माफ गर्नुहोस्, यो नेपालीमा उपलव्ध छैन।

In May 2017, Pakistan and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding through which China will fund and build a cascade of five dams on northern Indus, costing USD 50 billion, for 22,320MW of hydel power (Diamer-Bhasha 4,500MW; Patan 2,400MW; Thakot 4,000MW; Bunji 7,100MW; Dasu 4,320MW). The first of the five proposed dams, Diamer-Bhasha, is to be completed in 9 years. The full cascade would take even longer – despite emergent energy needs.

The true cost and completion dates of the cascade, however, are illusive.

See: Indus cascade a Himalayan blunder

“We find that even before accounting for negative impacts on human society and environment, the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return,” concluded a research from Oxford scholars, published in ‘Energy Policy’ in June 2014. The study, based on 245 large dams across 65 countries, also concludes that, on average, large dams suffer from cost overruns by 96% and completion schedule delays by 44%.

This implies the likelihood of cascade actually costing around USD 98 billion, taking 20 years or so to complete. In other words, Pakistan’s taxpayers will borrow USD 98 billion (principal only), accumulating at the rate of almost USD 5 billion per year. So, when it comes to debt servicing after 20 years, the principal would have already ballooned close to USD 130 billion because of accumulated yearly markups on loan instalments since the start of the project. This ballooned principal would then be returned with its own markup when debt servicing starts. It can be safely assumed that taxpayers will end up paying in the tune of USD 200 billion for getting 22,320MW, or USD 9 per watt – three to four folds higher than the luring price tag currently on the display. And the much-needed electricity will not be at hand any earlier than 15 years, at best.

Padraig Belton reported in May 2017 in BBC’s Business News that in the year 2016 alone, China has added 34,000 MW of solar power to the grid. India’s Rajasthan province will be adding 8,000 MW for USD 800 million into national grid through various solar and wind projects jointly funded by Clean Energy Fund, Asian Development Bank, and Government of India. This project costs India just USD 0.1 per watt. Compare it with USD 9 at Indus Cascade. Even if there are no cost overruns and completion delays, the Indus Cascade will cost the taxpayers more than USD 3 per watt – 30 times higher than what solar costs today, not to mention project completion time.

Pakistan’s solar potential is as good as that of India or China. If China can supply itself with 34,000 MW in one year through solar, why can’t we ask them to help us with 22,320 MW of solar in 8 months – at a fraction of cascade’s cost?

The unfeasible economics of this hydel project, however, are marginal compared to the risks and threats such a cascade of construction will pose – sitting in the middle of fast eroding, highly instable, and seismically active mountains at the junction of three tectonic plates. Recent volatile examples are the Attabad landslide in 2010 and the 2005 earthquake.

Dam-lakes in the mountains are prone to mega-tsunamis due to landslides, intensified by Venturi-effect in narrow valleys, overtopping (or even toppling) a dam with unimaginable destructive power. In 1963 a massive landslide crashed in the lake of Italy’s Vajont Dam causing an 820 feet high mega-tsunami wave, overtopping the dam, killing 1,910 people, and completely wiping out many towns and villages below the dam. A landslide like Attabad crashing in to one of the cascade’s lakes could trigger a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. In the unstable mountains of Karakoram, a moderate seismic tremor could be enough to trigger such a catastrophe.

And then there’s an even bigger threat in this volatile geology – magnitude 8.0 or higher earthquakes. Scientific American in August 2015 had highlighted the risk of an inevitable disaster when a magnitude 8.0 or higher earthquake would hit the region because none of the existing dams, mostly built in India and China, had been designed to withstand it. The region is lucky not to have that big an earthquake since the large-dam construction era began, but the possibility of a massive tremor, more powerful than the 2005 earthquake which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, lurks over the horizon. Collapse of cascade under such circumstances would multiply the catastrophe beyond imagination – resulting in the complete annihilation of civilization along the course of Indus River down to its delta, when the cascade of dams collapses like dominos.

Overtopping or collapsing of cascade, however, may not be attributed only to natural events. The region has a volatile history of armed conflicts too. By building a cascade of dams – like dangerously positioned dominos – Pakistan would be gifting India a bomb bigger than a nuke in case of heightened tensions.  A few thousand tons of trinitrotoluene exploded to cause a glacial burst within Indian controlled Kashmir would be enough to create a deadly wave of water, ice and rocks to overtop the cascading dams and wash half of Pakistan into the Arabian Sea. Even if this scenario is very remote, should Pakistan’s defence planners allow such a strategic advantage to India?

