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Diamer Bhasha Dam, Pakistan


The President of Pakistan during his national address on 17th January 2006 announced the decision to construct 5 multi-purpose water storages in the country over the next 10 -12 years. The Diamer Basha Dam Project, on the river Indus and closed to the Tarbela dam, will be one of these and will be undertaken in the first phase. It was announced as the worlds highest Roller Compacted Concrete Dam. The projects foundation stone was laid in 2011 with construction planned to be completed in 2016. The project is estimated to cost over US$8.5 billion with a reservoir covering 20,000 ha that will flood 100 kilometers of the Karakoram highway, and the villages and farms of over 35,000 people (1). It would provide 4500 MW of electricity to the national grid.

According to Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) of Pakistan, China will very likely fund the bulk of project costs and even provide some 17,000 workers previously employed in the Three Gorges Dam Project. Moreover, as the project will be supported by Chinese funds, construction works will also most likely be directed and operated by Chinese companies as per Chinese national policies.

However, in a recent meeting in 2013 in the US, the Pakistan government also called for help from the Pakistan-US Energy Cooperation. The two delegations reviewed the existing cooperation and explored future cooperation in oil and gas as well as in other power sectors and also discussed the renewable energy potential in Pakistan. Both sides agreed that Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Central Asia-South Asia electricity transmission project (CASA-1000) projects would assist regional integration and will greatly help in meeting growing energy demands in the region (4).

With economic growth rates between six and eight percent in recent years, the energy needs of the country are growing more rapidly than new energy generation capacity. Lots of power cuts affect urban life and commercial and industrial activities; however, not only power shortages but poorly maintained transmission lines are among the main causes for this. Pakistan is consuming all of its domestically produced natural gas, and is making plans to construct a pipeline to import gas from Iran. Domestic oil resources are not sufficient to meet the needs of the country and imports of oil as well as refined petroleum products from the Middle East are steadily growing. Thermal power plants generate roughly two-thirds of the country’s electricity.

Hydropower now accounts for a third of the nations electricity production, and it has been urgently put into the governments agenda in the last decade. Interestingly enough, one of the reasons for pushing for more hydropower projects is compensating losses in energy production due to early siltation of previous projects, like Tarbela dam (3).

Concerns have been raised since the beginning of the plan for various reasons; firstly, the poor environmental and social record of Chinas global dam industry that could lead to inadequate assessments of impacts.

Second, that the energy produced will not benefit the majority of the population, including farmers and riverine communities, but will only benefit water-thirsty industry and luxury resorts and urban areas in Islamabad and the other four provinces. Yet it is not a project that will increase access to electricity in rural Pakistan. The houses in 40,000 Pakistani villages without access to electricity will not suddenly light up after the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam (2).

Third, since the project is located near Chilas, on the border of the North Western Frontier Province and Northern Areas, it might impact the politically contested Northern Areas, or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as it is known in India, and could contribute to further unrest in the region. The World Bank, which initially appeared to have an interest in the project and is historically the major funder of large dams in Pakistan, has in fact declined to fund Diamer-Bhasha because of its location in a territory claimed by both India and Pakistan.

Fourth, the reservoir will submerge the carvings which represent the great cultural flourishing and exchange of the Indus Valley regions portion of the Silk Road.

Fifth, the project is located in a earthquake-prone region. In 2005, an earthquake killed over 75,000 people.

Protests have been going on for years among local communities against displacement, submergence of fertile land and against the location of the project, as it is an ecologically sensitive region. Delay in the payment of compensation has also mounted the agitations. Sit-ins, road blockades and marches are ongoing and an appeal has been launched to the Asian Development Bank to cut financing the project.

In January 2014, China has been demanding that all mega power projects, including the Bhasha Dam, Gaddani and Lakhra coal plants, the Tarbela Extension project and many transmission lines, be handed over to China without any international bidding process, and Beijing will directly invest $22 billion in Pakistan (5).

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Diamer Bhasha Dam, Pakistan
State or province:Northern Pakistan
Location of conflict:Chilaas
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The project is estimated to generate 4,500 MW.

MAIN DAM Maximum Height: 270 m Type Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) DIVERSION SYSTEM 2 No. Diversion tunnels 1 No. Diversion canal Upstream and Downstream Cofferdams MAIN SPILLWAY No. of gates 9 Size of gate 16.5 The 200 km2 reservoir would flood 100 km of the Karakoram highway, villages that house over 35,000 people would disappear, and up to 50,000 thousand-year old rock carvings would vanish.

Project area:20,000: reservoir
Level of Investment:8,500,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:300
Start of the conflict:2006
Company names or state enterprises:Lahmeyer from Germany - exploratory phase
AECOM from Canada - exploratory phase
Mott MacDonald from India - exploratory phase
China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG ) from China - exploratory phase
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Water & Power of Pakistan, Water and Power Development Authority [WAPDA]
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
The World Bank (WB) from United States of America
US Agency for International Development (USAID)
Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:International Rivers, Pakistan Fisherfolks Forum, Local parties

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Land occupation
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Air pollution, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Deaths
Other Health impacts0
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
The death of two protestors was due to police opening fire during a street protest in 2010. The newpaper The News reported as follows: Dam Troubles The News (Pakistan) Saturday, February 20, 2010 Although only in its very early stages, the building of Bhasha dam appears fraught with difficulty, death and disruption. The police fired on protesters in Chilas who were angry at the way in which those affected by the building of the new - and essential - dam were being treated. They were demanding a share of the royalties generated by the dam, an increase in the compensation awarded to them and resolution of the border dispute between Gilgit-Baltistan and NWFP. Two protesters died in the firing, others were injured and the local populace displayed their displeasure by burning down the offices of the assistant commissioner, the superintendent of police and two police checkpoints. They also burned government vehicles and blocked Karakoram Highway in both directions for several hours ? and all this before work on the dam has got into top gear. Paramilitary forces and police reinforcements have been sent to stabilise the situation. (...)
Development of alternatives:Small scale hydro projects and a redefinition of energy policies and strategy by the central government.
Providing electricity to small villages through community- or family- based devices for solar, wind and small hydro power.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the protests, the project has been implemented and construction of the plant is ongoing.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Pomeranz, K. The Great Himalayan Watershed, New Left Review 2009

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

(2) Schneider, K. Fast track power generation

(1) International Rivers

Official website of the project

The Tribune, Diamer-Bhasha Dam: Kohistan villagers continue blockade of KKH for third day

The Nation, Nationalists protest against Bhasha Dam across Sindh July 20, 2010

(4) Dawn. com Pakistan seeks greater US support for Diamer-Bhasha dam

(3) Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Rising Protests Against Diamer Basha Dam


Meta information

Contributor:Daniela Del Bene
Last update08/04/2014