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Tarbela Dam, Pakistan


Originally constructed in 1974, the Tarbela Dam is the world s largest earth- and rock-filled structure, standing almost 500 feet high and straddling the Indus River for 9,000 feet. Its existing hydropower facilities supply about 16% of the electricity generated in Pakistan. The primary purpose of the Tarbela Dam Project was to regulate the flows of the Indus River for irrigation use. This project is in fact part of a wider set of infrastructure projects, the so-called Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS), which is the world s largest irrigation system. Other objectives were to achieve substantial generation of hydroelectric power and flood control by conserving snow melt and monsoon flows of the Indus River.

Currently, there are several expansion plans in store for the Tarbela plant. The World Bank is financing the Tarbela Fourth Extension Project (1) to increase the dam s ability to produce electricity by more than a third. The financial institution argues in fact that the country s need for energy is increasing and that widespread blackouts might lead to major outcries in the country. USAID and US government are also using the same argument for co-financing the Tarbela project and other similar ones (2) Moreover, the Government of Pakistan is planning to build five more river development projects by 2016 that would further deteriorate the ecosystem of the Indus basin and displace families: Diamer-Bhasha, Kalabagh, Munda, Akhori and Kurram Tangi dams (3).

Affected communities in the Indus delta have been actively protesting the devastating impacts of the existing water development projects; the Tarbela dam caused itself the displacement of at least 100,000 people; many of them have not been properly compensated nor resettled.

Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP) has been struggling for many years against the governments hydropower plans. It criticizes the government s outdated policies, grossly mismanaged, bureaucratic and corrupted institutions and the country s obsolete energy plan.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Tarbela Dam, Pakistan
State or province:Haripur District
Location of conflict:Hazara Division, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Power generation capacity is 3,478 MW through 14 power generating units.

Catchment area of the reservoir created by the dam is 169,600 square kilometres. The reservoir, with a maximum depth of more than 450ft, can impound up to 11.62 million acre foot (MAF) of water at the maximum lake elevation of 1,550ft. Net usable capacity of the reservoir is 9.68MAF.

The water is stocked during the months of June, July and August, when the river flow is at its maximum.

Project area:26000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,490,000,000 (*)
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1970
Company names or state enterprises:Sacyr from Spain
Costruzioni generali Farsura from Italy
Astaldi from Italy
Compagnie de Constructions Internationales from France
Compagnie Francaise dEntreprises from France
Societe de Construction de Batignolles from France
Hochtief from Germany
Philipp Holzmann from Germany
Strabag Bau from Germany
Ed Zueblin from Germany
C. Baresel from Germany
Conrad Zschokke from Switzerland
Losinger from Switzerland
Salini Impregilo from Italy
Relevant government actors:Government of Pakistan, Water and Power Development Authority
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
International Development Association (IDA)
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) - The Project, to be co-financed with the World Bank (WB), comprises the installation of a power house at the fifth tunnel (Tunnel 5) of the Tarbela Dam, and construction of a transmission line to connect the power to the national grid. The WB’s co-financing will be in the form of an Additional Financing (AF) for the existing WB-financed Tarbela Fourth Extension Hydropower Project (T4HP). The Tarbela Dam was originally constructed in the 1970s.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:International Rivers,, Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageUnknown
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Proposal and development of alternatives:Opponents to the project jointly criticizes the government's outdated policies, stating the need to replace the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 with a more comprehensive relocation policy. They also stated that the government departments in charge of rehabilitating affected peoples are grossly mismanaged, bureaucratic and corrupt and in need of reorganization.
They put forward a series of demands:
-the adoption of the report of the World Commission on Dams as a guiding principle for policy-making and implementation;
-adequate relocation and compensation for all direct and indirect affected people,
-the definition of 'affected' be broadened
-eligibility policies made more just
-environmental clean up projects
-national participation in the policy-making and implementation process.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Many families have not yet received due rehabilitation and compensation measures, even after so many years.
The project does not benefit local communities and is part of a top-down energy generation plan with poor consideration of small communities claims.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Land Acquisition Act 1984

Indus Basin Multi-Purpose Project

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

Published in the proceedings of River Flow 2012, 5-7 September 2012

M. Roca, 'Tarbela Dam in Pakistan. Case study of reservoir sedimentation'

HR Wallingford, Wallingford, UK

Asianics, 'A Case Study of Tarbela Dam', a report for the World Commission on Dams, 2001

Asian Development Bank – TA, Water Resources Sector Strategy, 'National Water Sector Profile', April 2002

(2) US funds Tarbela dam restoration

Water-Technology, 'Tarbela Dam Project, Haripur District, Pakistan'

(1) Expanding the Power of Tarbela Dam

(3) International Rivers

PWC protests over extra water releases for power generation

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Italian Ambassador on Italian involvement into the dam construction and basic features of the dam project:

Other comments:(*) The project was fully completed in 1984, at a cost of $1.49 bn.
The funds coming now for the extension plans are currently under estimation.

Meta information

Contributor:Daniela Del Bene
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:192