Dera Ismail Khan: The government has formally launched construction work on ‘Shakai Dam’ in Pakistan’s war-ridden tribal region, aimed at developing the restive area and generating job opportunities for locals to discourage the trend of militancy, documents obtained by News Lens Pakistan reveal.
A senior official in the local administration in South Waziristan, who wished to go unnamed because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media, said the first-ever water reservoir is being built in Shakai, a scenic valley in the area where Pakistani military and then Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Naik Muhammad inked a peace deal on April 24, 2004.
However, that deal appeared unraveled after Naik Muhammad was killed in a US drone strike on June 17, 2004. The official at the local administration said, “It was under government’s consideration for years to construct a dam in the Shakai valley.”
The dam, he said, would help irrigate a large area and provide potable water to thousands of families. Back in 2009, Pakistani military launched Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation) to flush out foreign militants and their local collaborators from South Waziristan, the birth place of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
As the military, the official said, had in the recent past declared parts of South Waziristan cleared of militants, the government has taken the maiden big step to develop the region by building a dam.
Media reports that South Waziristan was a notorious sanctuary for global and local terrorists from where they launch attacks inside Pakistan and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Parts of Pakistan in general and the country’s tribal region, widely known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in particular witnessed bloody clashes between Pakistani security forces and militants, sparking mass exodus of local population.
Figure by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), an institute for conflict management, suggests that from 2003-2016 around 20,966 civilians and 6,439 security personnel have been killed in terror related violence in Pakistan.
Ayaz Wazir, former ambassador and expert on tribal affairs, said it is a bold step to build a dam in South Waziristan, which would bring positive changes in lives of tribal masses.
“The people there are really living a tough life. The dam will reduce their miseries,” he hoped.
Hamid Wazir, a senior journalist from tribal region, said that Fata is a neglected area in terms of development with no university or any big water reservoir. “The construction of the dam will for sure spur development activities such as boosting local agriculture and generating job opportunities.”
“The completion of the dam will indirectly reduce extremist tendency as well,” Wazir remarked. The tribal families’ repatriation process has gained momentum to parts of tribal areas, including South Waziristan.
Documents available with News Lens Pakistan reveal that the picturesque Shakai valley has a total 70,000 population and situated at 33 kilometers in north of Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan.
Statistics by FATA Secretariat show the total population of South Waziristan as per 1998 stands at 429,841 persons, with a 6,619 square kilometers area.
Because of its strategic location, a large number of people from parts of the tribal area visit the lush green Shakai valley on special occasion such as Eid festivals.
Ali Wazir, a leading tribal elder from South Waziristan, said, “Indubitably, the dam will leave far-reaching positive impact on local economy and agriculture.”
He suggested that rights of local population in terms of jobs in the facility should not be trampled and locals be given preference in hiring staff for the dam.
The official at the local administration said that the dam will be completed by December 2017.
Muhammad Ikram, another tribesman, said that construction of the dam is the long standing demand of locals.
“Thousands of families will get clean drinking water because at this time we fetch water from a one kilometer distance,” Ikram said, adding there is dire need to curve out water channels from the dam to irrigate more lands.
Since there is no industry and most of the tribal people are jobless, forcing many youngsters to look to militants’ organizations, he said, hoping that job opportunities would keep locals busy to “eke out livelihood in a descent way.”
Figures provided by FATA Secretariat reveal that from 2008-2009, only 8% of the total FATA area is cultivated, while more than 86% of the land is not available for cultivation.
Figure shows that this kind of approach puts intense pressure on available farmland, which supports an average of 18 persons per cultivated hectare, and more than 40 persons per irrigated hectare. “Some 39% of farmland is under irrigation, with the remaining cultivated area depend entirely on rainfall,” figure shows.
The dam, the documents reveal would be completed with an estimated cost of Rs. 676.143 million funded by the federal government. It shows the life span of the vital reservoir to be 57 years.
The dam has 1,193 AF of water storage capacity, which would irrigate almost 900 acres of land. The documents reveal that almost 462 acres of land is under cultivation at this time.
In addition, the water reservoir would have around 0.096 million gallons of potable water storage tank, which would be supplied to 3,000 families who face acute shortage of clean drinking water.
Moreover, the document predicts that construction of the dam would diminish floods’ intensity besides bolstering socio-economic standard of local populace.
Earlier, the documents say that M/S Electra Consultants, Peshawar in collaboration with M/S Techno-Consult International and EASE-Pak Consultants Lahore, Pakistan carried out the feasibility study for the project.
But neither official of the companies working on the vital project could be reached for comments because of communication problem in the region.
That survey pointed out that around 1,000 acres of land is barren, which could be turned cultivable and fertile. The area could produce enough crops, the study found that could meet local population demand.
The dam will consist of components such as Earth Core Rock Fill Dam, 32 meter high above the streambed with crest elevation of 2,082m and top eight project width of 10m. In addition, the reservoir would contain a spillway to discharge maximum flood water.
The documents note that access road, electric supply and bridges would be built accordingly. It said that water from the dam would be supplied to command area through circular channel of 600 mm diameter, which would be connected to an irrigation canal.
The project would not affect or displace local population because it is being built at an uninhabited location.
The documents further reveal that few livelihood opportunities available to Fata people. The local economy is chiefly pastoral, with agriculture practiced in a few fertile valleys. Most households are engaged in primary-level activities, such as, subsistence agriculture and livestock rearing, or small-scale business conducted locally. Others are involved in trade within the tribal belt or with down-country markets.
Most of the food grains are brought from other districts, but with the implementation of the project the food grains will also be available locally, Hamid Wazir added.
According to the 1998 census, FATA is home to a population of roughly 3.18 million people. The annual population growth between 1981 and 1998 was calculated to be 2.19%.