Kalabagh Dam – An Insight To The Conflict

Pakistan has always been under many controversies, and one of the most highlighted of these is the Kalabagh Dam issue. Have you ever heard about it? Do you know what the real story behind this issue is? If not, this article will explain everything to you. And even if you know already, you’ll be surprised to learn some hidden facts about the Kalabagh Dam project.

The Kalabagh Dam is a proposed hydropower dam on the Indus River in Pakistan. The dam would be located in Mianwali District, Punjab province. 

The dam has been under discussion since the 1980s but isn’t constructed due to political disagreements over its location. So it’s been 40 years since the intense debate over this dam’s ethnic and regional lines has not been solved.

The dam’s primary purpose is to overcome the water shortage in the country, provide irrigation water for agriculture and generate hydroelectric power. It is estimated that the dam would irrigate 7 million acres of barren land and generate 3,600 MW of electricity.

The dam is opposed by the provincial governments of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). They argue that the dam would deprive their provinces of much-needed water and cause environmental damage. The Sindh government has also raised concerns about the potential for earthquakes and flooding if the dam is built.

The Kalabagh Dam conflict is one of the most controversial Dams in Pakistan. The dam has been under discussion for over three decades but has yet to be built. 

Without further delay, let’s get into the details of this dam.

History of Kalabagh Dam

Pakistan and India, on separation, got an equal division of resources, forces, and industries. The water resources were supposed to be divided equally, but India was against it from the beginning, and that’s where the Kalabagh Dam issue birthed.

The tension began when in 1948, Indian Punjab discontinued the water flow to Pakistani Punjab. It resulted in a significant threat to crop loss in west Punjab (Pakistan). India’s purpose was to create a significant water shortage in Pakistan so that the latter would surrender to them. But this plan was foiled, and Somehow Pakistan survived that water crisis.

After the crisis and tensions between the two countries continued to increase, the World bank proposed the Indus Basin Treaty in 1960 to resolve these conflicts. 

According to this treaty, there was a fair division of rivers between two countries; Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas were given to India, while Pakistan got Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum. 

After the 1965 war, India again tried to create water scarcity in Pakistan by stopping the water flow of 3 rivers, Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas, which came under the Indus Basin Treaty. 

The World Bank also proposed the construction of two dams, i.e., Tarbela and Mangla, and provided the funds for their construction. 

Later on, during the forum of Save Water, Save Pakistan, the construction of 5 other dams was proposed. These included the Akhori dam, Munda dam, Kurram Tangi dam, and Kalabagh Dam; according to an estimation, the completion of these dams was expected to be done by 2025 to overcome the rising water demand. 

The primary purpose of building the Kalabagh Dam was to conserve water for future use, generate cheap electricity using hydropower, and reduce floods in downriver areas. 


The proposed area of the Kalabagh Dam location is close to Mianwali, and the geographical conditions of this site are pretty suitable for dam construction.

The location of Kalabagh Dam is also ideal because there are mountains on three sides, and only a wall needs to be constructed on the fourth side. It means the construction of this dam requires less effort and less labor. Therefore, the construction cost would also be lesser than the other dams. 

Not to forget, the primary purpose of this dam at the time of the proposal was to store excessive water from floods and save the country from flood disasters. But with time, the water crisis in the country rose, and the dam’s purpose changed.

So the dam, proposed only to control the flooding, later became a hydropower project to cater to the country’s electricity needs. 

Although the dam is ideal, it isn’t constructed yet due to conflicts between the provinces. 

Why is the Kalabagh Dam not been Built Yet? 

Many reasons have been cited for why the Kalabagh Dam has not been constructed yet. One of the primary reasons is the lack of consensus among the provinces. The three central provinces of Pakistan, Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), have different narratives regarding the dam. 

Another reason is that the dam has been embroiled in controversy and politics since its conception. The Kalabagh Dam has been a highly contentious issue, with supporters and opponents arguing passionately for and against the dam. 

Although the dam is beneficial in many terms, the government preferred to proceed with the Tarbela dam construction as the World Bank funded it. After the completion of the Tarbela dam, Kalabagh was the next important project in the line, but it was highly opposed by the KPK and Sindh politicians. 

Kalabagh Dam Construction Cost

The project of Kalabagh Dam was proposed by WAPDA, Pakistan, with the help of the World Bank in the 1980s. The estimated cost of the Kalabagh Dam project was nearly 2650 million dollars at that time. 

However, recent reports say construction costs have increased to 6500 million dollars. 

Kalabagh Dam Electricity Production

The expected Kalabagh Dam power capacity is 3600MW. This production output would be enough to cater to the country’s electricity needs, and the dam would help power the economy. 

The dam has a water storage capacity of up to 3 years. The controversial Kalabagh Dam is 259 ft high and 10,991 ft long, with a catchment area of 110,500 square kilometers.

The outputs of this dam don’t end here; the dam will be able to provide nearly 7 million acre-feet of water to agriculturists for irrigation and will also help reduce floods by storing floodwaters. 

Arguments Supporting the Construction of Kalabagh Dam

Some people support the construction of the Kalabagh Dam, while some always have been against it; it creates two narratives. But before we jump to those narratives, let’s see some pros of building this much-needed dam.

