The Kalabagh Dam project comes at an important confluence of events. It reflects a crisis of governance, where decision-makers are at odds with an increasingly vocal society. Among other things, this stems from a concern that Kalabagh could trigger irreversible degradation of the Indus River Ecosystem. Also, the global and regional context for assessing large dams like Kalabagh is changing, with conventionally described irrigation, flood control and energy benefits being viewed through the prism of sustainable development.
The key imperatives, transparency and good governance, were never a factor in the formulation of the project. Thus, the technical specifications have undergone numerous revisions because of perceived concerns in the NWFP regarding seepage and inundation of surrounding areas, a problem that could have been resolved had affective communities been consulted. Politically, the dam has been a non-starter as its benefits are viewed as accruing to the Punjab, at the expense of Sindh and the NWFP, with both provinces the victims of water deprivation, ecosystem degradation and social displacement. The arbitrary manner in which the Punjab has appropriated water from the Indus River Basin in the past does not set a precedent for credibility. The issue of resettlement and rehabilitation is a contentious one, as there is outright mistrust of the government’s offer of compensation. Finally, increasing cost over-runs and mounting donor reluctance to finance a large and environmentally controversial project of this nature, give the lie to the government resolve to press on with building the dam; in particular, the government’s present fiscal insolvency precludes an investment of this magnitude.
Please contact Sarah Siddiq (email@example.com), Research and PEP Coordinator, for more details.