The Pulse

Pakistan and the Dam Fund

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The Pulse

Pakistan and the Dam Fund

Can Pakistan crowdfund itself two dams and thus out of a looming water crisis?

Pakistan and the Dam Fund

A woman holds an umbrella as she walks on a dry bank that provides water to Islamabad and Rawalpindi at Rawal Dam in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, June 22, 2018.

Credit: AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), Pakistan will dry up by 2025.

Pakistan touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. The initial fear was that the country would reach the absolute water scarcity line by 2025 if the right decisions were not made at the right time. That time passed long ago.

Water availability per capita in Pakistan has depleted to an alarming level. Past governments did little to deal with this massive crisis as it approached.

At present, to deal with the crisis, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, initiated a dam fund for the construction of dams.

While hearing a suo moto case of a report prepared by the PCRWR on water scarcity in Pakistan and a petition regarding the Kalabagh Dam, the apex court was told that no new dam had been built in the country for 48 years. As there is a clash over the Kalabagh dam, the chief justice suggested that the government construct other dams immediately.

In July 2018, he said that the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams should be constructed immediately, keeping in mind the water crisis the country faces.

The Diamer-Bhasha dam is to be built in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan and the Mohmand dam is to be built on the Swat River in the Manda area.

The Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dam Fund – 2018

Nisar ordered the Ministry of Finance on July 4 to open a bank account under the title of the “Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dam Fund – 2018” to generate funds from the public for the construction of the two dams.

The account was made functional on July 6, 2018. Nisar urged the people to donate for the dam fund. He initiated the drive by depositing 1 million Pakistani rupees ($8,120) in the dam fund from his personal account. He was followed by some other judges, armed forces officials, bureaucrats, media houses and other public and private organizations which donated to the dam fund.

Through September 28, the dam fund bank account had more than 4.1 billion Pakistani rupees ($33.6 million). The fundraising status of the dam fund is available to the public on the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s website.

All branches of state bank of Pakistan, all treasuries and branches of the National Bank of Pakistan and all other scheduled banks are accepting donations for the fund. Many banks have displayed banners outside their branches stating the donations for the dam fund were being accepted. Banks have also sent SMS alerts to their customers to notify them of the development.

Furthermore, the chief justice is directing various fines levied by the court to be deposited to the fund.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on August 8 issued a notification to all private TV channels on the orders of the Supreme Court directing them to dedicate one minute of their daily morning shows and prime-time broadcasts to public service announcements (PSAs) appealing the public to donate for the dam fund.

Prime Minister Imran Khan Takes Over the Dam Fund

In his second speech to the nation, new Prime Minister Imran Khan took over the dam fund, saying it was not the chief justice’s job. He appreciated Nisar’s efforts but said that it was the job of the civilian government who had neglected the task for years.

He urged overseas Pakistanis to contribute as well.

“If every overseas Pakistani donates $1,000, we will have enough to build the dams ourselves,” the prime minister said. 

However, he later explained that he knew it was not easy for every overseas Pakistani to donate $1,000 for the dam, especially those who live and work in the Middle East, yet those who were living in Europe and the United States should at least send $1,000.

So far, donations coming from overseas Pakistanis are quite low. As of September 24, the share of overseas Pakistani donations in the fund was just 7.8 percent of the total donations.

On September 24, the Supreme Court approved a change in the name of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dam fund. The fund will now be called Supreme Court and Prime Minister’s fund for Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams.

The Critics

This crowdfunding effort for the construction of both dams has been criticized on different grounds by analysts, experts, and average people. The biggest criticism over the initiative is that these heavy projects cannot be built by raising funds in this manner.

Criticisms were not welcomed by the chief justice, who said in a meeting with journalists that anyone who is opposing the effort is a traitor and an enemy of the state.

Nisar also said that he was trying to see if Article 6 of the Constitution, which is applicable to high treason cases, can be applied to those opposing the construction of new dams.

Later, PEMRA issued a notification to all private TV channels in which it claimed that the channels were reportedly airing analysis and comments which were “containing aspersions about the judiciary without any editorial control.”

The media watchdog warned of strict actions if any channel is found airing such remarks or comments. 

Can Pakistan Really Crowdfund Dams?

This is not the first crowdfunded campaign in Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began a similar campaign for development projects across the country. Television channels used to run an ad asking everyone to contribute one rupee a day.

Three-time Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif launched a “qarz utaro, mulk sanwaro” (Repay debts for the country’s prosperity) scheme in 1998, soon after he assumed the office to pay off Pakistan’s external debt. No one knows quite where that money went.

Former President Pervez Musharraf also launched a president’s relief fund after the earthquake of 2005 to help the victims of the earthquake. People from all walks of life came forward and contributed to the relief fund, but enthusiasm soon waned.  

Pakistan surely needs more dams to increase its water storage capacity and to provide water to future generations, but this is not the right solution. The intentions of the Supreme Court and the prime minister, aside, new dams alone cannot solve Pakistan’s water crisis. The population of Pakistan is increasing at a rate of 2.4 percent per year. The government is not doing enough to bring this rate down. A larger population demands more water. Pakistan also needs to focus on reforms in its water management systems and water pricing along with the construction of new dams if it truly aims to avoid its dry fate.

Tehreem Azeem is a digital media journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan. She holds a master degree in International Journalism from the Communication University of China. She reports on media censorship, human rights violations and social issues. She tweets @tehreemazeem