By Abid Hussain
BBC Urdu, Islamabad
30 October 2018
Cash-poor Pakistan is crowdfunding a drive to collect almost $17bn from its citizens, officials, businesses and stars in order to build two massive dams to help counter a future water crisis.
One of the dams would be among the biggest in the world. But is the project for real or is it a monumental folly, as some are calling it?
If it’s ever built, the dam at Diamer-Bhasha in the north-west would have a generating capacity of 4,500MW and stand 272m (892ft) high, making it the world’s sixth tallest dam.
Located near the Himalayan peak Nanga Parbat, it would block off a huge valley system on the upper reaches of the Indus river.
The dam has been talked about for more than a decade, but plans to begin construction were given fresh impetus this summer not by water experts or ministers – but by Pakistan’s top judge, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar.
Following a report predicting severe water shortages in the country by 2025, he set up a fund to raise $14bn to build the mega-dam in Diamerg, and $2.5bn to build an 800MW dam in Mohmand, about 120km (75 miles) to the south-west.
“It is possible that we will get more money than the required amount,” said the judge.
Justice Nisar became the first donor, contributing roughly $8,000 to the fund. Many others have since followed suit.
These include various branches of the military, which have donated a whopping $7.3m. Businesses, officials, sports stars, school pupils and other ordinary people are among those who have also stumped up cash.
Almost every day there’s a press release from the Supreme Court with news of different individuals and institutions meeting the chief justice and donating to the fund. Many have cases pending in court, which has raised suspicions they may be trying to influence the judiciary.
There are many donors who appear glad to have contributed, but not all agree.
Marium Zia Khan, an Islamabad resident, told the BBC she would not contribute to the fund.
“While I understand water scarcity merits urgent attention… crowdfunding mega infrastructure projects such as a dam is a flawed idea.”