1.     The first and most important reason for constructing Kalabagh Dam is that it will help store water for irrigation purposes. The dam has a water storage capacity of up to 3 years to provide water to Pakistan’s shrinking reserves. It will benefit the farmers as they can irrigate their fields without worrying during the irrigation season. 

2.     The second reason is that storing floodwaters will also help reduce floods. In the past, there have been many instances where floods have caused havoc in Pakistan. By constructing Kalabagh Dam, we can store floodwaters and release them gradually into the rivers, which will help reduce the impact of floods. 

3.     Last but not least, the dam will also help generate electricity. It is estimated that the dam can generate up to 3600 MW of power, a significant amount of power. With this much power, Pakistan can meet its energy requirements. 

4.     Punjab officials, who favor this dam, see it as a climate-friendly method to provide Pakistan with renewable energy. So the dam will improve the environment of Pakistan. 


There are different narratives regarding the construction of the Kalabagh Dam. Some reports strongly favor the dam, and others are extremely opposing it. Let’s take a quick look at what these are and how these will affect the Kalabagh Dam project. 

1.     KPK’s Narrative

The narrative in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is that the Kalabagh Dam will destroy their agricultural lands and displace many people. They are also concerned about the environmental impacts of the dam. 

The significant tension resulted from politicians of KPK who argued that if the dam is constructed, it will drown Nowshera city. The only logic behind this issue was water level of Nowshera city is only a little over the Indus river. So the construction of the Kalabagh Dam will raise this water and flood Nowshera city. 

According to some false statements, Mardan, Peshawar, and Swabi would also be drowned, which experts proved wrong. 

However, the KPK’s narrative was addressed in detail by the experts who analyzed the Kalabagh Dam. The results showed that Nowshera city has no substantial connection with the dam construction. Moreover, the peak elevation of the lowest ground in Nowshera is 935 ft, and the dam reservoir would be only at 915 ft which means that Nowshera city is not at threat due to dam construction. 

2.     Sindh Narrative

The Sindh narrative is that the dam will reduce the water available for irrigation in Sindh. The irrigation needs of Sindh are met by the Indus river, which flows through the province. Since Sindh is not as fertile as other provinces, the dam construction would affect the water supply. The dam will reduce the flow of water in the Indus river, and as a result, the amount of water available for irrigation in Sindh will be reduced.

However, this argument is not supported by experts. They say that the dam will not significantly impact the water flow in the Indus river, so the irrigation needs of Sindh will not be affected. But in fact, the dam construction has continuously increased the water provision to Sindh, like Tarbela and Mangla dams.

3.     Punjab Narrative

The Punjab province has been acting as a proponent since Punjab officials see the dam as a way to benefit the country’s economy as a whole. They defend the dam’s construction as it can provide a necessary water supply for agriculture in Pakistan’s drying reserves. 

However, some people state opposing arguments, such as that the dam will affect the communities on the planned construction site. 


There is opposition to the dam from some quarters. The main arguments against the dam are that it will displace people, negatively impact the environment, and is unnecessary for Pakistan’s water needs.

1.     One of the main arguments against the dam is that it will displace many people. It is estimated that the dam will submerge the areas of Mardan, Swabi, and Nowshera, resulting in a significant number of people from KPK being displaced. 

2.     Another argument against the dam is that it will harm the environment. The dam is feared to convert Sindh into a deserted area because of water shortage and remove the city of Badin from the map because of excessive droughts.

3.     One of the main arguments against the dam is that it will harm agriculture. It is feared that the dam will reduce the water available for irrigation and lead to lower crop yields.

Predicted Benefits of Kalabagh Dam

If we talk about the predicted benefits the country will have from the construction of the Kalabagh Dam; there’s a long list to see.

1.     The Kalabagh Dam is expected to provide several benefits for Pakistan, including reducing floods, providing water for irrigation and domestic use, and generating electricity.

2.     It is estimated that the Kalabagh Dam would provide enough water to irrigate an additional 7 million acres of land and generate up to 3,600 megawatts of electricity.

3.     The dam would also help reduce the risk of floods by storing water during the monsoon season. 

4.     The Kalabagh Dam would provide a reliable water source for domestic and industrial use in the dry season.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can The Kalabagh Dam help Pakistan?

The Kalabagh Dam can help Pakistan in several ways. It is estimated that the dam would reduce the risk of floods, provide water for irrigation and domestic use, and generate electricity. The Kalabagh Dam would also provide a reliable water source for domestic and industrial use in the dry season.

Why should The Kalabagh Dam not be built?

There are several reasons stated by opponents why the Kalabagh Dam should not be built:

1.     The dam would displace a large number of people.

2.     The dam would flood an area of land home to several historical sites.

3.     The dam would likely cause environmental damage from water shortage in Sindh province.

On which river is Kalabagh Dam supposed to be built?

The Kalabagh Dam is supposed to be built on the River Indus in the Mianwali district of Punjab, Pakistan. The dam is a proposed hydropower project expected to generate 3600 megawatts of electricity. 

The Kalabagh Dam is a proposed hydropower project in Pakistan that has been met with much opposition from different stakeholders. The dam would displace many people and cause environmental damage from water shortages. 

Although the dam would have some benefits, such as electricity generation, these benefits do not seem to outweigh the potential negative impacts of the dam. Given the opposition to the project and the potential for adverse consequences, it is unlikely that the Kalabagh Dam Pakistan will be built shortly.