Given the terrible economics, the possible dangers caused by natural disasters, and the security threat due to a possible war with India, it makes little sense that Pakistan is still going ahead with this project.

Hassan Abbas holds a PhD in Hydrology and Water Resources from Michigan State University, USA. He can be contacted at hassan.shahji@gmail.com

28 comments

  1. Muhammad Umer Karim |

    I am totally disappointed by the approach of writer.

    The purpose of constructing dams is not only generation of electricity

  2. Usman Khalid |

    The writer is forgetting the fact that the more feasible dam kalabagh is in the sensitive area of some of our politicians. This cascade is an alternative and hence much costlier. These were the dams proposed by ptu etc and to show solidarity as well as keep their trap shut are being built.

    1. The writers approach to the issue is based on wrong assumptions. What if Pakistan constructs various projects on Indus with its own resources. Risk comes with all such projects including tarbella buy there are ways of mitigating those risks. The writer has also not provided any recommendations of his own.

      1. Muhammad Awais Ijaz Malik |

        Even if Pakistan builds them with its own resources which itself sounds impossible, will cost more than Solar enrgy.
        Please keep the time span of the both in your mind too i.e 8months and 15-20 years.
        And yes we have already Tarbela and Mangla with same conditions but should we continue this foolishness? or start shifting towards the right solutions at the right time?

  3. The argument line in article is same as taken by India and certain US lobbying firms against cpec. China has already build cascading hydro projects on Mekong river. Moreover hydro electricity is cheapest one, everyone knows. Water shortage, flooding and wastage of water in wet season will be improved by dams. India is denying water of other rivers to Pakistan through various means and efficient utilization of Indus River is the only viable option. The dams would increase greenery and vegetation in Karakoram thus reducing landslides. Lastly, if India tries to blow them up, both India and Pakistan have already many Dames built to flood each other.

    1. Hydropower is so cheap that even before getting a single watt from Neelum-Jehlum hydropower project, citizens are already paying for it (aka ‘neelum-jehlum surcharge’).
      As reported in DAWN the other day, WAPDA Chairman told that the cost of the Neelum-Jhelum power project was Rs4bn in the beginning. Now the project’s costs have increased to Rs500bn.

  4. Jahangir Ali |

    The proposed project is also vulnerable to GLOF effect. With already sensitive flood prone plains and poor early warning system of flood control we are inviting any situation to repeat like 1992 flood and also a flood of magnitude of 2010 flood.

    Under CPEC some hydel projects have already been started in AJK and interestingly all projects have been approved for environmental flows as well.

    I totally agree with the estimates of per unit cost. We have been taught by Director Hydropower projects Govt. of Pakistan and it is the luring cost and money that attracts the Govt. and they sign such huge projects.

  5. Dr Fatahiya Kashif |

    The writer has pointed out some very alarming facts. The policy makers must revert from the Indus cascade project towards environment friendly solar projects, which are both cheaper, cleaner and don’t pose any threats.
    This article is the opinion of an expert, it is not US lobbying.

  6. What a ridiculous article .. and from someone who has a PhD in Hydrology. (Sigh) .. Lets see what the authors assertions are .

    1) Author cites a study by Oxford from 2014 which has been cited many times by “activist scientists”. Funny thing is that study specifically targets dams of emerging economies of Pakistan (Diamer-Bhasa Dam), Ethiopia(Gilgel Gibe III Dam) , Myanmar (Myitsone Dam), Brazil (Belo Monte Dam) and China (Jinsha River Dams) saying they are making a mistake by constructing these dams.

    The study is quite strange because it claims to take into account the principles of acclaimed nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and applies it without having even a basic understanding of the views of the great author for which i have a great deal of respect.

    I just wish that they had read Dr. Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow ” (Yes i have read it cover to cover at least 20 times) before applying those principles without any underlying evidence to that report on dams.

    Bottom line is , the study from Oxford “Said School of business” accuses those countries of having cost overruns and being “Delusional and Deceptive in Dam Planning” ( I kid you not that is an actual header in the study report) without giving irrefutable evidence. Even if the conclusions were to be correct in that study, the evidence in form of solid numbers and facts is not just lacking , its completely absent from the study that Mr Abbas has cited.

