According to the latest facts and figures available from official sources, the development of new water and hydropower projects is important to cope up with the ever-increasing demand for water and energy. The per capita water availability in the country has decreased due to rapid growth in population and depleting water storage capacity of the reservoirs because of the natural phenomenon of sedimentation.Pakistan can store only 10 percent of its annual river flow against the world average of 40 percent and Indus cascade is Pakistan’s most precious asset, which will help in adding a big quantum of cheap hydropower generation and water storage. An additional area of 20 million acres feet land can be brought under irrigation owing to the construction of new reservoirs. Pakistan’s first ever National Water Policy in more than 70 years has recently been formulated and approved by consensus among the provinces. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the multi-purpose Kalabagh Dam even in the list provided by Water Resources Division in the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the financial year 2018-19.Indus River System Authority (IRSA), the regulatory body for distribution of Indus river water among the federating in its emergency meeting in Islamabad on May 15, reviewed the acute water shortage situation in the country. The need for the construction of at least two major storage facilities was stressed to be completed on priority basis. This is what has been happening with multi-purpose Kalabagh Dam over all these years.“The first four units of 300 megawatts each of the Kalabagh Dam Power House will be commissioned in 1993. On completion of the first phase, it would have 2400 megawatt generation capacity which would be extended to 3600 megawatts after 1995. The electricity generated at the Kalabagh Power House will be transmitted to all the four provinces through WAPDA’s National Grid and it will help meet the ever-increasing demand for power of the domestic, industrial and agricultural consumers. It is a matter of grave concern that a national consensus cannot be achieved even in the absence of desperately needed additional water storage facilities. No major storage system has been constructed since the Tarbela Dam, which was made 40 years agoThe Kalabagh Dam project will accrue multiple benefits. It will generate Rs 1600 crore annually through the sale of power and an equal amount through water releases from the Kalabagh reservoir to supplement irrigation supplies. It will provide 7 million acre feet (MAF) of irrigation water from Indus River to the country’s canal system which will be shared by all the four provinces, besides playing its role in the alleviation of floods.“The Kalabagh dam project is estimated to cost the US $ 3554 million or Rs 55086 million excluding interest during construction. The project will pay back its cost in three and half to four years.”This is only a verbatim extract from an official write up on Kalabagh dam which must have been prepared by WAPDA or the Ministry of Water and Power some more than 30 odd years back or so.Kalabagh dam, which has been both in favour and opposed by the civil and military rulers every now and then, was once again activated during 1980’s when President/Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Muhammad Ziaul Haq was at the helm of the national affairs.The official write up, being mentioned here had also briefly deliberated on “Comparable Alternative Sites on river Indus which could also be developed” and cited inter-alia: “The next site under consideration on river Indus for a dam is Basha which has been identified in the ranking study for hydel developments and pre-feasibility studies had been carried out. At least another 10 years would be needed for detailed investigations and establishing technical feasibility and project planning of Basha”.The scribe came across this write up from its huge collection of official documents and papers when thought about writing on Kalabagh dam which remains in the boiling pot every now and then mostly depending as to which political party or civilian or military ruler is in power at the national affairs.The Kalabagh Dam project, most unfortunately and regretfully, has a long history of more than six decades of sustained investigation and being in and out of the official documents and was originally proposed as the second dam in the works to be undertaken under the Indus Basin Settlement Plan. However, at that time it was thought appropriate by those at the helm of national affairs to construct a dam at Tarbela, which was more difficult, and to build Kalabagh Dam later. Accordingly, Tarbela Dam was started and completed by mid-1970s but the multi-purpose Kalabagh Dam is nowhere in sight.Out of the four provinces, Punjab and Sindh are directly concerned about Kalabagh Dam and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP) and Balochistan indirectly.After Kalabagh Dam project which was researched, studied and investigated more than any other dam was pushed back in the national priorities despite all its promised benefits, though it has been talked about every now and then at all levels. This was also in limelight during the military rule of General Muhammad Ziaul Haq and was also talked about as a “very essential and important national project” by no less than President/COAS General Pervez Musharraf, but all this was in vain. When PPP came into power after 2008 elections, Kalabagh Dam was just scrapped and dropped from all official documents with one stroke of the pen by its Minister for Water and Power Raja Parvez Ashraf without assigning any reasons whatsoever.Till some years back, Punjab has been raising