The government of Pakistan has recently signed a Rs442 billion contract with a joint venture of China. The Diamer-Bhasha dam will probably be the
world’s highest concertized dam, as Pakistan claims. The Chinese state-run firm holds 70 percent and the FWO, a commercial arm of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, 30 percent share in the consortium. They say the project would increase the gross storage
capacity and power generation capacity to cope with the increasing water and electricity requirements of the country. But all of this effort of developing a dam at what cost? The total financial outlay of such a gigantic project includes land acquisition and
resettlement, confidence-building measures for social uplift of the local people of Gilgit-Baltistan, construction of dam and powerhouses. But is this the right time for Pakistan to be getting into such a heavy deal? And Pakistan is boasting of it like a jewel
on its dilapidated crown, not realizing that in times to come it will only prove to be their biggest mistake, especially keeping in mind the economic meltdown their country is facing.
The project is designed to serve as the main storage dam of the country, besides Mangla and Tarbela dams, and its storage would be helpful for alleviating flood losses. It is claimed that Pakistan is going to set another
record (after Tarbela Dam — 485 feet high) in hydropower engineering by building the world’s highest roller-compacted concrete Bhasha dam. Surprisingly it is forgotten that the Tarbela Dam (1976) was later termed as “perhaps the world’s
most problem-stricken major dam” in technical terms. The same report suggests that the Bhasha site being located in the highly unstable seismic zone in a narrow valley of the upper Indus could be vulnerable to some extraordinary safety hazards.
In one of his letters by General Butt, the original designer of the dam, he wrote, “I shudder at the thought of earthquake effects on Bhasha. Dam-burst
would wipe out Tarbela and all barrages on Indus; which would take us back to the stone-age.”
In a September 2018 letter addressed to the then chief justice of Pakistan,
one of the US’s foremost design and infrastructure firms, AECOM, cautioned against the proposed Diamer-Basha dam. The letter said, “If Wapda decides to proceed with this concept, the cost would be exorbitant and construction time would exceed ten
years. The project risk associated with an RCC dam is extremely high due to the transportation issue and seismic profile found at the location of the project. In summation, for practical and economic reasons the RCC dam should not be recommended for the DBD
Devastation caused by Dams
The Tarbela and Mangla dams have destroyed a large number of families living in the reservoir areas. They lost their homes, lands, and livelihood. Thousands are still in search of permanent settlements. It destroyed animal habitats and forests, wetlands
and other habitats were flooded. Fish population declined. Below the dams, there were huge changes in the lives of downstream people; the fishermen community and delta area people.
Looking at the history of the construction of Tarbela and Mangla dams, the following impacts are going to emerge if Bhasha dam is constructed. Imposition of a reservoir in place of the river valley (loss of habitats);
changes in downstream water quality, effects on river temperature, nutrient load, turbidity, dissolved gasses, the concentration of heavy metals and minerals; changes in downstream morphology of river bed, delta coastline due to altered sediment load, increase
in sea erosion and reduction of biodiversity due to blocking of movement of the organism.