Impending Doom: The Collapse of the Mosul Dam

The Mosul Dam is in danger of collapse due to increased rainstorms. The resulting flood would be devastating. As Iraq’s largest dam, it would send a 15-foot wall of water down the river to Baghdad, and Mosul would be engulfed in a flood. The immediate impact would result in approximately 500,000 people’s deaths and the environmental impact could severely harm the quality of life for people in the Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salahadin provinces. Specifically, the resulting famine and disease would affect the region for years to come.

Maintenance work on the dam is the Iraqi government’s responsibility, but it has not, allegedly, taken place since 2014. The necessary repairs to stop the erosion are estimated to cost $250 million to $500 million, according to members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in the Kurdistan parliament.

The threat of demise arises from the soil foundation of the dam. It is built on water-soluble soils that must be constantly replenished to prevent collapse. The combination of gypsum, anhydrite, marl and limestone continually dissolves in water.  

The Mosul Dam was once known as Saddam Dam. Constructed in 1983, it stands 113 meters high and 3,650 meters long on the Tigris River. It is the second-largest dam in the Middle East and provides electricity to 1.7 million residents in Mosul.

Following the immediate wave, disease would surely follow. Water-borne diseases, such as cholera, would run rampant. Iraq has already experienced a cholera outbreak in September due to the influx of refugees and internally displaced persons. Floods typically submerge with sewer systems, which would only intensify the outbreak. The strength of the water deluge from the Mosul Dam would also destroy several buildings that could contain an array of toxic materials such as paints and gasoline.

The danger of the Mosul Dam isn’t solely structural. In August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized the dam, but Kurdish peshmerga forces took it back. Sitting on the frontline, there is no doubt a collapse would have a significant impact on the battle between ISIS and the peshmerga forces.

However, Iraqi officials are dismissing the US reports of the danger as alarmist. A US Army Corps of Engineers report stated that decomposition of the soil is occurring at a faster rate than it did before construction in 2007. The report went so far as to call the dam the most dangerous in the world. The comprehensive report reveals that maintenance on the dam has included grouting since inception to stop water from causing the rapid dissolution of foundation soil.

If the catastrophic floods in Pakistan are any indication, a flood from the Mosul Dam would affect Iraq for years if not decades to come. The floods in Pakistan disrupted vital supply lines to troops in Afghanistan, which would be of even greater concern in Iraq.

Furthermore, there would be an increase in the need for foreign aid workers to cope with the situation. When the floods washed over Pakistan, terrorist groups such as the Taliban threatened to attack Western aid workers. Again, this would certainly be a concern if there was a flood in Iraq due to ISIS’s infamous reputation for beheading Western aid workers and broadcasting the actions to the world.

If repairs are not carried out as soon as possible, Iraq will have another national crisis to deal with. Nature Iraq, an Iraqi non-governmental organization, has found a potential solution to the impending collapse, but has not received any indication that the country is moving forward with it. The founder and CEO, Dr. Azzam Alwash, believes the repair money would be best spent by leasing the Illisu Dam in Turkey to store Iraq’s water. According to him, the benefits would be twofold. First, the reduced pressure on the Mosul Dam would stop any collapse from being devastating. Second, the evaporation of water in Turkey’s dam would occur at a slower rate than in Mosul.

To date, there is no known plan in place if something were to cause the dam to collapse. Whatever the solution may be, something must be done soon or the consequences will be dire.

 

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