This weblog updates my article "Saddam's Damn Dam [i.e., The Mosul Dam], published today.
In a bizarre miniature version of the Mosul Dam, Steven Erlanger reported just yesterday in "Gaza's Reflection in a Foul Threat," about problems in Gaza:
Fahmi al-Abrak, 70, was at home on March 27 when a lagoon of human waste broke through its sand embankment and hurtled downhill, inundating this poor village of Bedouins in northern Gaza. "It rose to here in 15 seconds," he said, pointing to a discolored line on the walls, four feet above ground. Five people died, drowned in the wave of waste, along with scores of goats, sheep and chickens. Nearly 1,000 people had to be taken out of the village. Now, Mr. Abrak said, "I'm afraid to go to sleep at night."
The embankment around a sewage reservoir collapsed on March 27, 2007, flooding Umm al Nasser in the northern part of Gaza.
The lagoon disaster seemed a sort of metaphor for Gaza - overcrowded, lacking in resources, coping with makeshift answers to long-term problems. But the lagoon, which held more than 150,000 cubic yards, is dwarfed by the huge lake of sewage it was built to reduce. That lake, which itself holds sewage overflow, now contains almost four million cubic yards of water and human waste, covering about 100 acres, and it is again creeping close to the danger point. Its sand embankment was reinforced this summer, and two more outlet ponds have been dug in the sand. But more waste enters daily than is discharged, the lake is only six feet below the embankment and the winter rains are coming. ...
If the lake overflowed, [Monther I. Shoblak, director of the Gaza Emergency Water Project for the Palestinian Authority's water utility] said, "it would be a tsunami of waste." In three seconds, he estimated, more than 800 homes and 10,000 people would be hit by a wave up to six yards high, and then the wave would return. Oxfam estimates that 50,000 people could be displaced and 200,000 affected.
(November 7, 2007)
Dec. 17, 2007 update: A truck bomb has blown up about 1 kilometer away from the Mosul Dam, killing one policeman, injuring a second, and damaging a section of the main access bridge connecting the dam's two shores, announced Brigadier-General Abdul-Kareem al-Jubouri, the commander of police operations in northern Nineveh province. According to Reuters, "Jubouri said the bomber parked his truck near the bridge, telling police that it had broken down and that he need to fetch a tow truck. Shortly after he left the scene it detonated."
This attack comes just two days later after a report in the Iraqi newspaper Azzaman (edited by Saad Albazzaz) titled "Armed group wants to blow up Mosul Dam":
Security officials say scores of armed men have entered the Province of Nineveh with orders to detonate Mosul Dam. … "Some 250 armed men have entered Nineveh Province with the aim of detonating the Mosul Dam," one source said. Another source said information was based on intelligence tips passed to provincial authorities recently. "The men were trained in Pakistan," the source added. … The government is reported to have sent more reinforcements to the area.
Comments: (1) What was the purpose of this exercise? A shot across the bow, an announcement of intentions? But why give a warning?
(2) Given the parlous state of the Mosul Dam, as I detailed in a recent column this news is particularly menacing. At a time when the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds the current probability of failure to be "exceptionally high," the U.S. government is setting itself up for a massive coup of bad publicity by closely associating with a potential disaster waiting to happen.
(3) If it's high time to make it clear to all concerned that the Mosul Dam is an Iraqi problem, not an American one, that is not at all the trend. On Nov. 29, the U.S. Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment announced it had contracted Versar Inc. to repair Mosul Dam for $320,000 by engaging in an "enhanced grouting" program with geotechnical support. This political mistake could do immense and lasting damage to the American reputation worldwide.
Dec. 18, 2007 update: Some additional details on the bombing, from a Los Angeles Times report:
Syrian trucks coming from the northern Iraqi border use the bridge to transport gasoline and other goods, locals said. U.S. forces and Iraqi security forces also use the bridge. Witnesses said the bomber left the truck on the bridge, pretending it broke down. Police at a checkpoint were suspicious and went to check his documents. As the man proceeded to another checkpoint the bomb went off. Police arrested him, according to reports from the scene.
Dec. 20, 2007 update: U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division – North, had said that Al-Qaeda in Iraq can still carry out attacks against infrastructure projects such as bridges, reports the Associated Press:
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling , commander of Multi-National Division - North.
