U.S. Officials in Baghdad have warned that Iraq’s biggest dam is at high risk of breaching and could kill and displace hundreds of thousands of people.
The hydroelectric dam, which is located on the Tigris River, can hold up to three trillion gallons of water and supplies electricity to more than a million homes. Despite its obvious importance, the Mosul Dam has been a cause for concern ever since its construction in 1984.
The dam was built on a bed of gypsum, a soft mineral that dissolves easily in water, so requires constant maintenance. However, when Islamic State fighters seized the dam in 2014, engineers were unable to continue their work. Although the government retook the Mosul Dam with just two weeks, regular maintenance did not continue.
If the dam was to collapse, the banks of the river would flood, and hundreds of thousands of people who are “at highest risk from the projected flood wave probably would not survive its impact,” the United States Embassy estimates. In addition, it has also been estimated that the river could rise 13 feet within 24 hours of the dams collapse and the city of Mosul could be flooded by as much as 70 feet of water. As a result, millions of people with close proximity to the river could potentially be displaced.
“Mosul Dam faces a serious and unprecedented risk of catastrophic failure with little warning,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
It said it issued the warning “out of an abundance of caution” and that “prompt evacuation offers the most effective tool to save lives of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in the most dangerous part of the flood path in the event of a breach.”
Iraq has since signed a $2 billion contract with Trevi Group, an Italian company, to oversee the repairs of the dam. During the 18 months it will take to repair the dam, the Italian government has stated that it will send 450 troops to guard it.
Meanwhile, engineers have criticized Baghdad’s suggestions; Mosul residents were advised to move 3.7 miles away from the dam, but have received no support.
“There is no support for them there. Nothing to help them live,” said another engineer, Nadhir al-Ansari.
Nasrat Adamo, the dam’s former chief engineer, has said, “It was a mistake to build the dam, and today it is a nightmare that must be maintained daily.”
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