IN Pakistan where water and other energy resources are becoming increasing- ly scarce, the creation of large-capacity dams appears a sensible idea. However, the creation of such reservoirs has been a contentious issue as in the case of the Kalabagh dam project which had to be shelved.
The most recent project to be put on course — after three decades — was the Diamer-Bhasha dam. Meanwhile, the upgrading of Mangla Dam has failed to live up to expectations, even though the main project of raising the dam`s height was completed in 2008. The sticking points tend to be squabbling among the provinces over projected revenues and the reset- tlement of and compensation for those displaced. Both Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have laid territorial claims to the Diamer-Bhasha dam, for example, while raising the height of Mangla Dam has affected 50,000 people. The issue of resettlement and compensation has not yet been addressed, leading to resistance by the affected communities against the filling of the reservoir.
It is thus welcome news that the government is considering preparing a formula for sharing royalties and resettlement costs in such a manner that the maximum benefit goes to the people displaced by the projects. Currently, no such formula exists, and these ideas are to be discussed during a US-Pakistan dialogue on reforms in the water sector and international lending, scheduled to begin on Nov 2. Reportedly, the example under study is the revenue-sharing arrangement in Brazil under which six per cent of the gross revenues are allocated to the affected areas with half the amount going to the provinces and the other half to affected municipalities. If such a formula is created, it could remove the confusion over royalties and resettlement. It has been suggested that a clause in the constitution promising the profits to the province where the relevant power station is located has complicated matters, because power generation is given precedence over issues faced by displaced persons. This charge should be carefully examined and the matter resolved at the earliest. Resistance to dams that are sorely needed in a water-scarce country will continue until clarity is achieved over how the projects are to proceed. (Dawn)