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Pakistani Floods Revive Debate About Controversial Dam

A family wades through flood waters while evacuating Baseera, a village in Punjab Province, where the Kalabagh Dam would be located.
A family wades through flood waters while evacuating Baseera, a village in Punjab Province, where the Kalabagh Dam would be located.
The widespread devastation caused by floods in northwestern Pakistan in recent weeks has revived debate about building the controversial Kalabagh Dam, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

The hydroelectric project is supported by officials in Punjab Province -- where it would be located -- but opposed by the authorities in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sind, and Baluchistan provinces.

Those three provinces would be upriver from the project, but officials fear that after heavy rains the dam would cause the water to back up and flood the provinces.

Supporters of the Kalabagh Dam -- first proposed decades ago -- say it would provide greater control of the Indus River and perhaps prevent flooding as well as provide electricity to a region that suffers from severe power shortages.

The three opposing provinces accuse Punjab, which is much larger and more powerful, of frequently usurping the smaller provinces' rights within the federal system.

Then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said in 2005 that the dam would be built. However, three years later Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said the project had been canceled due to opposition from the three provinces.

But the devastating recent floods have revived the issue.

Punjab chief minister and Muslim League Party leader Shahbaz Sharif told a crowd in a camp for displaced persons in the city of Mianwali last week that the province would have been spared the destruction of the floods if the Kalabagh Dam had been in place.

A similar statement was issued by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani on August 9 in the city of Multan during a tour of the flood-affected zones.

Both men vowed that the government will bring back discussion about the dam project.

However, the Awami National Party, an ally of the Pakistan People's Party-led government and currently in charge of the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, subsequently condemned the statements. It said it would never allow construction of the dam because it would submerge vast tracts of agricultural land in the province.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told Radio Mashaal that the federal government should treat the people of all provinces equally.

"We would not accept construction of Kalabagh Dam at any cost," Mian Iftikhar said. "The central government was [proposing] construction of the project, but Sindh, Pakhtuknwha, and Baluchistan opposed it. Its construction may be someone's dream but it cannot be realized. It is a dead horse from a past time and it cannot return to life."

Hussain also accused Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority of discrimination and questioned why all international assistance is being administered via the central government when most of the flood-affected areas are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

"We believe that the National Disaster Management Authority is representing the whole of Pakistan and it has to take care of all the provinces equally," Mian Iftikhar said. "It has to give [the international aid assistance] on the basis of the destruction [caused by the floods]. The most destruction took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, about 95 percent, and we must be given our due share [of aid]. But they did not give anything [so far] and we condemn this behavior, it is deplorable. They should review their actions and release our share [of the aid]."

The floods in Pakistan have killed some 1,300 people and left millions homeless and without food or water.