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Issues & Analysis


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 for good.

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 capacity.

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 handy.

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 Authority.

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 waste.

Courtesy: The DAWN;


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