QUETTA – Balochistan is a province dominated by an arid climate and 85 percent dependent on agriculture and livestock, with a very low rainfall ratio compared to the rest of the country, making water a precious commodity for its people.
Therefore, to meet the needs of their population, the respective governments resorted to the construction of dams, canals, canals and dams, the number of small and large dams being about 1085.
This is certainly the largest number of dams in all the four provinces to meet the needs of the people of Balochistan who are mainly dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry.
But the recent climate impacts and downpours in the province have raised many questions about the quality of construction of these dams as dozens of dams have suffered damage due to the heavy downpour.
Experts believe that there were some technical failures or the absence of globally recognized development protocols that these dams could not withstand the changing weather patterns.
They believe that the effectiveness of the dams – the only source of hope for the people of Balochistan’s parched land – could not fully pay off due to reasons such as poor management, construction quality and the lack of a research institute on procedures to reduce rainfall and disaster risk.
“The Garuk dam built in Kharan district is one such example where billions of rupees could have been saved with better planning,” stated an engineer from the irrigation department.
He revealed that according to PC-1, the cost of this dam under construction was estimated at Rs 12 billion but it reached Rs 27 billion. “The height of the dam in the revised PC-I is reduced from 55 m (180 ft) to 52 m (171 ft), but the live storage capacity is increased from 24,896 AF to 27,073 AF.”
Besides, he said, the discharge capacity is also increased from 60 Cusecs to 73.1 Cusecs, thereby increasing the flow cost from Rs 1150.620 crore to Rs 5797.764 crore.
According to reports, 38 dams were damaged in Qila Abdullah district alone, besides more than a dozen in Quetta, eleven in Khuzdar, nine in Hub, Dera Bugti and Bela seven in Kachhi, five each in Chagai Nushka, Harnai, Zhob and Musa Khel, twelve in Duki, Surab, Kharan Washuk Mastung, Kech, Kalat, Surab and Kohlu districts.
“When building dams in Balochistan, we must strictly implement globally recognized standards,” observed Dr. Deen Muhammad Kakar, geological expert. “Geophysical, geological and feasibility studies are the three-fold prerequisites we must carry out in building a quality dam.”
“If we don’t fully take care of the lithology of the land and the efficiency of the planned dam, we would be wasting our money,” he said, referring to the cancellation of 25 dams built in Chaman district, which he claimed were built in an earthquake zone.
“This position requires proper plans, use of standard materials, maintenance of quality control with regular health checks to serve the true purpose of providing water to the people,” he added. Experts also believe that the reputation and competence of the contractors must be fully taken care of when awarding the contract, as contracts awarded to incompetent builders cost the country billions.
“When we award the contract to less qualified consultants, how can we be sure of the quality of design and construction,” said Dr. Deen Muhammad.
It is a common apathy in our system that sometimes contracts for certain projects are awarded either under political influence or based on personal relationships. So this tendency should be avoided to save billions of rupees that would be collected by our cat.
Although the challenge is huge, the concerned government departments are confident of tackling this situation with several steps that have been introduced recently.
“The government in collaboration with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Air Force and the Department of Planning and Development is working on the construction of automatic weather stations,” said Abdul Razaq Khilji, director general of the Irrigation Department’s Water Resources Planning, Development and Monitoring Directorate. “This project would help us collect rainfall data and build dams keeping in mind the expected rainfall.”
He agreed that construction standards should be updated to international standards and stated, “A tripartite approach, including geological experts, could ensure the dams’ maximum performance.”
“Dams built without careful planning and necessary protocols have proved to be a potential target for severe weather like we witnessed in 2022,” Khilji said. “Unfortunately, we failed to conserve thousands of cubic feet of water after record rainfall in 2022.”
As the irrigation department is mandated to meet the water needs of the people, besides monitoring and improving groundwater depletion in 18 basins across Balochistan, it is confident of fulfilling the aspirations of the masses. “The present government is working hard to achieve these goals and this will significantly affect the livelihood of the people living in this province,” commented State Irrigation Secretary Hafiz Majid.
As Balochistan still needs a modern rainfall forecasting and rainwater harvesting system, dams are usually built based on the rainfall data of the last decade.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to establish a state-of-the-art land survey center, a weather early warning system to predict rains and floods, and ensure quality construction through a prudent procurement mechanism