"You know, there are going to be continued spectacular attacks," he said when asked about the bombing of a bridge across Mosul dam on Monday. … "We have some intelligence that says it was part of a bigger plot. There is some intelligence that they may have wanted to cut off that side of the river to make safe havens," Hertling said. "There are some indications that they wanted to close that route because it is used by coalition forces." Hertling added: "I personally think it is an additional indicator that these people who are trying to disrupt the people of Iraq will do anything to screw up the people of Iraq."
Feb. 20, 2008 update: Khidhr Domle paraphrases Nineveh Deputy Governor Khasraw Goran in the Kurdish Globe on the possibility of the Mosul Dam's collapse. Goran considers this to have become
a serious problem. He said a conference was held in Istanbul with the participation of the Iraqi Minister of Water Recourses, an advisor representing the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Nineveh Deputy, and a number of academics. Conference members concluded that repairing the dam would take three to four years as well as an allocation of $1 million (USD).
Comment: $1 million sounds a bit on the cheap side to me.
May 1, 2008 update: The International Medical Corps (which calls itself "a global, humanitarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering through health care training and relief and development programs") is engaged in a multi-month initiative "to draw up a crisis plan for the Mosul dam."
Oct. 19, 2008 update: An elusive news report, "Water resources: filling of al-Mosul dam about to end," translated from As-Sabah newspaper (I could not locate the original) reads in full as follows:
Works of filling al-Mosul dam with cement materials are about to end within its punctuated dates implemented by private cadres of the State Directorate of Dams and Treasures at Water Resources Ministry. The cadres are round-the-clock working to ensure that the dam not be fall down due to the continuous looseness of its bases. The financial allocations reached to ID14 billions [=US$12.1 million] for the current year, while the directorate cadres had ended the first and second phases of geophysics surveys in the region with ID300 millions [=US$260,000].
Dec. 22, 2008 update: Dams break not just in Gaza but also in the United States. The breach took place at an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre retention pond used by the Tennessee Valley Authority, "releasing a frigid mix of water and ash that flooded as many as 10 homes and put hundreds of acres of rural land under water."
June 4, 2009 update: In a rare news report to acknowledge the fragility of the Mosul Dam, Heath Druzin of Stars and Stripes writes that "Forces put aside differences to protect vital dam: Iraqi, Kurdish troops to work together to secure structure."
Commanders with the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga, two forces often at odds in northern Iraq, have come to an agreement on sharing responsibilities for the protection of a vital dam outside Mosul in Ninevah province, according to the U.S. military. "Over the past few days, leaders from the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army came together in a joint effort to ease tensions and develop a peaceful solution," said Brig. Gen. Robert Brown, deputy commanding general of Multi-National Division—North.
Brown believes that the dam agreement has larger implications: "Two days ago there was a temporary solution, but through a joint effort, and extensive communication, it has evolved into a permanent solution that could become the model for the rest of Iraq with regards to solving provincial issues in the disputed areas. What has occurred is a true success."
July 13, 2009 update: According to the LinkTV.org service, Baghdad TV has raised the topic of the Mosul Dam's fragility, as well as that of other dams in Iraq. A reporter states that:
The Mosul Dam.
The Iraqi water authorities warned that the Mosul Dam, which is one of the largest Iraqi dams, may collapse. These concerns that the dam may collapse started a few years ago when officials discovered deterioration in many walls of Iraqi dams, most importantly in the Mosul Dam as well as the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River. Also, Samara Dam on the Tigris River has similar problems.
The report then reiterates the usual fears of what a collapse would mean for Mosul city, Baghdad, and all Iraq. Then, more surprisingly, we learn that something may be done about the looming disaster:
The Ministry of Water announced that it will conduct wide-scale renovation projects for the dam to prevent a real catastrophe from taking place due to possibilities that the Mosul Dam will collapse. The Minister of Water Resources, Abdul Latif Jamal, announced that iron walls are being built at the bottom of the dam's foundation. The ministry reiterated that Iraqi technical teams continue to strengthen the dam. An iron wall, that is more than 200 meters, is being built at the bottom of the dam. This wall is supposed to prevent water leakage and stop the deterioration of the dam's foundation. The Ministry of Water Resources also said that it has contacted international water experts in hopes of receiving special proposals and ideas for renovating Iraqi dams as well as practical solutions to prevent deterioration.
