Expectations are not the material dams are made of
Within weeks of assuming office Imran Khan raised the issue of the country’s insufficient water storage capacity and its grievous consequences. Dams will have to be constructed on an emergency basis, he rightly maintained. For this Mohmand and Diamir-Bhasha were to be given priority. Few would have differed with the objectives but the means suggested to achieve these were based on unrealistic estimates. In a brief television address to the nation in early September Imran called upon every overseas Pakistani to donate $1,000. Weeks later at a fundraiser in Karachi Imran indulged in more wishful thinking as he called for collecting Rs30b for dams every year.
Bureaucracy contributed further to pipe dreaming. In an early October briefing given to Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda, a confident Wapda chairman assured that construction work on the two major dams was all set to begin in the first and second quarters of 2019. Towards the end of December the government decided to inaugurate the Mohmand Dam. A date was announced for the PM and CJ Nisar to jointly lay the foundation stone, then arbitrarily changed by the government leading to a remonstrance from the later who was also involved in fund raising and was then nearing retirement. Meanwhile through a bidding process mired in controversy a consortium that includes Descon was awarded contract to build the Mohmand Dam. An agreement was signed between WAPDA and NESPAK for providing engineering consultancy services. It seemed that the construction work was about to start.
It was no doubt encouraging that thousands of Pakistanis responded to the appeal for contributing to the dams fund. But despite the enthusiasm displayed the total sum collected over the last six months is no more than Rs10bn while the estimated cost of building Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams is $10bn. On Tuesday the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) discussed the difficulties in procuring the needed amount but reached no consensus on solutions. It is time the ECC makes a realistic choice from the available financing options to initiate the construction work. In case there are further delays, the costs are likely to shoot up compounding the government’s financing problems.