water projects: why the secrecy?

Swimming against the current, the water issue has arrived in Islamabad, or so it seems.Not only was there was confusion and debate on the issue; the water scene watchers believe that groundwork is under way and work on two mega-dam projects will start in 2018, with or without Chinese support.The names of dams mentioned include Dasu, Diamer-Bhasha and Kalabagh. Informed circles believe the sailing might not be as smooth as official circles projected, but the friction of the China factor,

An independent water ministry and Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) has mobilised the people.Water-sector watchers believe that groundwork is under way and work on two mega-dam projects will start in 2018, with or without Chinese supportThe hierarchy of water ministry was out of the country last week. Some other relevant officials were reluctant to endorse the perception that a deal has been sealed with China for the construction of a cascade of mega dams in the northern Indus basin.

They also dispelled the impression that China has agreed to extend CPEC to help develop and fund expensive water reservoirs and hydropower projects in Pakistan.Yes,I have seen several stories circulating on the net, datelined outside Pakistan, on mega dams and hydropower projects deals between Pakistan and China ranging between $4 billion and $40bn. They are not true.China is more inclined to export ‘dirty power projects’a water consultant said, referring to multiple coal-fired projects covered under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Hasan Dawood Butt, project director for CPEC in the Ministry of Planning and Development, told Dawn over the phone that he was not aware of any deal between Pakistan and China for building dams.Everything that has anything to do with CPEC passes through our directorate. There could have been some exchange of ideas at some level but a solid deal excluding this office is improbable,” he said over phone. Some might desire that but it has yet to materialise,” he added.Retired Lt Gen Muzammil Hussain,

The chairman of Wapda, made a case for the company’s capability to develop and manage water infrastructure in Pakistan.Locals were running along the Kachhi canal, Which was inaugurated by the prime minister in Sui, Balochistan, in disbelief. The Rs80bn project was built by Wapda that would irrigate 72,000 acres of barren land. Be it Mangla, Terbela or the second-largest grid after Japan in the world, Wapda’s achievements speak for themselves,” he boasted, resenting the whispering campaign against the authority.

A source in Islamabad told Dawn that the government under Mr Abbasi created an independent water ministry to make up for Wapda’s inaction regarding addressing water woes threatening riots in some locations.Talking about the future, the Wapda chairman also resented the hype around the MoU with China.We are negotiating with Chinese and would welcome their support in mega-dam projects but reserve the right to safeguard Pakistan’s sovereignty.We consider dams as part of the country’s strategic assets and,

Would not like to share their ownership/management rights with business partners. We have a plan in place and hope to raise requisite resources to start work on two dams in 2018, to be completed by 2025.Speaking on the issue of negligence and politicisation of water that relegated Pakistan’s position from water-surplus status in 1960s when the water consumption per person per year was 5,000 cubic metres to the category of water-distressed nation with 948 cubic metres per person in 2017,

He shifted the responsibility of water mismanagement on the government.Wapda is an executing body and it broadly delivered on its mandate.The right to decide policy issues rests with the government. The reasons for cost and time overruns can be debated, but all said and done, Wapda has more to show than most commercial public organisations,” he said.Experts agreed that the issue of water sustainability is grave and warrants urgent attention.Without identifying drivers,

They also concurred that the current sensitivity level in the government is higher than before.A senior source in a relevant ministry confirmed that after an initial MoU between China and Pakistan to explore possibilities of extending cooperation in the water sector in December 2016, a team of Chinese technical water experts visited Pakistan in February 2017.After the exchange of initial assessment in May 2017 another MoU was signed between the China Three Gorges Corporation and,

Wapda to negotiate terms and options of financing mega projects,he said.Zaigham Habib, a reputable expert, foresaw progress on run-of-the-river projects initially. She expected Dasu dam to start first.She referred to her work regarding climate change being aggravated by strategies that hurt the natural ecosystem and which could further reduce water availability and exacerbate challenges. She advised the government to ensure transparency and accessibility

Information to evolve public consensus in favour of projects.“In Pakistan technical and financial feasibility are insufficient. For the success of mega water infrastructure projects, public backing is necessary. There are provincial dimensions of the issue as well. Unnece­ssary secrecy would generate controversies and scare prospective investors,”she commented over the phone.

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