Revisiting dams construction quality in Balochistan

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QUETTA (APP): 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 down pour.

Experts believe there had been some technical flaws or absence of globally recognized 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 Rs 12 billion but it reached Rs 27 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 Rs.1150.620 million to Rs. 5797.764 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 recognized 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 center, an early weather warning system for rains and floods prediction and ensuring quality construction through judicious contract awarding mechanism.

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