demand for the construction of Kalabagh Dam as much time has already been lost and precious water resources are becoming scarce due to the absence of any additional major water storage facilities in the country.On the other hand, Sindh and KP are opposed to it in all fairness more out of political grounds and vested interests rather than technical ones.Over the years, Kalabagh Dam was mentioned in the Five Year Plans, since discarded after 8th Plan, Public Sector Development Programme of the Federal Government and other official documents but as already mentioned it has altogether been dropped from all official documents since 2013.How the provinces reacted can well be gauged by the comments of Sindh, KP and Punjab when Kalabagh Dam project (PC-11, Stage-111) was taken up during Zia’s regime for consideration by the Central Working Development Party (CDWP) to “prepare specifications of electro-mechanical equipment and to complete investigations and economic studies initiated under Stage-1 and Stage-11 of the PC-11 of Kalabagh Dam.The following is again being reproduced from official record, the minutes of the CDWP meeting held on July 31, 1986, to highlight different aspects:-“ The representative of Government of NWFP (since baptized as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) said since the location of the Kalabagh Dam had not been finalized, therefore, no expenditure be incurred on the project. It was stated that the location of the dam was harmful to Peshawar and Mardan areas and until the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Dams decides about the project, the PC-1 be deferred.The representative of the Government of Sindh also expressed the view that since the location of the dam was not yet final, the project may be deferred.The representative of the Government of Punjab stated that the project was of immense national importance and, therefore, the studies should be carried out without any further delay.“It was explained that the objective of the project was to prepare specifications of the Electrical and Mechanical equipment and to carry out macro-economic studies relating to Power and Agriculture Sectors and was not related to location. The MOU with UNDP has already been signed. The nature of studies is such that in no way it involves commitment for the execution of the project. As such the project does deliberations of the Cabinet Committee.”The then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, AGN Kazi, is on the record to have observed in October 1986:“It is proposed that an early decision may be taken regarding the construction of the Kalabagh Dam by considering the modified designs in the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Dams and by submitting the final recommendations to the Cabinet. Any further delay on this important project will render the expenditure on the preparatory phase to be useless”.President/COAS General Pervez Musharraf also went around different parts of the country telling everyone that Kalabagh Dam is very essential. It would benefit Sindh province more than anyone else and still, its construction will only be undertaken after evolving national consensus among the four provinces but unfortunately, the much desired national consensus continues to remain elusive as ever for decades together.National consensus was also stressed by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and earlier on by Prime Minister from Balochistan Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali but there was no positive response whatsoever from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces then.It is rather matter of grave concern that national consensus cannot be achieved, even in the absence of much-needed additional water storage facilities as no major storage has been constructed in more than 40 years after Tarbela Dam. The country will be heading towards acute water shortage and drought like situations in the years to come. The experts are already warning that such drought like situation may be developed as early as by 2025 if no major storage facility like Kalabagh Dam is constructed on priority basis.Two Committees on Water Resources, one parliamentary and the other one technical, after deliberations on different aspects had also favored construction of Kalabagh Dam but even then neither General Pervez Musharraf nor his successor President Asif Ali Zardari and succeeding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could not give WAPDA go ahead signal for starting construction of Kalabagh Dam envisaging power generation of 2400 to 3600 megawatt and water storage of over 7 MAF water for longer period of three years and completion in just six years as they remained more interested in their vested petty interests than the national interests.Nawaz Sharif, during his first tenure as the Prime Minister had brought about consensus among the provinces and got the historic Indus Water Apportionment Accord signed in 1991 but had not taken the bold decision for the construction of Kalabagh Dam during his second or third tenures. But even he did not do that. It is alleged by the opposition parties that construction of Kalabagh Dam was bartered away for third term of the prime minister at the time of 18th Constitutional Amendment.The state must reach a consensus to build Kalabagh Dam in spirit of national interests. The sooner it is done the better it will be for our survival as already much more time has been criminally wasted in all these decades.The writer is Lahore-based Freelance Journalist and Columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News) Radio Pakistan, Islamabad and can be reached at email@example.comPublished in Daily Times, May 25th 2018.