ISLAMABAD: In a first-of-its-kind investment in Pakistan’s troubled energy sector, Islamabad and Beijing on Saturday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop North Indus River Cascade with an estimated cost of US$ 50 billion that has the potential of generating approximately 40,000mw of hydroelectric power. Under the initiative, initially five huge dams will be built in a region that starts from Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan and runs through Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as far as Tarbela, in the first-ever private sector investment in Pakistan’s mega hydel projects as only Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) would undertake such projects in the past. With the inking of the MoU – signed by Water and Power Secretary Yousuf Naseem Khokhar and Chinese Ambassador in Pakistan Sun Weidong and witnessed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – China has emerged as the biggest financier of infrastructure projects in Pakistan. This $50 billion investment is in addition to the $57 billion projects being executed by Beijing in power and road infrastructure sectors in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Under the MoU, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) would oversee financing and funding of Diamer Basha Dam, Patan Hydropower Project, Thakot Hydropower Project, Bunji Hydropower Project and Dasu Hydropower Project. All these projects have an estimated power generation capacity of 22,320mw, according to WAPDA estimates. The initiative also includes development of Diamer-Bhasha Dam, for which a huge investment of $15 billion is needed and Pakistan has been running from pillar to post for the past several years to secure funding but to no avail, reportedly due to influential Indian directors sitting at international donor institutions. Even World Bank and the Asian Development Bank refused to provide funds for the project. Rather, each time Pakistan was advised to focus on small dams, which, according to them, were more feasible and risk-free. A well-placed source in the Ministry of Water and Power told Daily Times that the NEA experts had already conducted feasibility study of the entire North Indus Cascade including the sites of above mentioned five projects in February 2017. After the signing of the MoU, the Chinese experts will conduct a detailed study spanning over a period of three months to develop a roadmap for financing and initiation as well as execution of these mega projects. China Three Gorges Corporation, the owner of the world’s largest hydroelectric power project Three Gorges Dam, already expressed its willingness in 2015 to participate in a financing consortium to fund nearly $50 billion of hydroelectric power projects in Pakistan. The signing of the MoU was followed by a conference in Beijing where heads and representatives of several Chinese power sector companies gave presentations on their studies of the Diamer Bhasha Dam project. Water and Power Secretary Yousuf Naseem also gave a briefing to the Pakistani and Chinese delegations. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his address to the conference, spoke high of the cooperation by Chinese government as well the National Energy Administration to help Pakistan cope with energy crisis through building power generation projects. The prime minister said Pakistan not only required support in the energy sector but also needed mega initiatives to improve its water storage capacity for economic development and long-term prosperity. “Therefore, development of the North Indus Cascade is a major focus of my government and the construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam is the single most important initiative in this regard,” the prime minister said. The prime minister said apart from helping Pakistan in addressing the issue of power shortage, the NEA had also supported Pakistan’s power sector experts in going through the critical learning curve. He thanked the NEA for hosting an extremely important and strategic session on Diamer Bhasha Dam, which, according to him, was a project of critical importance for the future of Pakistan. He said water and food security was of paramount importance for Pakistan keeping in view the challenges posed by climate change.