    Another important thing , the study while lambasting Pakistan , China, Ethiopia and Brazil for their Dam Projects somehow got amnesia when it came to India’s Kishanganga Project. And our PhD author of this article also did not make the effort to inform us of how many Dams are in the country where Oxford University itself is located? .. Any guesses people? Let me enlighten you folks .. The number of reservoirs in UK is to many to mention but the number of “Large Dams” in Uk is “168”. source of this info is British Dams Society fact sheet which can be read at http://www.britishdams.org/student_zone/documents/BDS_Fact%20Sheets_version_low%20Res_Web.pdf.

    Mr Abbas then dons the hat of a defense analyst and tells us about a possible scenario of India flooding that dam by blowing up glaciers and washing half of Pakistan into Arabian Sea. I was willing to give the author of this article some leverage prior to reading this , but this is such an absurd statement that i had to read it twice to believe that a PhD holding scientist would write rubbish like it, knowing that both India and Pakistan are Nuclear States and i certainly hope that people making decisions in both of those countries have an IQ level better than this author. Such an act would mean war , and i am sure both Indian and Pakistani Governments know of the implications of such a confrontation in the nuclear era. So this statement is absolute conjecture , speculation and reflective of flawed thinking.

    The author then goes on to champion Solar Energy totally ignoring that solar energy is also being introduced in Pakistan , although not at the rate where it should be. Examples are the Quaid E Azam Solar Plant built by Chinese companies Tibean Xinjiang SunOasis Electric as a very small pilot project which will see expansion of upto 1500 MW under CPEC by Chinese company Zonergy according to published news reports. Furthermore additional solar parks are already planned according to news reports in other cities like Bahawalpur.

    Finally the only thing which is concerning is the Debt that will be accumulated by this and many other projects. But the author failed to mention that under Indus Water Basin Treaty (really dont think this author knows much about that either) , if Pakistan does not use the water , then that gives India the right to construct Run of river water projects . Recently this was the reason given by World Bank when they ruled in favor of India for going ahead with construction of Kishanganga Dam. Failure to utilize the water resources in the IndoPak region would make Pakistan even more dependent upon India and give India the right to divert water to their own systems claiming that Pakistan is not in a position to use the water and it is being wasted by getting dumped in the Arabian ocean.

    Mr Abbas mentions earthquakes in the region, but does not give any evidence that the engineering of the dam is neglecting that aspect while construction. More fear mongering i must say by giving example of Attabad Lake which is not even a dam. The landslide was an act of nature and there was no engineering design for that lake to foresee that which would not be the case when constructing a multi billion dollar dam.

    The one thing that is correct though is the cost would be higher than the cost of electricity production in comparable dams in India , but the author should know that Indias is way ahead of Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan has been courting financial institutions for almost a decade now to get financing without success. The most recent was ADB , which bailed on this project. India does not have that kind of trouble in getting financing so the rates and mark up are very high indeed on the loans. However , a borrower is a borrower. The terms are set by the lender and that is the way the world works. Pakistan could either continue to push its Citizens to live in the dark ages with rolling power black outs every other hour , or decide to take an expensive loan for power generation and hope that it would spur economic growth by revitalizing industry and economy. It took the latter course and the jury is still out on whether that ends up being a wise decision or not.

    Finally please note that author also omitted the fact that the feasibility and due diligence of this project was done by USAID. The report states and i quote ” The project is technically viable, its cost is reasonable and its overall effect will be
    monumental.”

    The report further states about the displacement of locals that “The land compensation rates were determined by a 3 member Minister’s
    Committee and at the time there was general feeling that too much money was being paid
    (cultivated land @ $75,000/acre and barren land @ $14,000/acre) but WAPDA feels it was
    money well spent as locals are now welcoming and looking forward to the project” . Obviously bitten by the controversies over Kalabagh Dam , Pakistan made every effort giving prime deals for the lands that were purchased from the locals.

    Please refrain from making assertions in articles without giving solid evidence. The USAID report can be found at http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00KVF6.pdf

    Also the details about the downsides of debt which are a real concern have been addressed in detail in a recent article which can be read at https://www.devex.com/news/pakistan-s-100b-deal-with-china-what-does-it-amount-to-90872

    Finally please note , that per agreement , the debt is being pegged to the value of Pak Rupee Vs USD frozen at the exchange rate of 2013 which was 1USD = 97.10 PKR. (Current rate is 1 USD = 105 PKR approximately).

    My purpose of writing these detailed comments is because we expect people holding such advanced degrees in relevant fields to be much better at analysis.

