A Fissure in a Dam
By Sohail Parwaz
Mark Twain gave a famous quote that “whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over”. No one would have ever given a serious thought to it but unfortunately a series of reports from intelligence agencies and research groups indicate the prospect of a water war is becoming increasingly probable. It’s not very far off. In fact a little more than a decade away, as a report from the office of the US Director of National Intelligence suggests that the risk of conflict would grow as water demand is set to surpass sustainable current supplies by 40 per cent by 2030.
Some connoisseurs believe the only recognized case of a “water war” happened about 4,500 years ago, when the city-states of Lagash and Umma went to war in the Tigris-Euphrates basin. However, Adel Darwish, a journalist and co-author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the Middle East, says modern history has already seen at least two water wars and he quotes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon confessing on record that the reason for going to war [against Arab armies] in 1967 was for water,” Yet another example is of Senegal and Mauritania also, who fought a war starting in 1989 over grazing rights on the River Senegal. And then Syria and Iraq too, have fought minor skirmishes over the Euphrates River. The seasoned and mature forecasters from the world over are showing lost sleep for wars of the future, those will be fought over blue gold, as thirsty people, opportunistic politicians and powerful corporations, battle for diminishing resources. Nevertheless, here in the Subcontinent, the Indians are least pushed about the hovering conflict clouds and rapidly building dam after the dam. Out of 13 dams or hydroelectric projects, under construction in Indian occupied Kashmir, seven are on River Chenab; one is on Jhelum and one on the Indus.
Sunita Narain, soon after receiving her 2005 Stockholm Water Prize Award from King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden, at a formal ceremony in Stockholm said, “I am not here as a pessimist saying that India is doomed and that water wars are going to happen, and we are going to destroy ourselves. I am saying very clearly that if India continues on this route, yes there will be water wars…and we will become more and more crippled in our growth,” When Sunita said that, “Water wars are not inevitable. It lies in our hands and in our minds…,” (to obviate them) it was not just to receive $ 150,000 and a crystal sculpture. She said this as a conscientious director of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi and as the publisher of a highly praised environmental magazine Down to Earth. If some political experts hold the view that the world’s future wars will be fought over water and not over oil, they are not wrong in saying so. The only difference is that while most of the nations will fight to get water, some ill-fated nation like ours will continue to fight not to have water, as is being done these days.
Deforestation in hilly areas, the urbanisation of flood plains, the sea level rise due to global warming, increased melting of snow and exceptional rainfall, are not phenomena exclusive to one or the other region. Rather, these are problems faced globally by every country. Water is the sole reason for which almost over 10,000 dams have or are being constructed in the US, and over 300 water storage facilities are being constructed in India and China.
The people of Alwar, a district in Rajasthan, have done wonders by nursing the rebirth of a dried river Arvari. In the initial phase they nursed the rebirth through local rainwater collecting schemes, and in a subsequent phase they formed their own river parliament for the management of the river. This parliament turned out to be so effective that they adopted eleven articles that bind them to a set of laws. This is the nationalism and romance displayed by the people who chant the mantra, ‘I love my India’, from the bottom of their hearts. By contrast, in Pakistan, nationalism is forcefully shoved into the backseat and regionalism is brazenly and masochistically brought to the front. The types of catchphrases and rhetoric chanted are, ‘Dam over our dead bodies’, ‘The drowning of the Frontier will not be allowed’, ‘Down with Punjabi chauvinism’ and much more.
The need to provide food and water has not been relegated to the back burner elsewhere; hence new dams are being planned and constructed throughout Asia. There are presently about 99 dams under construction in China, 100 in Turkey, 81 in Korea, 25 in Iran and around 292 in India. Nearly 3200 major / medium dams and barrages had been constructed in India by the year 2012. As compared to that only 9 dams and that too disputed one, have been planned by Pakistan. Imagine the political instability in these countries if there was half as much disinformation against these dams as is the case against the Kalabagh Dam (KBD). Do we still need to find out what makes all these other dams feasible while ours is a disaster?
The hubbub and hullabaloo of those so-called nationalist parties, that don’t even have proper district representation, is totally baseless and purely meant to grab attention. Their sightless efforts are geared towards opposing the KBD at any cost, come what may. What they are forgetting is that “Damn the Dam” is no solution. There is a famous Pashto saying — and who knows it better than Asfand Yar Wali, the self-acclaimed champions of Pashtun rights — ‘You cannot have a head without a headache.’ When a dam is being built there will always be some drawbacks and negative fallouts. But these are not restricted to KBD only. There are thousands of dams being built the world over and not one of these would be without complexity or convolution.
The opposition has deliberately refrained from evolving a consensus. Not a single political leader has picked up the courage to come forward and drive some sense into the minds of others except for Imran, who has been dragged into another kind of nuisance in KPK, hence is quiet on the issue. Those, whose contribution to the freedom movement was zilch, are now trying to be the flag-bearers of regional rights. When they are invited to the table to talk, they refuse to sit across and listen to others’ points of view. If they have some valid trepidations about the flooding of the Peshawar valley or Nowshera town, water-logging and salinity due to the drainage of surrounding area of Mardan, Pabbi and Swabi plains, the adverse effects on Mardan’s SCARP, and dislocation of a large number of people, they should shun prejudices and listen to others’ assessments as well. I am certain that the nation’s water experts have a solution for their ‘headaches’.
Ironically this handful of nationalists appears to have exactly the same objectives as the Indians. In April 1948, India diverted the flow of the Ravi, Sutlej and Beas rivers, an act that threatened to destroy irrigated cultivation in Pakistan. Today, why divert, rivers allocated to Pakistan under the subsequent water accords and construct dams like Baglihar on them unless the intention is equally malafide?
It is very unfortunate that all the main opposition parties who claim a national stature seem to have been hijacked by a handful of misguided people. Another tragedy is that the Punjab is irrationally being dragged into the controversy. The moot question is why those who can unite for any specious cause cannot unite for their motherland? It is high time that everyone teams up for this national project and militates against the jingoistic and intolerant attitudes. These mainstream political parties and the so-called nationalist parties will have to muster the courage to choose the right side to be on for their own and the country’s salvation before it is too late.
The Egyptian army still has jungle warfare brigades, even though they have no jungle, only for the reason, because the Nile is another potential flash point. In 1989, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak threatened to send demolition squads to a dam project in Ethiopia while here in Pakistan we are happily allowing our enemies from within and out to asphyxiate our jugular vein.
I can never forget the story of that patriotic, dutiful and daring Dutch boy who put his finger in a hole in a dyke’s embankment to prevent his village from suffering a deluge. But here, we are purposely and calculatedly making a fissure in a dam which is still on paper. Aren’t we really asking for a drought before a famine, and not giving a damn about it?