How Pakistan's New Khanki Barrage Project Became a Driver of Change

Bird’s eye view of the completed New Khanki Barrage and Headworks of the Lower Chenab Canal. Photo credit: Project Management Office Barrages, Punjab Irrigation Department.

Share on:           


Replacing an old barrage with advanced technology vastly improved water and flood control, connectivity, and access to essential social services.


The old Khanki Headworks, dating from the late 1800s and upgraded in 1935, could no longer safely regulate the river during high flows, risking loss of lives and properties in case of a major flood.

In 2013–2017, the Punjab government, with an Asian Development Bank loan, replaced the old headworks with the New Khanki Barrage. This was to increase resilience against floods and improve operation and maintenance using a centralized modern supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. The project, implemented by a Pakistani firm and supervised by the Project Management Office Barrages, provided various benefits to the communities near the barrage. These include: improved access to schooling and health care, better transport connectivity, and a recreational park.

By 2020, 3 years after the new barrage was completed, it has exceeded its intended impacts. There is a 10% increase in cropping intensity and hike in the average farm income of a sample area. A large population near the new barrage, particularly women and girls, has gained widespread social and economic benefits.

Innovative features of the project include the following:

  • Engagement of a national contractor of international standards for international and national contracts shows that such arrangements can be highly beneficial for ease of implementation.
  • Use of available funding for social services for the Project Management Office Barrages staff and communities in the barrage vicinity. This provides a good example of how infrastructure projects can also improve basic services provision.
Project Snapshot

  • 18 Jan 2012 : Approval Date
  • 8 May 2018 : Closing Date

  • $309 million : Project Cost


A Pakistan Irrigation Department study indicated a very high chance that a major flood could damage the Khanki Headworks and breach its embankments, causing significant loss of lives and damage to property, including crops and livestock. Manual operation of the headworks was cumbersome and dangerous for the employees.

The government of Punjab decided to replace the Khanki Headworks with a new barrage to ensure safe passage of a 100-year-return flood event, sustainable delivery of irrigation water in the command area, and the safety of people and livestock. Climate change considerations also influenced the decision. The 2020 Global Climate Risk Index ranked Pakistan fifth among the countries most affected by climate change.

The remote village of Khanki also had no basic health unit, and its public schooling for girls was only through 8th grade.


The Khanki Headworks, constructed in 1889–1892 on the Chenab River in the Gujranwala District of Punjab, was designed to divert river flow to the Lower Chenab Canal. The Chenab is a major part of the Indus River Irrigation System, which is one of the world’s largest and most complex systems. About 58% of the system is located in Punjab.

The old headworks was supplying irrigation water to 1.2 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land in eight districts of central Punjab, with about 568,000 farming families producing a wide range of crops. About 52% of the families are marginal farmers who own less than 2 ha, and another 34% are poor farmers working on 2 to 6 ha.

However, floods had resulted in discharges at Khanki that exceeded its capacity, damaging the headworks, inundating large areas, and imperiling lives and livelihoods.

In 2010, the most devastating flood in Pakistan’s history had caused an economic loss of about $10 billion, killing nearly 1,600 people, and affecting 20 million people. It provided a clear warning of the possible extent of damage if a major flood occurred in the Khanki area if the old barrage failed.


The old headworks had to be replaced. The project’s innovativeness is showcased in its technical design and the creative use of extra funds to improve the education, health, and welfare of the nearby population. (View project photos.) 

The design of the New Khanki Barrage incorporated modern construction techniques and systems and applied lessons learned from the 2010 flood.

The barrage includes new physical structures with a centralized operating system room with a modern SCADA system. As the new barrage was being built, the old one was gradually dismantled, to assure continued river flow. Construction activities were timed to avoid the heavy monsoon season in July–September.

The Project Management Office Barrages implemented the day-to-day project activities. The project built a new residential compound for the barrage operations staff, replacing dilapidated quarters.

Building a bridge atop the new barrage vastly increased connectivity for families, communities, and businesses in Khanki and the area on both sides of the barrage.

To narrow the education deficit for girls in Khanki and its surrounding areas, the project built a new girls’ public school—on a Pakistan Irrigation Department land—that included grades 9 and 10.

To serve the area’s health care needs, the project in 2017 provided a fully equipped and furnished basic healthcare unit building in Khanki. This was especially important for mothers and pregnant women.

To enhance social interaction, a new 6-ha park was constructed. It has recreation facilities, play areas, stalls for vendors, toilets, and a mosque, with separate areas for women.

To boost income generation and safety, the project conducted a 1-month training and skills development program: electrician course for men and drafting and patternmaking for women. Men were also given a 1-week course on flood risk and disaster management.

Numbers and facts

  • $90 increase in average monthly income per household
  • 15% increase in average farm income
  • 60% decrease in cattle transport cost
  • 370 million cubic meters annual water leakage eliminated
  • 400 students enrolled in the new girls’ school

The new barrage protects the lives and livelihoods of the farming households, sustainably supplies irrigation water, and provides important social benefits to the communities. 