    1. Dr Hassan Abbas |

      quote”
      What a ridiculous article .. and from someone who has a PhD in
      Hydrology. (Sigh) .. Lets see what the authors assertions are .
      “unquote
      Thanks for taking time to write and share these comments on this forum. As the author of the piece, I am pleased to append the following responses, taking your points one by one. For reference, I have added the parts of your text in “quotes” to which the response relates

  7. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    1) Author cites a study by Oxford from 2014 which has been cited many times by “activist scientists”. Funny thing is that study specifically targets dams of emerging economies of Pakistan (Diamer-Bhasa Dam), Ethiopia(Gilgel Gibe III Dam) , Myanmar (Myitsone Dam), Brazil (Belo Monte Dam) and China (Jinsha River Dams) saying they are making a mistake by constructing these dams.

    The study is quite strange because it claims to take into account the principles of acclaimed nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and applies it without having even a basic understanding of the views of the great author for which i have a great deal of respect.

    I just wish that they had read Dr. Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow ” (Yes i have read it cover to cover at least 20 times) before applying those principles without any underlying evidence to that report on dams.
    “unquote

    The Oxford Study: The comment, completely ignoring the scientific merits of the cited work and have tried to confuse the readers by portraying this work of science as a conspiracy of West against the “emerging economies”. To avoid scientific reasoning, muddying terms like “activist scientists” are used to make things murky.
    If the study is not sound enough, why not write a letter to the publisher of the study and share his/her response on this forum? Until that happens, the citation firmly stands its grounds.

  8. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    And our PhD author of this article also did not make the effort to inform us of how many Dams are in the country where Oxford University itself is located? .. Any guesses people? Let me enlighten you folks .. The number of reservoirs in UK is to many to mention but the number of “Large Dams” in Uk is “168”. source of this info is British Dams Society fact sheet which can be read at http://www.britishdams.org/student_zone/documents/BDS_Fact%20Sheets_version_low%20Res_Web.pdf
    “unquote

    Dams (especially large ones) as a tool for hydropower, flood control, or water storage, have become out dated and obsolete. In past 70 years or so, not only we have learnt the colossal scale of social, cultural, economic and environmental damages these mega structures cause, we have also learnt how to produce power, manage floods and store water with alternate mechanisms – the mechanisms which are not just cheaper to build and higher on economic returns, but also socio-environmentally sustainable. Suggested readings on the subject may include Fred Pearce (When the Rivers Run Dry, 2006), Sandra Postel (Last Oasis 1992, Pillar of Sand 1999), and Robert Glennon (Water Follies 2002).

    Let’s embrace the future and not cling to the past. If someone is not up to the current knowledge on the emerging and contemporary trends in the field of water/power management, his/her ignorance should not pollute the public opinion on expert advice. If UK had built 10 million typewriters in the past, should we do the same today? In past 10 years alone, more than 1000 dams have been dismantled in USA alone, and the number is increasing with every passing year. The trends and technologies have changed. Today we have better printing machines and better water management tools.

  9. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    Mr Abbas then dons the hat of a defense analyst and tells us about a possible scenario of India flooding that dam by blowing up glaciers and washing half of Pakistan into Arabian Sea. I was willing to give the author of this article some leverage prior to reading this , but this is such an absurd statement that i had to read it twice to believe that a PhD holding scientist would write rubbish like it, knowing that both India and Pakistan are Nuclear States and i certainly hope that people making decisions in both of those countries have an IQ level better than this author. Such an act would mean war , and i am sure both Indian and Pakistani Governments know of the implications of such a confrontation in the nuclear era. So this statement is absolute conjecture , speculation and reflective of flawed thinking.
    “unquote

    One) From intentional dam bursts during wars in ancient Mesopotamia to the existence of “inundation plans” of modern warfare, use of water as weapon is nothing new in the art of warfare. Steven Solomon (Water 2010) gives a comprehensive account of how water and water wars had shaped the ancient and modern history of power struggles around the globe. If dams are not a potential target in case of war, why our military planners have put commando battalions of Special Services Group at both Mangla and Terbela dams, plus, an extremely elaborate Air Defense system? And does it reflect ‘flawed thinking’ when someone decided not to demilitarize the dam zones after we achieved nuclear capability? It will be extremely naïve to think that the dam cascade should remain out from the domain of defense planning, especially when neither commando battalions, nor air defense systems can protect the cascade from a glacial burst.

    Two) Let me also add here that an artificially stimulated glacial burst can be ‘blamed’ as being caused by natural phenomenon. Indian’s will not be so naïve to accept that they caused the burst themselves! Historically, they have always played better in politics on international stage to convince the world of their point of view than that of Pakistan. It will be difficult for Pakistan to prove to the world that the burst was artificial (despite the possibility of getting chemical signature of flowing water with traces of explosive).

