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Pakistan Inaugurates Enormous Dam Project Despite Protests

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani today inaugurated construction of a controversial mega-dam project in an effort to meet Pakistan's rising energy needs, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Gilani told participants at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Diamer Bhasha Dam in the Gilgit Baltistan region that the dam is the largest development project in Pakistan's history.

Officials say the dam's generating capacity will be 4,500 megawatts (MW). That will help alleviate the daily 12-14 hour per day power outages.

In 2007, Pakistan's total generating capacity was 19,505 MW. But the country's largest water reservoirs are inadequate to meet growing demands for electricity.

Local residents, however, oppose construction of the new dam.

Earlier, residents of Kohistan district staged a protest. They complained that the government has failed to relocate families whose homes will be flooded or pay them compensation for the loss of their land.

Kohistan resident Muhammad Ghazi told Radio Mashaal today they will continue to protest until the government provides them with financial compensation or land.

"This is not the first time, but the second time that this dam is being inaugurated," Ghazi said. "Earlier, [President] Pervez Musharraf also inaugurated construction of the same project."

Experts say construction of new dams was halted in the past for political reasons, contributing to today's serious energy shortfall in Pakistan.

Shamsul Mulk, the former chairman of Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority, said the feasibility report for the Diamer Bhasha Dam was prepared in 1981.

"Had the government and people accepted the dam construction plan at that time, the project would have been completed," Mulk said. "But it was not launched because of the propaganda, and now we are in trouble [because of the energy crisis]."