July 14, 2009 update: Perhaps the danger of collapse will be obviated by a lack of water? According to a report by Campbell Robertson in the New York Times today,
The Euphrates is drying up. Strangled by the water policies of Iraq's neighbors, Turkey and Syria; a two-year drought; and years of misuse by Iraq and its farmers, the river is significantly smaller than it was just a few years ago.
Sep. 26, 2009 update: A review of news on Al-Jazeera reports that something is actually happening at the damn dam:
Concerns regarding the stability of the Mosul dam (in addition to several others in Iraq) surfaced years ago, and after initial denials and reassurances by local authorities, the Iraqi government acknowledged that the dam is indeed threatened and requires continuous work to protect its foundations. Local engineers familiar with the dam (originally called "Saddam's Dam") state that the project suffered design flaws from the outset, requiring periodic injection of concrete into its foundations. The relative lack of maintenance during the years of the sanctions and after the US invasion may have compounded the problem and threatened the structure further.
Al-Jazeera quoted the Minister of water resources who announced that a 200 meter long concrete barrier will be built under the structure's foundations, and that work is ongoing on the project. In addition, the Ministry said that it has contacted "international experts" to provide suggestions on the maintenance and upgrade of Iraq's dams.
Oct. 1, 2009 update: A snippet from an article on "A Precarious Peace in Northern Iraq" by Quil Lawrence conveys the precariousness of the current situation there:
In May the guns were drawn again when Maliki sent an urgent mission to secure the aging Mosul Dam, which was one car bomb away from unleashing a torrent that would drown the city. He chose to ignore that the peshmerga had been guarding the dam for nearly six years to forestall just such a disaster. US military observers again smoothed things over, and arranged for joint protection of the dam (the ice was broken nicely when the army realized they had set up no supply lines, and the peshmerga began providing them with food and water).
Oct. 3, 2009 update: Lawrence takes another cut at the same subject, this time in the context of Arab-Kurd joint patrols in northern Iraq:
The largest hydroelectric dam in Iraq is north of the city of Mosul, holding back a trillion gallons of water. Earlier this year, the government in Baghdad sounded the alarm after it realized that no government forces were guarding the aging dam. A single car bomb there could unleash a flood that might kill 500,000 people in Mosul and other cities on the Tigris River.
Army Brig. Gen. Robert Brown, who commands U.S. forces in the province around Mosul, says the government was ignoring the fact that the dam has been guarded for years by Kurdish defense forces, known as peshmerga. The Kurdish forces had recognized the vulnerability of the dam and began guarding it in 2004. "The central government in Baghdad said, 'Hey, get the Iraqi army up there!' " Brown says.
When troops from the mostly Arab Iraqi army reached the dam, they walked into a standoff with the Kurdish peshmerga. "Both sides think the worst — the peshmerga are thinking they're going to kick us out, and the army thinking the peshmerga aren't going to leave," Brown says. It was not the first time that Kurds and Arabs have nearly come to blows. But Brown says the Mosul dam has turned into a positive example.
With some help from the Americans, the Kurdish and Iraqi army forces started protecting the dam together. In fact, when the Iraqi army troops arrived, Iraqi officers soon realized they hadn't arranged for supplies, and the Kurdish soldiers ended up providing them with food and water.
Last week, Brown visited the Mosul dam, which is now protected by about 450 Kurdish peshmerga and the same number of Iraqi army soldiers. He formally thanked the peshmerga for protecting the dam over the past five years and handed out commendations. But almost no Iraqi Arab troops turned up for the ceremony. The Iraqi army commander in the province, Gen. Hassan Abbas, canceled at the last minute.
July 31, 2010 update: In an unusual statement by Ministry of Electricity's the ministry's information officer, Musaeb al-Mudaress, that the dam "cannot be filled with more than 40% of its capacity" of 11 billion cubic meters of water. Its hydro-electricity power plants used to produce around 320 steady megawatts but now they produce less than 100 erratic megawatts. Khayoun Saleh writes in "Iraq's largest dam loses 60% of its water reserves," for Az-Zaman, that this drastic decline "is catastrophic to Iraqi agriculture since the water reserves were essential to farmers cultivating land on both sides of the River Tigris."
Why the decline? Saleh explains: not due to lowering water levels from the Tigris but due to erosion of its foundations. The reduction is "necessary to preserve its shaky foundations and prevent its failure which is bound to inundate major cities including Mosul and Baghdad if it bursts at full capacity."