    Three) The seriousness of the threat warrants TEWTs (tactical exercise without troops) TDs (tutorial discussions) and War Games among the military planners to evaluate various scenarios which can help India take advantage of her position if we built a cascade. Enemy situation, own situation, ground & weather, administration & logistics – all need to be evaluated for each conceivable scenario. If India plays the right political cards, and coincides the timings of sabotage with a monsoonal cloud-bust, or with an extreme summer heatwave, and then link it to climate change, and on top of it offers relief aid to a “distressed Pakistan”, the whole world will be convinced that India is not to be blamed for the disaster, leaving little room for Pakistan to make a response (nuke or no nuke?).

    Four) Let’s also not forget the recent history of clashes that reveal the mentality of military minds on either side. River Neelum (called Kishan Ganga in India) marks the control line in some parts of Neelum Valley. A road in Pakistan running close and parallel to the river was within the range of small arms fire from the Indian side. Whenever tensions escalated between the two countries, Indians would open fire on people, animals and vehicles using the road. In the mid 90s, Pakistan planned to build another road, still visible from the Indian side across the river, but higher and farther from the river to avoid small arms fire. The Indians never disrupted the road building process which took a few years. But as soon as the road was complete and opened for use, Indians replaced the small arms with heavier weapons to engage the road. The whole effort of Pakistan making the road was compromised. Drawing conclusions from the mentality of adversary is also part of the art of warfare.

    Five) As Sun Tzu puts it “To know your enemy you must become your enemy”. In case of dam’s cascade therefore, India will first encourage you to build it, then ignore you while you are building it. And only after you are finished, she will make you realize what it means to have control on glaciers upstream of a cascade of dams!

    Six) It may be noted that the author has been invited a number of times for guest lectures at the National Defense University (NDU) Islamabad, GHQ Rawalpindi, and Command and Staff College Quetta. His recent contribution “Water Wars against Pakistan and our Response”, published in Pakistan Army Green Book 2017 can be accessed at NDU library (sorry, no pdf versions of Green Book are found on the internet – one has to access a hard copy only). Every article published in Green Book is peer reviewed by defense analysts – leaving no room for the novices.

    Seven) The author is least perturbed by what novices have to opine about strategic threat to our defense by the construction of this cascade. The author has already engaged defense analysts who matter – many of whom have seen the glaciers of north first hand in their service tenure.

  10. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    The author then goes on to champion Solar Energy totally ignoring that solar energy is also being introduced in Pakistan , although not at the rate where it should be. Examples are the Quaid E Azam Solar Plant built by Chinese companies Tibean Xinjiang SunOasis Electric as a very small pilot project which will see expansion of upto 1500 MW under CPEC by Chinese company Zonergy according to published news reports. Furthermore additional solar parks are already planned according to news reports in other cities like Bahawalpur.
    “unquote

    Setting “Investment priorities” is what we need to do more smartly. Cost of electricity by hydel versus solar has been highlighted in the article. How dumb it is then, that the investment in solar is minuscule compared to the exuberantly expensive hydel? Should we not shift the investment earmarked for 22,000 MW hydel (that we shall get after 15 years the earliest) to create 22,000 MW solar that is possible in one tenth the time and one tenth the cost?

  11. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    Finally the only thing which is concerning is the Debt that will be accumulated by this and many other projects. But the author failed to mention that under Indus Water Basin Treaty (really dont think this author knows much about that either) , if Pakistan does not use the water , then that gives India the right to construct Run of river water projects . Recently this was the reason given by World Bank when they ruled in favor of India for going ahead with construction of Kishanganga Dam. Failure to utilize the water resources in the IndoPak region would make Pakistan even more dependent upon India and give India the right to divert water to their own systems claiming that Pakistan is not in a position to use the water and it is being wasted by getting dumped in the Arabian ocean.
    “unquote

    One) Water reaching the Indus Delta and entering the Sea is not wastage. How can anyone say that the Indus waters reaching the delta, nurturing the livelihoods of millions of people involved in agriculture and fisheries, supporting highly sensitive biodiversity, bringing much needed silt to mitigate land erosion by the sea, recharging freshwater aquifer systems and preventing seawater intrusion in freshwater aquifers, fostering coastal mangrove forests, sustaining some of the endangered species and delicate estuarine ecosystems, and, supporting 10s of millions of migratory birds – is wastage? If we send stooges to the international courts who succumb to the argument that only “dams” or “diversion” is usage, and natural flow used by humans or ecosystems is wastage, then we will always lose at international forums.

