The potential catastrophe of the Mosul dam

Friday 25/03/2016
If disaster happens, more than 1 million lives would be at risk

In a country plagued by terrorism and war, a new devastating threat has emerged — the potential collapse of the biggest dam in Iraq.

A number of warnings have been given that the Mosul dam — the fourth biggest in the world — runs the risk of collapsing. If the disaster happens, more than 1 million lives would be at risk.

Local and international reports confirm that the dam’s structure is weak and that seasonal changes could put immense pressure on it — pressure it likely will not with­stand.

The Iraqi government has failed to take the warnings seriously. The spokesman for the prime minister’s office, Saad al-Hadithi, in an at­tempt to allay the fears of citizens who would be affected should the Tigris river inundate the area, said the probability that the dam would collapse was only 2-3%.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi posted a statement on his official Twitter account on March 3rd announcing that a contract had been signed with the Italian firm Trevi Group to reinforce and maintain the Mosul dam.

According to Iraqi officials, the Italian company’s workers and equipment will head to Iraq within days but it would take two to three months for repairs to actually start.

This step, however, is too little and too late because no urgent re­pairs were made to the dam in the year following its liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS).

If the dire warnings about the dam prove true, Iraqis may not have the luxury of waiting for up to three months since a large amount of snow will be melting during April and May. This will substan­tially increase the volume of water, placing immense pressure on the dam.

If the increased volume of water puts extra pressure on the deep existing structural cracks, the dam could collapse within minutes, threatening the Iraqi city of Mosul within four hours.

A potential 20-metre-high wave would wipe out cities, villages and oilfields along the Tigris.

The US embassy in Baghdad warned that the collapse of the dam would be “serious and un­precedented” and 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis would probably be killed.

About 96% of the population in the three most likely to be affected provinces — Nineveh, Diyala, and Salah al-Deen — are Sunnis, which will create yet another political problem.

Abadi, who is facing a major challenge to his leadership despite attempts at reforms, will be blamed for the resulting humanitarian disaster. He is not expected to build an ark but should have ensured that certain measures were imple­mented right after securing the dam from ISIS.

Some Iraqis blame Abadi for the lack of a serious evacuation plan but in a country that has been through wars as Iraq has, is it realis­tic to expect evacuation plans for several million people?

Abadi has a history of failing to provide security. He was unable to come up with a solid plan to secure the relocation of more than 3 million displaced Iraqis through­out sectarian conflict and the war against ISIS.

Abadi also failed to ensure the completion of the Badush dam project on the Tigris, originally designed in 1988, to protect the country if the Mosul dam should collapse.

Is it really the right time now to launch a military operation to liber­ate Mosul which is about 4km from the dam?

The United States on March 5th announced that the interna­tional coalition will start using B-52 planes in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. If the bombers are used in Mosul, the effects of their power­ful bombs on the ground could threaten the structural integrity of an already weakened dam.

At this point, regardless of the decision undertaken, Abadi will be doomed for failing to take timely steps to protect his people.

His future lies beneath a deep cracked dam that might break loose at any moment wreaking havoc on the already beleaguered country.