Gilgit-Baltistan: Central Asia of Pakistan-I (The writer derived from his publication in The Nation dated August 30, 2002)
Syed Shams ud Din
Undeniably, hydel power is being considered the cheapest source of energy after solar energy hence any country having immense hydro-electric prospects of hydroelectric-power generation may attain unimaginable progress provided these resources are harnessed prudently. We in Pakistan, despite being endowed with gigantic water resources, lamentably run short of the direly needed energy.
Resorting to another means of energy not that much cost-effective has not simply failed to yield any tangible results for economic sheer reasons. Even strivings made all along in the past in the context hydro-power projects resulted in various controversies and political bickering of this kind or that disregarding the prime national imperatives. What instead was needed then was a coherent national policy to be consistently and pragmatically pursued by all the regimes that be, to help catapult the nation economically by catering fully to the energy needs that keep the country haunting.
The loftier the fall, the greater the hydel power generation mechanically work in tandem. Gilgit-Baltistan owing to the its stupendous geological setting, is home to innumerable gravitational falls at countless places all along its rivers, rivulets of nullahs here. There is absolutely no need to build a dam or any reservoir for raising water levels for its regulated and gravitational taming to run the turbines.
Unlike the plains or to put it, in the down country, resorts has inevitably to taken to build mega-dams for the dual purpose of raising water level for hydel power generation and storage as well. The mechanically or artificially attained level-raising or storage, as the history of dams bears it out, is always fraught with a litany of problems – environmental, socio-economic cost and political - spawning endless debates each and every aspect connected therewith. To say the least, even a new proposal when it at all gets mooted or floated for forging consensus, sparks off endless controversies not attuned to the national interest and the result is usually landing of the well-conceived project in doldrums.
This is regardless of the fact that the impending water crisis around the globe – particularly the water-scarce countries - necessitates extraordinary measures to be taken by the respective nations by the way of coordinated responses and concerted efforts to be geared towards scientifically overcoming such predicaments on the global level obviously for being able to effectively grapple with the imminent threats. A grim situation as made public by leading researchers in this respect truly paints a gloomy picture which according to them, is to exacerbate during the very first quarter of century 21st century. It is said that as many as 17 more countries getting plussed on to the already 37 water-scarce countries on the planet.
This indeed, calls for effective conservation and evolving prudent water management strategies by all nations without any inordinate delay, to avert the danger lurking ahead. What the is needed to be done in this scenario is finding viable alternatives to meet the upcoming requirements when the population graph would be going uncheckably up. True that the situation associated with mere drinking water during the upcoming times as held by these researchers – eminent glacialogists, climatologists and mountain ecologists – paints a very gloomy picture but nonetheless, efforts are along side, to be inevitably geared towards hydel power generation in a way that the conservation and management of the existing water resources could be made to meet the dual purpose.
In Pakistan, viable alternatives are available to conserve and manage the abundant water resources In Gilgit-Baltistan where a number of mega hydel projects can be implemented in eco-friendly manner, all along the narrow gorges of twelve fast-flowing rivers here in addition to a number of adjoining nullahs with water-falls aplenty. The construction of each such project out of many, wouild entail no construction of storage dams hence there can be no accompanying controversy whatsoever associated with their construction here.
Significantly, the non-controversial nature of mega projects as afore-said guarantees a better future for the country provided a coherent national water management and conservation policy remains on the anvil.
It needs be emphasized here that the mini-dams or mega projects whatsoever, would involve re-channelising or canalizing aimed at diversion of the fast-flowing rivers towards the areas where proposed commissioning of the turbines would take place. This change of river course wouldn’t entail any storage save that a mini-storage that could not in anyway, disrupt the perennial flow, would help commissioning of powerful turbines at innumerable places here. Even otherwise, a very simple channelized diversion of water flow without involving least amount of water reserve, can help generate thousands of megawatts of hydel power across Gilgit-Baltistan.
But nonetheless, there are gigantic prospects of building innumerable mini-storage dams all along the nullahs in addition to those at countless narrow gorges all along its twelve rivers.
The rivers of Gilgit-Baltistan including Gilgit, Hunza, Shayoke, Shigar, Yasin, Gupis, Astore, Tangir, Darel, Ishkoman, Nagar and the River Indus. This is indeed, in addition to a number of nullahs like Bagrote, Juglote (Sai), Kargah – a few to be named in Gilgit region. This is besides a great number of such fast-flowing nullahs in Ghizar, Skardu, Ghanche, Astore, Diamir which together, offer a great potential in terms of hydel-power generation. It is pertinent to make a mention of the tremendous potential of the nullahs, known to this writer, in Gilgit region. One such hydel project has recently been implemented at Juglote (Guro) – 37 kilometres short of Gilgit city. The site selection and technical studies associated with this project have been carried out quite prudently as this nullah offers immense feasibility for the purpose.
As its PC-I envisages, the project was likely to go into operation by the end of last year but nonetheless, the same has inordinately been delayed for unknown reasons. What however, becomes implicit in its case is some apparent flaws associated with the turbine commissioning, elese there was no reason to delay its operation. The projected power generation from Guro is put at four megawatts and its successful operation could alleviate the sufferings of the dwellers of Gilgit city to some extent in the sense that these needs can be met fully if the project called ‘Naltar Hydel Scheme’ gets accomplished. It is equally pertinent to mention of yet another nullah – Bagrote nullah – where a scheme stands already implemented about a decade and a half ago at Jalalabad. This nullah too, offers great prospects for hydel power generation if at all phase-II gets implemented at Hoopeh in Upper Bagrote.
Leaving this aside, there are a number of such nullahs where mega-hydel projects to generate thousands of megawatts of hydel power can be put in place. According to a very cautious estimate as available with the Gilgit Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GBCCI) – about 40,000 megawatts of hydel power can be generated by way of hydel power across Gilgit-Baltistan. This all be made attainable simply by way of diversions and channelizing the fast flowing water of nullahs – not to speak of the rivers as referred to in the fore-going. The entire Gilgit-Baltistan offering a sheer rocky terrain ideally suits a great number of power houses. It can thus be turned into veritable ‘power house’ of Pakistan in terms of unimaginable hydel power to be generated from this region.
It can aptly called the ‘Central Asia of Pakistan’ given the tremendous prospects of hydro-electric power. What is yet not quite understandable is the sort of inaction and insensitivity with regard to harnessing this gigantic potential which any other country lacks.
It is also profitable to refer to a statement attributed by a regional weekly to a fomer head of IRSA – Indus River System Authority – having divulged that the construction of Skardu Dam had remained on the anvil as far back as late sixties and a report as to its feasibility was then processed.
The storage capacity of this dam, he put at was 35 million acre feet (maf) – equivalent to the annual water flow being wasted. This, if at all, has any veracity, could have been the largest dam of its kind.