see also 10-30-07 update posting on the mosul dam (with satellite view)
As world attention focuses on the daily slaughter in Iraq, a devastating disaster is impending in the north of the country, where the wall of a dam holding back the Tigris river north of Mosul city is in danger of imminent collapse. “It could go at any minute,” says a senior aid worker who has knowledge of the struggle by US and Iraqi engineers to save the dam. “The potential for disaster is very great.” If the dam does fail, a wall of water will sweep into Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city with a population of 1.7 million, 20 miles to the south.
Experts say the flood waters could destroy 70 per cent of Mosul and inflict heavy damage 190 miles downstream along the Tigris. The dam was built between 1980 and 1984 and has long been known to be in a dangerous condition because of unstable bedrock. “The dam was constructed on a foundation of marls, soluble gypsum, anhydrite, and karstic limestone that are continuously dissolving,” said specialists at the US embassy in a statement. “The dissolution creates an increased risk for dam failure.”
In 2003, experts from the Corps of Engineers laid out a scenario equal to a decent disaster movie and one that may evoke memories of Hurricane Katrina:
“(Collapse of the Mosul Dam) would set in motion a cascade of catastrophe, unleashing as much as 12.5 billion cu m of water pooled behind the 3.2-km-long earth-filled impoundment thundering down the Tigris River Valley toward Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The wave behind the 110-m-high crest would take about two hours to reach the city of 1.7 million.”
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The state of the two-mile long earthfill dam, which holds back some eight billion cubic metres of water in Iraq’s largest reservoir, has recently been deteriorating at ever-increasing speed. According to one source, the chance of a total and immediate failure of the dam is now believed to be “reasonably high” at current water levels and “most certain” within the next few years.The effort to prevent the collapse of the dam is overseen by the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources. The US Army Corps of Engineers has made continual efforts to monitor the deterioration and undertake remedial action. But a US report, obtained separately from the embassy statement, says that “due to fundamental and irreversible flaws existing in the dam’s foundation, the US Army Corps of Engineers believes that the safety of the Mosul Dam against a potential catastrophic failure cannot be guaranteed”.
The US State Department advertises that it supplies the Iraqi government with $20 million dollars worth of grouting equipment for the Mosul dam through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. But grouting the dam can only provide temporary relief, and does nothing to reconstruct the failing infrastructure that threatens to turns large swaths of Iraqi land into a watery graveyard.
Though the US maintains the Iraqi government holds responsibility for the dam, its failure would most certainly be blamed on both. Making a serious commitment to secure the Mosul Dam appears the only way to ensure the city–one rare beacon of semi-stability in the country–does not become a disaster area.