An Impending Tragedy

It is rather unclear how the construction of the Dasu Dam project can start in ‘six months’ when ‘due diligence analysis’ by donors, final review by the panel of experts, CCI consideration and GoP approval are still ongoing.
With such large water-sector projects you cannot take chances as the risks are too great. By the time the financing plan is ready, the road shows held, the bids called, scrutinised and approved and the mobilisation of contractors undertaken it will have been at least two years, if not three. This is subject to the assumption that the CCI and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwar government endorse the change in the project’s priorities. The main Dasu Dam, even with one tunnel, will take at least six to seven years to complete while Bhasha would take about eight years to build.
We must also disabuse ourselves of the notion that there is financial capacity within the country or any donor appetite to raise US$25 billion simultaneously for constructing two massive dams when even the financing of Neelum Jhelum and Kurram Tangi have become difficult. Once work on Dasu starts, the Diamer-Bhasha Dam would be ignored or delayed for at least ten years. By then the country will have lost about 80 million acre feet of priceless water. Its impact on can be well imagined. In the meanwhile the Indians continue to construct dams in the hundreds.
A study undertaken by Wapda a couple of years back held that the existing Karakoram Highway from Thakot to Bhasha would have to be widened, rehabilitated, dozens of curves straightened, and numerous crossing and parking bays constructed before the road could be used to carry cement, iron, equipment and other logistics weighing millions of tons to just one site. This road rehabilitation is a two-year project in itself. Someone needs to work out the math correctly.
In terms of costs, the Diamer-Bhasha Dam would cost US$14 billion including land acquisition, resettlement and interest during construction (IDC). Dasu would cost more than US$12 billion if IDC is added and even more if the phasing is extended to 23 years – which the World Bank has mooted. The bizarre proposal by Wapda and the World Bank of utilising Dasu’s electricity revenues to finance its construction is a non-starter. How can one wait 23 years to build all four tunnels and 12 units for Dasu under this absurd proposal?
When one adds the transmission and distribution losses, pilferages and non-recovery of electricity bills there is no way sufficient funds would be available for construction. Privately Wapda officials are aware that this proposal is totally impractical but is being used in an effort to sabotage the Bhasha Dam. The power distribution companies, because of their very heavy losses, cannot even pay a much smaller amount due from them for the Neelum Jhelum surcharge. If hydel power revenues are transferred from one head, equivalent subsidies would need to be provided to balance the emerging loss. Hydel power, as everyone knows, is subsidising consumers today.
Diamer-Bhasha would be 272 metres high while Dasu at 242 metres would be only 30 metres lower. The base width of the two is also similar even though Wapda has incorrectly stated that Dasu’s base width is only 44 metres. When Bhasha will take 7-8 years to be built, how can Dasu be completed in about four or five years excluding the two years meant for finalising the financing plan, bidding and mobilisation.
It is hoped the short-sighted supporters of Dasu realise that the main dam and the four tunnels would need to be constructed in one go and not in phases because you cannot allow future blasting near completed structures as these could develop cracks and fissures. We must remember the Tarbela accident in 1976 where a small oversight led to disaster. When this is so where are the savings in costs?
Without Diamer-Bhasha being completed first, Dasu is not technically, administratively or financially viable. One tunnel of Dasu with three units would generate about 1100MW at 92 percent plant factor. With the second tunnel there would be full generation only during the four flood months and the plant factor falls to 62 percent while for the remaining two the generation would be even lower. One month of flood water would be utilised for flushing the silt out of Dasu’s reservoir and as such generation would be even lower. Wapda has lately decided not to use flushing for ten years in Dasu to show increased generation but this is very risky as the entire reservoir would be silted in that time.
The benefits of Dasu have been exaggerated to brighten it up for the nuptials. In fact Dasu would operate at only half capacity without Bhasha’s storage in place, generating no more than eight billion units of power against Bhasha’s 18 billion units. With one month lost due to flood season flushing Dasu would generate about six billion units. Bhasha would also increase the life of Tarbela’s lake by up to 50 years and increase power generation in Tarbela and Chashma by over one billion units.
The country has an installed capacity of about 21000MW to which may be added the planned 6000MW of the coal-fired power park in Hub, 3000MW of Wapda’s under-implementation projects of Neelum Jhelum, Tarbela Four, Kurram Tangi and perhaps Munda Dam on the Swat River, 1100MW Korean investment in Spat Gah and Palas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, over 1500MW of Nandipur, Chicho Ki Mallian and Guddu and the assorted would give us another 13000MW in about five years. The total would be even higher if the Gencos are quickly privatised or, better still, leased out. For the present the priority is not more installed power capacity, we need more water storage.
It would indeed take three to four years to effectively deal with the problem of loadshedding. The main issue for now is very poor cash flows owing to line losses, theft and poor recovery rate. Unless this haemorrhage is checked and controlled the more electricity generated the greater would be the losses. To check these losses one needs to look towards improvements especially in the Discos of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan and all the Gencos. This can only be done with the active support of the provinces. The government needs to create a holding company in Islamabad staffed by technical and financial professionals to supervise the working of the ten Discos till they are improved and then privatised.
In view of the facts, it is essential that the highest priority afforded to Diamer-Bhasha is not altered so that work on the project starts in a year’s time. Let us not take a decision we can easily rue later.