The Diamer-Bhasha Dam on the Indus River in northern Pakistan comes with an astounding price tag of over US$8.5 billion. The 200-square-kilometer reservoir would flood 100 kilometers of the Karakoram highway, and the villages and farms of over 35,000 people would disappear. Tens of thousands of thousand-year old rock carvings would vanish. The project, after an eight-year construction period, would provide 4500 MW of electricity for the national grid, but it would not address the far more pressing issue that half of Pakistan's population (around 80 million people) have no electricity access whatsoever. Diamer-Bhasha is a costly project that would only benefit industries and wealthy Pakistanis.
Officials from the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) of Pakistan have revealed that China will most likely fund the bulk of project costs, as well as provide 17,000 workers from the Three Gorges Dam Project. It is also likely that a Chinese company will be in charge of construction, as one source from WAPDA noted that China's policy is to take responsibility for the construction of any dam project that it finances. The poor environmental and social record of China's global dam industry doubly raises concerns that impacts that would result from the Diamer-Bhasha dam might not be adequately assessed or mitigated.
The carvings that will be destroyed by the reservoir represent the great cultural flourishing and exchange of the Indus Valley region's portion of the Silk Road. Further, the reservoir would 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 project is located in a mountainous, earthquake-prone area and there are many engineering challenges, including relocating 100 kilometers of the Karakorum highway. These factors contribute to the project's hefty price tag.
International Rivers is monitoring the plans for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and other projects with Chinese involvement. For more information, read an article on Diamer-Bhasha and Pakistan's energy crisis.