Off-channel reservoirs for flood control
By Dr Muhammad Siddique Shafique
A NEW flood season is on hand but the country is not yet out
of the disastrous impacts of floods of 2010. With the
ongoing climatic changes and the poor record of flood
protection measures, such a calamity may become a norm
instead of an occasional happening.
A shared vision and action plan is needed to convert this
kind of serious threat into strength. This challenge can
only be met by developing storage capacity to prevent floods
At present, flood management is generally geared towards the
actions that are taken before, during and after the
occurrence of floods. However, it is equally important that
the flood control steps include proactive preventive actions
on a priority basis by creating feasible water storage
Obviously, not preventing flooding is extremely devastating
as witnessed by an unfortunate history of over the last 63
years. Before the recent disastrous floods, there were about
15 events of floods causing huge losses. However, the floods
of 2010 were the worst of all.
A shift from traditional policy is needed to allow selected
losses while protecting critical assets. This practice
should continue in any case even if we have exhausted all
potential options for creating capacity to take in excessive
flows during a flood season. There is not enough progress to
report in creating capacity for storing excessive flood
waters before they can cause havoc.
Over the last four decades, the country is stuck in a no-win
situation between those who want dams to be built across
main rivers and those who oppose this idea without any
consideration of its potential consequences.
In order to break this logjam, we need to count our
available physical and institutional assets to find a
solution. As far as the physical assets are concerned, they
include: limited and silted dams, 42 canal commands, 12 link
canals and five barrages: the largest contiguous irrigation
in the world. In any solution, these assets will come very
On the institutional side, people can question about their
fairness or otherwise, we have conditions that can shape our
alternative solutions in a big way. In reality, we do have
the following institutional conditions in place: (1) Indus
Water Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan that defines
the allocation of rivers instead of quantity of water within
the Indus River System; (2) Water Apportionment Accord of
1991 that allows quantity of water to be distributed between
four provinces; (3) equitable river water distribution along
main and secondary canals; and (4) A permanent turn-system
at watercourse command level to distribute water equitably
among farmers based on respective land owned.
With unending controversies over building of major dams, a
cascade of hydro-electric dams based on run-of-the-river
flows is an undisputed option.
With different national and the international lobbies
working hard to discourage development of
hydro-infrastructure, the challenge is to come up with
innovative solutions to blunt such pressures. In order to
prepare a favourable context for letting all energies to
generate solution, perhaps the first step would be to set
aside construction of Kalabagh Dam till all four provinces
agree to undertake this project.
Another such confidence-building measure would be to make
already installed telemetry system along the Indus River
System for water distribution as per the Water Apportionment
Accord of 1991.
In this context, one option for consideration would be to
let a neutral third party to operate this system from 5-10
years with local staff from the Indus River System
As each province has agreed to its share of river flows,
wouldn`t it be fair for all to let each province be made
responsible to build its own storage facilities to conserve
its due share away from main functional rivers? (be these
facilities located either at Wahga or Chechoki Malian as
proposed by Haji Adeel of Awami National Party proposed in a
recent TV-talk show).
Essentially, Haji Adeel was giving his party`s consent to an
option for provinces to store their respective share of
water by building their own off-channel reservoirs, large or
small, at different levels of provincial irrigation system.
Why not? This alternative seems fair as the allocated water
under the Water Apportioned Accord 1991 is delivered to a
province, it becomes a sole responsibility of that province
to secure this resource.
So, allowing provinces to conserve their agreed share, under
the prevailing environment, seems to be the only option left
for flood control and water conservation in an increasingly
slippery consensus-building among four provinces.
As a matter of fact, had the successive governments
developed flood preventive infrastructure by 2010, we would
have saved most of the 55.8 MAF water that passed through
Kotri and additional 33-35 MAF stagnant water that went
Courtesy: The DAWN