    Two) Although when one reads about Indus Water Treaty through international literature and studies, especially sponsored by World Bank, the treaty seems to standout as one of the best water sharing formula ever devised in the world. But it is not. Actually, it is one of the worst. No river the size of Sutlej, Beas or Ravi has ever been completely shut anywhere in the world. Permanently depriving a river of its waters over 100s of kilometer of its natural course simply amounts to environmental terrorism. But in one single treaty, not one, but three rivers were agreed to be completely shut. The old (highly flawed) mindset invoked the thought that every single drop left in the river is “unutilized”. Unfortunately, we still live with the same mindset. The treaty, in some ways implied that as India has successfully shut the three eastern rivers 100%, Pakistan should do the same with the western rivers, else let India do it. It may however be noted that India is barred by the treaty to make water diversions from western rivers except on a very limited scale for agriculture purposes, which has yet to be fully utilized by India.

    Three) Reading though 60 odd pages & couple of Annexes of Indus water treaty may not be enough to fully understand the treaty, let alone why Pakistan almost always loses its cases in international forums. I would suggest that whoever is interested in the treaty should read a bit more about the historical perspective and players involved in creation of this treaty – US Bureau of Reclamation, The World Bank, Pakistan and India. What the Bureau was doing when Pakistan and India were being formed? How it got interested in Indus Basin? How, when and why the World Bank jumped in? And why it took more than 12 years to sign the treaty? I would suggest one reads Alice Albinia (Empires of the Indus 2010), Marc Reisner (Cadillac Desert 1986), Vandana Shiva (Water Wars 2002), and Ahmed and Chaudhry (Irrigated Agriculture of Pakistan 1988).

    Four)At the time of partition in 1947, ‘Arbitral Tribunal’ was a body formed to adjudicate on partition disputes. The morning after the Tribunal closed, on 1 April 1948, India blocked off the canals running across the border into Pakistan (this mentality is no different from what I have mentioned in case of Neelum valley road incident). If India had done is before the closing of Tribunal, water dispute would have come up too. Pakistan never anticipated that such a malicious move was on cards on India, waiting for just the right moment. India had planned, right then, that all water flowing from India into Pakistan will be fully blocked leaving only what could not be blocked with the available technology. Every single dam or diversion structure that India had conceived to deprive Pakistan from its rivers in 1948 to 50 (way before the treaty was signed) was built to its fully capacity either before or after the treaty. What did treaty prevent? Nothing. And Pakistan was forced, bullied and lured into the treaty. Dried up canals and consequent grain shortages forced us; statements like ‘either snatch it from India by war or sign the treaty’ bullied us; and, flash of cash from world bank lured us into signing the treaty.

    Five) The only things Pakistan got from the treaty were some environmentally unsustainable engineering designed, built on borrowed time; with borrowed money – which put Pakistan into a perpetual cycle of debt servicing that continues to date.

  12. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    Mr Abbas mentions earthquakes in the region, but does not give any evidence that the engineering of the dam is neglecting that aspect while construction. More fear mongering i must say by giving example of Attabad Lake which is not even a dam. The landslide was an act of nature and there was no engineering design for that lake to foresee that which would not be the case when constructing a multi billion dollar dam.
    “unquote

    One) Here is some cherry picking. The comment confuses the readers by saying that Attabad is not a dam, whereas the article has mentioned it as an example of landslide in the active mountains. Attabad slide hit the valley bottom where there was no lake, but if such a massive slide falls in one of the lakes of the cascade, the consequences could be very violent. The commentator has failed to relate it to the Vajont Dam tragedy mentioned in the article.

    Two) Those at the cutting edge of seismic geology tell us that it is very difficult to predict exactly when a large earth quake is going to hit an area. The geological history suggests that almost every 200 years, a magnitude 8.0 tremor rocks these mountains. But now for the past 500 years or so, a magnitude 8.0 has not hit the area. The seismic science suggests that the longer the time gap, the bigger the next big shaking. It could be an order of magnitude stronger than even 8.0. A builder could only make the dam stronger, but can’t fully assess the 400 miles of mountains beside the lakes as to how they will shake or break with the tremor, let alone structurally fiddle to strengthen them. Our science and engineering is just not there yet.

    Three) The landslide-generated mega tsunami of 1963 could not break the Vajont Dam, the structure still stands fully intact. Yet, 1900 plus people lost their lives downstream.

