China and Pakistan have agreed to finance and build two mega dams in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) for this development was signed by the leaders of the two countries on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Beijing.
Actual vs Potential Hydropower in South Asia. Source: Economist Magazine
The two dams, called Bunji and Diamer-Bhasha projects, will have the capacity to generate 7,100MW and 4,500MW of electricity respectively. China will provide $27 billion to fund the construction of the two dams, according to media reports.
Pakistan’s Hydropower Potential:
Pakistan has the potential to generate 59,000MW of hydropower, according to studies conducted by the nation’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). Currently, it’s generating only 6,600MW of hydroelectric power, about 11% of the estimated potential. Media reports indicate that China is prepared to finance and build another 40,000MW capacity as part of the development of the Northern Indus Cascade region which begins in Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan and runs through to Tarbela, the site of Pakistan’s biggest dam, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Diamer-Bhasha Water Storage:
Diamer-Bhasha project is located on Indus River, about 200 miles upstream from the existing Tarbela Dam, 100 miles downstream from the Northern Area capital Gilgit in Gilgit-Baltistan region. It will generate 4,500 MW of electricity and its reservoir will hold so much water that it could have averted recent devastating floods that affected large parts of Pakistan. It would also provide enough electricity to end Pakistan’s crippling shortages, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper. The Diamer-Bhasha reservoir would be 50 miles long, holding 8.5 MAF (million acre feet) of water.
Response to Climate Change:
Pakistan has made only a small contribution to climate change through carbon emissions. And yet, it counts among the dozen or so nations considered most vulnerable to its damaging effects. These include rising temperatures, recurring cycles of floods and droughts and resulting disruption in food production.
One of the ways Pakistan can help reduce carbon emissions is by realizing its full hydroelectric potential by building more dams. The development of the Northern Indus Cascade region to generate 40,000MW of hydropower is a significant part of this effort.
Prerequisite for Economic Development:
Availability of abundant and cheap electricity has historically preceded rapid economic development in America, Europe and East Asia. Pakistan has an opportunity to meet this prerequisite by generating large amounts of clean renewable hydropower to meet its hunger for energy required for rapid economic growth in all sectors of the economy ranging from agriculture to manufacturing and services.
Pakistan is endowed with significant amount of water and power resources that can be harnessed to enable rapid economic growth in all sectors of its economy. It appears that the Chinese investment, as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is now putting this goal within reach. Tens of thousands of megawatts of added electricity and millions of acre feet of additional water will hopefully transform Pakistan’s economy and bring prosperity to its people.