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Questions about water project for Quetta

Questions about water project for Quetta

The government of Balochistan intends to embark upon an ambitious plan of providing water to Quetta from Pat Feeder and Kachhi canals through a 271-km-long pipeline, but the project has already set off a debate among experts on water issues.

The total cost of the project has been estimated at Rs40 billion (56 per cent of the current Public Sector Development Plan — Rs 71bn) and it is scheduled for completion in three years.

In the current financial year Rs10bn has been earmarked for feasibility report, mobilisation work, consultant fee and land acquisition.

The pipeline, with a diameter of 56 inches, will run from Naseerabad to Quetta. It will pass through the districts of Lahri, Sibi, Kachhi and Mastung — areas which feature plains as well as mountainous terrain.

All these districts constitute a high-risk zone where Baloch militants have frequently blown up power pylons, gas pipelines and rail tracks. Attacks on passenger trains and buses are not uncommon either.

Although officials of the government departments concerned are optimistic about its success, water experts have raised questions about its safety as well as operational and management costs.

Officials of the Public Health Engineering Department discount safety fears, saying that the project will run parallel to other networks like roads, rail tracks and the Sui gas pipeline. They contend that trains and buses carrying hundreds of passengers pass through these areas safely every day, barring the isolated incident. “The government cannot afford to sit idle on account of safety concerns,” quipped Sheikh Mohammad Nawaz, Secretary, Public Health Engineering, while talking to Dawn.

He suggested that the government should make it unlawful for people living in the districts in question to draw water from the pipeline. “Otherwise, the shortage in Quetta won’t go away.”

The project envisages pumping of 120 cusecs of water with the help of eight pumping stations from a height of 350 to 7,000 feet above sea level.

The general public has shown an almost habitual cynicism, predicting that the project will, as usual, turn out to be a jackpot for a handful of politicians and bureaucrats.

Another question, and a technical one, is that how 120 cusecs will be pumped from a height of 350 feet to a height of 7,000ft with the help of eight power stations on different sites. And at what cost?

“It is virtually impossible to pump water round the clock with eight power stations, each having six 240 horsepower motors, while the whole system needs an uninterrupted electricity supply,” an official of the Planning and Development Department asserted.

At present, the official hastened to add, Balochistan’s interior gets only four hours of uninterrupted power supply, on an average.

He argues that naturally the pumping stations will either be powered with the help of fuel-fired generators or solar energy or a separate power house having a capacity of 100 megawatts will have to be set up.

Sheikh Nawaz, the PHE secretary, defends the project, saying that an expenditure of Rs40bn for two million people was not uneconomical. “Considering its utility, the cost is nothing and it should be executed on priority.”

According to him, there is not much groundwater near Quetta while dam projects like Mangi, Halak and Burj Aziz have yet to take off.

Moreover, he warned, since Quetta was not in the monsoon range, these dams might go dry.

Sixty million gallons of water per day (MGD) are needed for Quetta’s two million people while the combined projected output of the three dams would be, at best, 35MGD.

OTHER OPTIONS: Dr Shahid Ahmad, an Islamabad-based water expert who has been studying different projects for over eight years in Balochistan, feels that the project can be executed, but at the same time considers the security, operational and maintenance cost aspect as unfavourable.

“My suggestion is that cheaper options should be adopted, for example a network of small and big dams around Quetta to solve the water problem,” he adds.

The military authorities are also monitoring the whole process —ranging from inviting proposals for feasibility report to its completion.

According to sources, NESPAK and FWO are being engaged to expedite the pace of work. “I am very much optimistic because military authorities are doing everything under their supervision, but If NESPAK is co-opted, it will reduce the odds for success,” one of them said.

“The NAB has investigated a project undertaken by NESPAK in Gwadar and found some wrongdoing,” a senior official recalled.

The organisation undertook water treatment projects on Sabzal and Samungli roads in Quetta, but has yet to complete them even though many months have lapsed since expiry of the deadline, another official observed.

Most of these officials recommend hiring of foreign companies, especially the Chinese ones, to execute this gigantic project.

Some officials have said the government should organise seminars and public forums to seek the opinions of experts and the general public before embarking upon such an ambitious undertaking.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2016

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