    Four) Nature is still bigger than us. We are still smaller than earth quakes. Nature keeps humbling the humans through Krakatoa or Fukushima or Harvey….

  13. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    The one thing that is correct though is the cost would be higher than the cost of electricity production in comparable dams in India , but the author should know that Indias is way ahead of Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan has been courting financial institutions for almost a decade now to get financing without success. The most recent was ADB , which bailed on this project. India does not have that kind of trouble in getting financing so the rates and mark up are very high indeed on the loans. However , a borrower is a borrower. The terms are set by the lender and that is the way the world works. Pakistan could either continue to push its Citizens to live in the dark ages with rolling power black outs every other hour , or decide to take an expensive loan for power generation and hope that it would spur economic growth by revitalizing industry and economy. It took the latter course and the jury is still out on whether that ends up being a wise decision or not.
    “unquote

    Either we are too dumb, or the financial institutions are hell bent on a conspiracy against us. Why we want to borrow from financial institution to install hydel power at $9 a watt, but not for solar at $0.1 per watt? Conversely, why financial institutions are ready to finance hydel projects and not solar ones? Can’t we get out of ‘dark ages’ by smart borrowing?

  14. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    Finally please note that author also omitted the fact that the feasibility and due diligence of this project was done by USAID. The report states and i quote ” The project is technically viable, its cost is reasonable and its overall effect will be
    monumental.”

    The report further states about the displacement of locals that “The land compensation rates were determined by a 3 member Minister’s
    Committee and at the time there was general feeling that too much money was being paid
    (cultivated land @ $75,000/acre and barren land @ $14,000/acre) but WAPDA feels it was
    money well spent as locals are now welcoming and looking forward to the project” . Obviously bitten by the controversies over Kalabagh Dam , Pakistan made every effort giving prime deals for the lands that were purchased from the locals.

    Please refrain from making assertions in articles without giving solid evidence. The USAID report can be found at http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00KVF6.pdf

    Also the details about the downsides of debt which are a real concern have been addressed in detail in a recent article which can be read at https://www.devex.com/news/pakistan-s-100b-deal-with-china-what-does-it-amount-to-90872
    “unquote

    One) Thanks for sharing the link to the US Agency’s report. US Agency for International Development, however, has a dubious reputation, especially on “painting rosy pictures” of proposed projects. The agency is primarily there to protect US interests in the region – especially business interests. I suggest one reads John Perkins (The new confessions of an economic hitman 2016), Fred Pearce (When the Rivers Run Dry 2006), and this piece on Kalabagh Dam published in Dawn in 2012. [ https://www.dawn.com/news/771633/kalabagh-the-other-view ]

    Two) To begin with, the USAID report makes no mention of ‘life cycle assessment’ of the project. What will be the life of the project from start to decommissioning? How long it will take the silt to fill up the reservoir? How economics of the project will change with different stages of silting in the reservoir? What will be the cost of decommissioning? etc. etc. These omissions in the report are a perfect example of a morose due-diligence.

    Three) The report, as expected, completely ignores economic externalities. Why there is no mention, for example, of diminished flows and loss of silt load in the delta and how it will further speedup erosion of deltaic land by the sea waves? Why the report fails to mention about lost ecological services all along the river course from dams to delta? How a valley after being transformed from a gushing river to a stagnant lake would impact the local environment? How seawater intrusion into coastal aquifers will be exacerbated? What will be the socio-economic costs of these negative consequences? What will be the estimated cost of lost ecological services?
    Which segments of the society will bear those costs? How these segments of societies will be compensated, if at all? The list of externalities goes on…. We just don’t know the true cost of this dam, and worst still, we don’t even know who all will foot the bills – and how.

    Four) This dubious due diligence is yet another example of luring Pakistan into more loans for an unsound project, devastation for environment and social cultures downstream of the dam and fooling us that the socio-economic and environmental consequences don’t extend beyond the immediate vicinity of the project.

    Five) Deserving of compensation are not just the folks displace by the lakes. What about those who will lose their lands to the sea as a consequence of diminished flow of water and silt into the delta? Why there is no ‘generous or non-generous’ formula for those “affectees” who are far away from the project’s impact both in time and space?

    Six) This report only considers one dam in isolation. Cascade of dams is a completely different beast.

  15. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    Finally please note , that per agreement , the debt is being pegged to the value of Pak Rupee Vs USD frozen at the exchange rate of 2013 which was 1USD = 97.10 PKR. (Current rate is 1 USD = 105 PKR approximately).
    “unquote

    This is cherry picking; giving one piece of information and leaving the others: What is the interest rate? What will be the repayment schedule? How much our tax payers will actually pay per watt of electricity installed until all the loans are paid off.

