Water is a scarce commodity in Balochistan. Since long, communities have evolved indigenous institutions for regulating the use of this resource which essentially comprises of surface flows in ephemeral streams , spring water channelled through karezes and groundwater extracted through surface wells and tube wells.
Inadequate resources have propelled the government to construct the Mirani Dam across the Dasht River. It envisages provision of dependable irrigation supplies for the development of irrigated agriculture on the two banks of the river.
Dasht River is a non-perennial stream. Its flow depends on rainfall in the catchment area whose annual average is 4.2 inches. The project would be completed by 2006 with a cost of $101 million.
Though, it is being claimed that projects like the Mirani Dam would bring socio-economic changes, however, in practice the case seems to be averse. Policy makers neither bother to involve the common people nor do they keep their interests in mind while designing such projects.
Such is the case with the Mirani Dam. The feasibility report was completed in 1956 and the work began in 2001, and that too after the commencement of the Gwadar Deep-sea Port with the objective to provide water.
While designing the dam’s height and storage capacity no consideration was given to minimizing the inundation of the local areas and populations. According to experts and local communities, a population of 50,000 is to be affected in the upstream of Dasht River as a result of the storing floodwater in the dam.
According to estimates, the majority of the population of Nasirabad, Nodiz and Kalatuk would be inundated once the water was stored in the dam to full capacity. These claims can be substantiated from the original project survey of 1956.
The dam’s height in the original design was 80 feet not the present designed 127 feet. However, the survey had shown at least two Union Councils i.e., Nodiz and Nasirabad to be inundated as a result of the commissioning of the dam.
The dam is aimed at irrigating about 33,000 acres of land. However, its commissioning is already destroying millions of acres of cultivated land with 18 tube wells, five Karizes and many other irrigation infrastructures. Despite such destruction and possible inundation, so far, owners of only 6,700 acres have been provided compensation, while 18,981 acres await compensation.
The compensation provided is also not appropriate. Accordingly, communities in the case of Sabakzai Dam in Zhob district received compensation at Rs43,560 per acre, while the Mirani Dam affectees are being paid Rs15,000 to 20,000 per acre, only.
Besides, a vast upstream area including villages, irrigated lands, infrastructures including tube wells would face the menace of water logging and salinity. Interestingly, even after more than three years of work on the project no scientific survey has been undertaken to ascertain the extent of damage.
The commissioning of the dam will threaten the atmosphere of social cohesion in the region as lands close to the dam have been deprived of irrigation water as per design. According to the design, the dam is supposed to provide water to the lands at least 5km away.
For example, important areas of Bandgah, Hamlani and Sangai on the left bank of Dasht River would be deprived of water as per design. Similarly, areas on the Right Bank Canal, deprived of the irrigation water, include Jalabani, Siahalo, Zore Bazzar and Pittok.
Although, presently these areas are irrigated, however with the construction of the dam these lands would also become barren, causing social conflict between the landowners of these lands and the lands to be irrigated by the dam water. The landowners of these areas have already threatened not to allow the canal waters flow from their area if they are deprived of the water.
Meanwhile, there is no provision in the dam design for a floodgate in the downstream of Dasht River, and the outlet will exist only in the form of the sole spillway with a very limited capacity.
Due to an inadequate spillway, water would flow very slowly, thus terminating the flood irrigation in a 150km stretch on both banks of Dasht River downstream the dam.
Millions of acres of land is irrigated by flood irrigation. This land is situated in the average 5km width of the river, which receives river water in the case of flooding.
Millions cultivate crops and fruits like cotton, watermelon, mash etc., through flood irrigation. These lands would be degraded due to no flooding in the area once the dam was operational.
Besides, the flood irrigated lands, the downstream areas are also characterized with forests, which too, are the resources of livelihoods for millions. With the decrease in river flows these forests would be degraded and degenerated, which would result in the deprivation of livelihoods of a large number of woodcutters.
The major effect of the reduction in fresh water flows downstream area of the river would be on the Dasht River delta area, as reduction in flows would threaten mangrove forests, ultimately affecting the shrimp catch, a major source of livelihood for fisher folk communities. The dam project offers no compensation or alternative livelihoods for those growers, woodcutters and fishermen of the downstream region.
SUGGESTIONS: Height of the dam should be reduced by at least eight feet, which would prevent a large number of villages upstream from being inundated. Similarly, the proposed storage capacity should also be reduced by at least 15 feet, reducing the flood level by about 6 feet in the upstream areas, thus preventing vast areas including towns of Soleband and Nasirabad from being inundated.
A comprehensive survey of villages and lands should be carried out and a resettlement plan prepared before storing water in the dam. The affected people should be settled in and around Gwadar, ensuring some alternative livelihood to affectees.
Owners whose lands are affected should be provided lands in the dam command area and a scientific survey should be carried out to know the extent of possible extent of water logging in the upstream areas once the dam is operational.
The areas and the village to be threatened from the menace of water logging should also be provided reasonable compensation. Maximum Dasht River flows downstream the Mirani Dam should be ensured to save the flood irrigated lands, forests, and mangroves ecosystem of the Dasht Delta, as well as the fisheries and shrimp resources of the region.
Courtesy: The Dawn