Imran Khan Sincere About Solving Pakistan’s Water Crisis, but The Solution Needs More than Big Dams

Via Future Directions International, an interesting report on Imran Khan’s efforts to solve Pakistan’s water crisis:

With the election of a new government, the Pakistani water crisis has taken on a new dimension, as new Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for Pakistanis to send money to crowdfund new water projects. Khan has asked that Pakistan raise US$14 billion ($19.6 billion) for the 4,500 megawatt Diamer-Bhasha dam and the 800 MW Mohmand dam. This month, it was announced that construction of the two dams would commence in early 2019. Consultancy firms have been invited to submit proposals for the Diamer-Bhasha project. Other water projects are also in progress, including the Kurram Tangi and Nai Gaj dams.

Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. On its current trajectory it is predicted to become the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040.


After emerging victorious from a bitterly contested election campaign, Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have not inherited a healthy country. With Pakistan suffering from serious levels of water stress and an economy near crisis levels, Khan has suggested novel methods of raising the capital necessary to avoid disaster, including crowdfunding of new dams and banning imports of cheese and mobile phones.

This is not the first time Pakistan has turned to its citizens to fund national campaigns. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf all launched campaigns asking for contributions to projects, though none on quite this scale. Nor would this be the first dam that has been crowdsourced – the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was partially funded by internal fund raising. The difference there, however, is that the GERD was also funded by Chinese investment and bonds. More importantly, it only cost US$5 billion to build.

The effort to crowdfund new dams was, at first, almost certainly linked to the new government’s reluctance to seek another bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), considering its less than productive relationship with the fund. In the last 30 years, Pakistan has been involved in 22 different IMF bailout programmes, which have slowly eroded its ability to govern, through a consistent reduction in social and infrastructure programmes. It is understandable that Pakistan may wish to avoid another condition-laden loan from the IMF, but without a US$12 billion ($16.8 billion) bailout, it will be left with its foreign currency reserves standing at just US$10 billion ($13.9 billion).

This leaves Pakistan in a difficult situation, as it desperately needs funds to build infrastructure that will help to ease its water shortages. While Pakistan has been forced to seek another IMF loan, the new government’s ambitious reform agenda and US opposition to the loan funds being used to repay Chinese debt, make it difficult to judge to what extent Pakistan will be able to rely on this aid.

The Diamer-Bhasha dam’s position in the disputed territory of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and the opposition of India to the project, have made it difficult to find international backers. Due to its funding problems, crowdsourcing the capital necessary to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam might seem like an innovative way to mitigate a looming environmental disaster, but it is likely to be unfeasible. The cost of building large dams in every part of the world almost invariably runs over budget and, at the current donation rate, the crowdfunding initiative will take 100 years to reach its goal.

There are other ways that Pakistan can avoid absolute water scarcity. The Diamer-Bhasha project is estimated to have the capacity to store 8.1 million acre feet (9,991 gigalitres), but the dam is unlikely to completely alleviate Pakistan’s water stress. A major problem is that around 18 MAF (22,572 GL) is lost to seepage from unlined irrigation canals and watercourses throughout Pakistan.  In addition, Pakistan is one of the most water-intensive countries in the world, largely because of its agricultural practices. Irrigation accounts for 95 per cent of Pakistan’s water usage, which still uses methods of flood irrigation. Other water scarce countries have moved to drip or sprinkler systems, which use water more efficiently. Pakistan also relies on wheat, rice and sugar cane crops, which are especially water-intensive.

Although the Diamer-Bhasha dam is likely to help Pakistan mitigate climate shocks and also provide some economic benefits, simply building more reservoirs will not be enoughto offset the amount of water lost to inefficiencies or to compensate for prolonged periods of low rainfall.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 19th, 2018 at 1:05 pm and is filed under Pakistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

Comments are closed.

© 2023 Water Politics LLC .  'Water Politics', 'Water. Politics. Life', and 'Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty World' are service marks of Water Politics LLC.