The Devastating Colonial Legacy of Dams in Pakistan

Though at least ten dams have burst since this year’s deadly flooding, the country has long promoted them as the magical solution to its woes.

Zuha Siddiqui

November 3, 2022

The Devastating Colonial Legacy of Dams in Pakistan
A Pakistani family looks at the Rawal dam in 2013. (Farooq Naeem/AFP via Getty Images)

It has been nearly two months since the flood, and Ayoob Khoso’s village in Jacobabad district, Sindh, is still under water. Khoso, 40, is a farmer and has lost this year’s crop. “Floods and torrential rains drowned us during the cotton planting season. Now, our lands have turned into lakes,” he said. “How will we feed ourselves?”

Floods from record-breaking monsoon rains and glacial melt left nearly a third of Pakistan underwater this past summer. Weeks later, the water has yet to recede. Nearly 33 million have been impacted, over 1,600 people have died, scores of homes have been washed away, and flooded districts are coping with a plethora of diseases: diarrhea, dysentery, dengue fever, and malaria. Though Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the world’s carbon emissions, it is disproportionately facing the repercussions of climate change and a warming planet. The Pakistani government is keen on pushing large polluters to pay up and is likely to demand climate reparations at the annual climate talks in Egypt in early November, COP27.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he had witnessed “an epic human tragedy” during a press conference in Karachi on September 10. Just 24 hours later, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa, while visiting Sindh, proposed dam construction as a potential solution to prevent future devastating floods. “We will need to build more mega dams in Pakistan…to control [the flow of] water,” he said. Dams are not only popular in Pakistani discourse, but politicians and legislators have long promoted them as a magical solution to the country’s woes, flooding, and power problems. Though at least ten dams have burst because of this year’s rains, Pakistan remains obsessed with dams.