An Assessment of the Kalabagh Dam Project on the River Indus, Pakistan

By Nasir Gazdar, 1990

Foreword by Philip B. William, Ph.D.

The story of the planning and promotion of the Kalabagh Dam Project, described by Dr. M. Nasir Gazdar in this book, is one of the most vivid examples of the inability of the traditional hydraulic engineering approach to water resources development to address the most obvious long term problems it creates. All around the world this `plumbing' approach has emphasized capital intensive big dam projects that ignore the social, economic and ecologic values of the rivers that they destroy.

In the case of Pakistan the country's whole economic future has now been made dependent on the success of huge projects like the Mangla and Tarbela Dams. The massive development of large scale irrigation schemes over the last 50 years has captured almost all of the Indus River Basin's runoff.

The hydraulic engineering that was imposed on the people of Pakistan, first by the colonial government and more recently by international aid agencies and multi-lateral development banks, is inherently flawed. Its inability to deal with long term problems such as reservoir sedimentation, salinization, waterlogging and the spread of disease demonstrate that large water projects are the complete opposite of `sustainable development'. Sustainable development is an idea that even the most insulated international aid agencies pay lip service to, and in its simplest terms, means that our children and grandchildren should expect the same or better quality of life to result from a development project as we the generation that build it does.

Clearly, this is not the case in Pakistan, which is now beginning to feel the full effects of short term unsustainable water resources exploitation. The quality of life of each succeeding generation is deteriorating, not just in the irrigation command areas but all over the Indus Basin.

The Kalabagh Dam Project represents the bankruptcy of ideas in top-down centralized development planning in which the development agency bureaucrats reponse to the problems created by big dams on the Indus -- is to propose yet another big dam.

The problems of the Indus Basin and Pakistan's economic predicament are lessons for the citizens of the rest of the world, many of whom are now questioning similar projects in their own countries. It is time to divert our planning, research and funding into types of development that provide real benefits for future generations. To change direction, it is time for the international development agencies such as the World Bank to accept responsibility for the problems they have helped create and to provide economic relief, not loans, directly to the people they have impoverished.

Philip B. William, Ph.D, P.E.


International Rivers Network

San Francisco, California