Revisiting dams construction quality in Balochistan

QUETTA   -   Balochistan is a province dominated by arid climate having 85% depen­dency on agriculture and live­stock where the precipitation ratio as compared to rest of the country is very low mak­ing water a precious commod­ity for its population. 

Therefore, to meet the needs of its population, respective governments resorted to con­struction of weirs, canals, channels and dams with the small and big dams tally touch­ing around 1085 figure.

This is surely the largest number of dams in all the four provinces to meet the needs of Balochistan people who are mainly dependent on agricul­ture and livestock businesses.

But recent climatic im­pacts and torrential rains in the province had raised many questions about the quality of construction of these dams as dozens of dams suffered dam­ages due to heavy downpour.

Experts believe there had been some technical flaws or absence of globally recognised development protocols that these dams could not sustain the changing weather patterns.

They think the effective­ness of dams - the sole source of hope for residents of Ba­lochistan’s parched land - could not pay off fully due to reasons like improper man­agement, quality of construc­tion and lack of research in­stitute on rainfall and disaster risk reduction procedures.

“Garuk Dam constructed in Kharan district is one such ex­ample where better planning could save billions of rupees,” stated an Engineer of the Irri­gation Department.

He revealed that as per PC-1 of the cost of this under con­struction dam was estimated at Rs12 billion but it reached Rs27 billion. “The height of dam in revised PC-I is de­creased from 55m (180 ft) to 52m (171 ft) but the live stor­age capacity is increased from 24,896 AF to 27,073 AF.” 

Moreover, he said the dis­charge capacity is also in­creased from 60 Cusecs to 73.1 Cusecs increasing the cost of spillway from Rs1150.620 mil­lion to Rs5797.764 million.

According to reports, 38 dams alone in Qila Abdullah district were damaged besides over a dozen in Quetta, eleven in Khuzdar, nine in Hub, Dera Bugti and Bela seven in Kachhi, five each in Chagai Nushki, Harnai, Zhob and Musa Khel, twelve in Duki, Surab, Kharan Washuk Mastung, Kech, Kalat, Surab and Kohlu districts.

“We need to strictly im­plement globally recognised standards in construction of dams in Balochistan,” observed Dr Deen Muhammad Kakar, a geological expert. “Geophysi­cal, geological and feasibility surveys are three layer prereq­uisites we need to practice in construction of a quality dam.”

“If we do not fully care for land’s lithology and efficacy of the planned dam, we would waste our money,” he said and mentioned to failure of 25 dams constructed in Chaman district that he claimed were construct­ed in the seismic zone.

“This situation demands proper designs, use of stand­ard materials, maintain qual­ity control through regular health checks to serve the real purpose of providing water to people,” he added. The experts also believe that reputation and competence of contractors must also be fully taken care of while awarding the contract because the contracts awarded to incompetent builders cost in billions to national kitty.

“When we award contract to less qualified consultants, how could we be sure about quali­ty of design and construction,” stated Dr Deen Muhammad. 

This is a common apathy in our system that sometimes the contracts of certain pro­jects are awarded either under political influence or on basis of personal relations. There­fore, this tendency must be shunned to save billions of ru­pees fleeced from our kitty.

Although the challenge is enormous yet the concerned government departments are confident to cope with this sit­uation through multiple steps initiated recently.

“The government in collab­oration with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Air Aviation and Planning and Development Department is working on construction of Automatic Weather Stations,” said Abdul Razaq Khilji, Di­rector General Water Resourc­es Planning, Development and Monitoring Directorate of Irri­gation Department. “This pro­ject would help us compile the data of rainfall and construct dams keeping in view the ex­pected rainfall.”

He agreed that construction standards must be updated to international standards and stated, “A three-pronged ap­proach including geological specialists could guarantee the dams’ utmost success.”

“Dams built without careful planning and necessary pro­tocols prove to be potential target of harsh weather like we witnessed in 2022,” Khilji said. “Unfortunately, we were unable to preserve thousands of cubic feet water after re­cord-breaking rains in 2022.”

As the Irrigation Department is mandated to meet water needs of people besides mon­itoring and improving the de­pleting water table in 18 river basins across Balochistan, it is confident to come up to mass­es aspirations. “The present government is thriving hard to achieve those goals and there will be a considerable impact on the livelihood of people living in this province,” commented Sec­retary Irrigation Hafiz Majid.

Since, Balochistan still needs a modern system to predict on rainfall and rainwater har­vesting, the dams are normal­ly built on the basis of last dec­ade’s rainfall data. 

Therefore, it is direly need­ed to establish state of the art land research centre, an ear­ly weather warning system for rains and floods prediction and ensuring quality construc­tion through judicious con­tract awarding mechanism

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