    We should not forget that Neelum Jehlum Project, estimated to cost PKR 84 billion, has already exceeded PKR 500 billion, and the taxpayers are paying Neelum-Jehlum Surcharge in their electricity bills…

    This is 600% overrun – way more than the estimated cost, and way more than the expected overrun of 96% suggested by the Oxford Study!

  16. Dr Hassan Abbas |

    quote”
    My purpose of writing these detailed comments is because we expect people holding such advanced degrees in relevant fields to be much better at analysis.
    “unquote

    Thanks indeed. I am grateful for your valuable comments.

    1. Replies by Dr Hassan are logical and knowledge based. After all river is a living thing and we have no right to play havoc with nature and destroy ecosystems for future generations who won’t be able to question us, that why did we destroy the species the wetlands the billion year old legacy. Indeed solar is the future.

  17. Modern science completely rejects big dams on environmental grounds. Economically, its too costly to build and give returns. Strategically, its more like a stupid idea to invest on big dams. Above all, we have exceptional solar and wind potential to generate power rather than damaging our economy and agriculture by investing on big dams.

  18. I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange between the author and Dr. Ahmed. For a non-expert like me, it was truly educative and mind-expanding. While the author’s knowledge and expertise, not to say diligence in adducing evidence (references) for his point of view have been absolutely first rate, the self-restraint and the calm, objective tone that he maintained throughout his detailed rejoinder was in drastic contrast to the rather boastful, sarcastic and at places, highly disparaging tenor of the commentator. But let me aver that his provocative critique ultimately served a very useful purpose: it brought out the best – most incisive, well-argued and comprehensive – in the author and his knowledge/expertise bearing on this issue. While it enlightened non-experts like me, allow me to say, it also helped synthesize the author’s thoughts and define his position a lot more clearly. Goes on to show that a rational debate and argumentation – even if the tone of one or more of the debaters is not measured, as in this case – it still leads to a more nuanced and informed conclusion.

  19. I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange between the author and Dr. Ahmed. For a non-expert like me, it was truly educative and mind-expanding. While the author’s knowledge and expertise, not to say diligence in adducing evidence (references) for his point of view have been absolutely first rate, the self-restraint and the calm, objective tone that he maintained throughout his detailed rejoinder was in drastic contrast to the rather boastful, sarcastic and at places, highly disparaging tenor of the commentator. But let me aver that his provocative critique ultimately served a very useful purpose: it brought out the best – most incisive, well-argued and comprehensive – in the author and his knowledge/expertise bearing on this issue. While it enlightened non-experts like me, allow me to say, it also helped synthesize the author’s thoughts and define his position a lot more clearly. Goes on to show that a rational debate and argumentation – even if the tone of one or more of the debaters is not measured, as in this case – it still leads to a more nuanced and informed conclusion.

    Having read some comments implying cherry picking and other flaws in the argument, my critique – if I have to formulate one – would not be on the argument against large dams, and especially the proposed cascade, but on something which goes beyond the scope of this article and hence not directly aimed at it. And here’s my contention: Given the water stressed situation that Pakistan is facing, getting worse with time, exacerbated by effects of climate change and assuming almost emergency proportions, what needs to be done in the short and medium terms granted that we accept the author’s recipe as the long term solution?

    To put it more succinctly, we should bring in time-scales for different measures, plans and solutions. Rather than discussing plans and solutions independent of their timescales of applicability, let us anchor them to timescales. 1-5 years, 5-15 years and greater than 15 years, for example, can roughly coincide with short-term, medium-term and long-term timescales, but these periods could be more nuanced and extendable, depending upon the accuracy and limits of our planning. Such an approach might lead us to some interesting and rich conclusions which could be counter-intuitive vis a vis an apparently timeless world of perfect solutions. For example, what is required in the short term, may not be a good solution in medium term and an absolute disaster if we extend it as a long term recipe.

  20. Cant say that I did not enjoy the exchange b/w Dr. Ahmed and Dr. Hassan more than the article itself. Endeavouring to negate the piece, respected commentator brought out some much needed clarifications and elaborations from the author. Though, It seems as if the commentator’s response was influenced by bias/grudge or (may be) was formulated under duress.

  21. Dr. Zeeshan Amjad |

    Solar setup cost is extremely under stated. Advise you to cross check your figures. Very very wrong asumptions in solar calculations.

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