A new park and community trainings were among the project's social uplift programs for the communities. Photo credit: Project Management Office Barrages.

The barrage has vastly improved water management. It is sustainable, following its sound design and construction. By 2016, cropping intensity had increased and average farm income was up by more than 15%. Water supply is assured for at least 90% of the year, and the annual leakage of 370 million cubic meters was eliminated. The infrastructure has a flood design capacity of 1-in-100-year return events.

The Project Management Office Barrages enhanced its engineering and technology skills through trainings and by managing the project. It strengthened its safeguards team and proved its ability to undertake massive modern construction. Highly risky manual intervention to unblock flood impediments is no longer needed. The staff have a new housing compound that is bright, airy, and spacious with a common, green area.

The new bridge shortened travel time across the barrage area by 30 kilometers (km) and the distance to major industrial hubs by 34–41 km. The well-lit bridge and its access roads are safe at night with traffic flowing at all hours. Transport costs have decreased—by nearly 60% for transporting cattle—and the average monthly income per household has increased by $90 by May 2021.

By 2019, nearly 400 students from six villages near the river were enrolled in the new girls’ school. Almost 65% of them are from poor or marginalized families. All of the first batch of 16 girls passed the 2017 matriculation examination. By 2019, 78 girls were in grades 9 and 10, and 87% passed the exam. All 68 are continuing through year 12, and the first batch has gone on to higher levels, with some aspiring to continuing careers.

Figures from March 2017–June 2019 showed the new basic health unit received about 60,000 patients from both sides of the river.

The new park has promoted social inclusion, encouraged social activity, and is a major attraction for families from about 50 villages.

The training courses provided men with a new career choice and gave women the opportunity to enhance their confidence and skills, socialize with other women, and earn money. The flood management course advanced community safety.

Lessons Learned

Key factors in project success were the smooth working arrangements between all parties, the use of modern technology, and the addition of social uplift programs. The smooth arrangements among the contractors, Pakistan Irrigation Department, Project Management Office Barrages, government of Punjab, consultants, and ADB meant that decisions could be approved and implemented expeditiously. The use of savings to implement projects to benefit the population in the vicinity of the barrage by providing education, health care, and recreation facilities, and some training, vastly enhanced the project’s benefits.

Specific learning and lessons include the following:

Infrastructure project design. Incorporating social uplift programs for the wider population can provide a major benefit for a minor cost.

Packaging infrastructure projects. To reduce implementation complexities and the administrative burden, package construction works into a few large contracts rather than numerous small ones. Adequate market analysis is needed to identify potential contractors, including in the host country, to make project procurement economical in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Efficient funds transfer. The Punjab Irrigation Department played an important role in developing the province’s efficient counterpart fund transfer procedures by proactively coordinating with the finance and treasury departments. The fund transfer system developed has been applied to subsequent externally funded projects for the Punjab Irrigation Department.

Growing competition for water. Holistic governance across sectors is required to address the growing competition for water and to manage the effects of pollution, wastewater, floods, droughts, and land degradation at present and in the future. In response, the Punjab Irrigation Department is expanding its scope. Appropriate policies must be put in place to promote integrated management and development.

Noriko Sato
Senior Natural Resources Specialist, Agriculture, Food, Nature, and Rural Development Sector Office, Sectors Group, Asian Development Bank

Noriko Sato serves as a project officer for ADB-financed projects and technical assistance in the natural resources and agriculture sector. Prior to her current assignment, she worked for portfolio management and operations coordination of the Central and West Asian countries. She also led and published various studies on the impacts of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on farm households in Pakistan. She holds a master’s degree in Development Studies from Hiroshima University.

Asad Zafar
Senior Project Officer (Water Resources), Pakistan Resident Mission, Asian Development Bank

Asad Zafar has experience in Pakistan’s public and private sector infrastructure and rural development, and has worked in post-earthquake and floods disaster needs assessment and reconstruction projects. He joined the ADB Pakistan Resident Mission in portfolio administration and later the agriculture, natural resources, and rural development unit. He administered water resources management portfolio comprising irrigated agriculture projects, and supported sector partnership strategy, programming, and processing new investments. He is a civil engineer with a master’s degree in Infrastructure Management.

Amjad Saeed
Member, Indus River System Authority Islamabad

Amjad Saeed is a member of the Indus River System Authority in Islamabad, Pakistan, established to manage the distribution of surface waters of the Indus River System among the provinces. He was with the Punjab Irrigation Department and retired as chief engineer and project director of the Project Management Office Barrages where he supervised large irrigation infrastructure projects financed by ADB and the World Bank. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science in Hydraulics and Irrigation Engineering from the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

Follow Asian Development Bank (ADB) on
Leave your question or comment in the section below:

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in this document, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.