Sep. 1, 2010 update: Iraq's minister of water resources Jamal Rashid said that cracks in the Mosul dam cause a loss of half a million dollars per year and causes electricity problem in the country. Therefore, his ministry is offering tenders to treat the cracks.
Nov. 4, 2011 update: Could the Iraqi government be prepared seriously to address Mosul Dam's infrastructural problems? It appears so, judging by the amount of money involved:
German construction and engineering company Bauer said it signed a letter of understanding on a $2.6 billion contract to refurbish a dam in Iraq. … The project, the company's biggest ever, is scheduled to take about six years to complete It will involve Bauer building a cut-off wall to seal the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq. The ground beneath the 3.6 kilometre-long dam has become increasingly water-permeable.
Comment: Curious that the U.S. government punted on this issue and the Iraqi government has taken responsibility for it. Good for the Iraqis – and lucky for the Americans, who would get the blame for a catastrophe.
Dec. 25, 2011 update: For an aerial view of the dam and its lake, click here.
Screen grab from an aerial video of the Mosul Dam and its lake.
Apr. 2, 2012 update: A series of foreign sources have reported on growing dangers to the Mosul Dam:
- Hermes magazine of Germany's in 2011 published reports that the concrete base on the right hand side of the dam may collapse in 2012 if not attended to immediately.
- The Daily Telegraph (London) reported in detail about increasing cracks and warned of its imminent collapse,
- A Japanese organization pointed to delayed maintenance of the dam and warned of the presence of a high proportion of salt and phosphate in the foundations of the dam causing cracks in the foundation that increase the possibility of a collapse.
The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources today denied the problem. Ali Hashem, general director of the ministry's projects department said: "The reports obtained by the ministry confirm the absence of any fears from the collapse of the dam, and the reports that foreign and local media mentioned are inaccurate." Hashem said the ministry is working on an ongoing basis to repair and rehabilitate the dam. Government statistics indicate that this maintenance costs about US$500 million a year.
Apr. 15, 2012 update: Issa Elias, Nadhir Al-Ansari, and Sven Knutsson of the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden have published a study on "The effect of operation of Mosul dam on sediment transport in its reservoir Publication."
June 17, 2012 update: In an alarming statement, a geologist named Walid Satee has declared that, at a meeting with engineers and geologists, it was found that "Mosul Dam will collapse within a period that doesn't exceed this month." Satee noted the urgent need to discharge water from the dam "to prevent the occurrence of cracks that would lead to explosions inside its structure," adding that a team of engineers and specialists has been formed which will start to empty water from the dam "and guide it to the southern marshes of Iraq." Should a collapse take place, he went on, "Mosul will sink. The flood waters that will result from the collapse of the dam will reach the capital [of Baghdad] within three days."
In contrast, Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources rejected as "completely untrue and groundless" the predictions of an imminent collapse and asserted that "the dam situation currently is very safe, well-functioning and the maintenance and perpetuation work of the dam is continuing."
Comments: (1) Let us hope the ministry is right and Satee is wrong. (2) How fortunate that U.S. forces are gone from Iraq and, should things go terribly wrong, it will not be seen as an American responsibility. Or will it?
June 27, 2012 update: Abdul Khaliq al-Dabbagh, the director general of the Mosul Dam, said that talk of the dam collapsing is "groundless" and "mere rumor that aims to confuse the situation in the province." Rather, he asserted, "The situation in the dam is safe and it is better than the previous condition due to the continuous works of grouting and injection for the dam's base which started to improve after 2006. … "We do not have any concerns about the dam's collapse."
July 16, 2012 update: More words of comfort from Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources, though some huge caveats. Minister of Water Resources Muhannad al-Saadi told Shafaq News (with mild English-language editing by me) during a visit to Mosul that "developments at the dam are very reassuring; sustaining and maintenance work is continuing and because of it, there is no fear of collapse."
But then he added several eyebrow-raising points:
- "We are afraid of earthquakes in the region that may occur and lead to the dam's collapse, because these are outside the framework of principles and designs on which the dam was built."
- "There's no fear at all that the dam will collapse for a period of at least twenty years."
- "The cabinet formed a cell crisis a month ago, during a meeting of the National Security Council, which includes relevant ministries and which coordinates the ministries of defense, interior, intelligence and civil defense in the province; they will take appropriate action if the dam collapses."
Comments: (1) That the dam was built without heed to earthquakes confirms how poorly it was constructed. Those responsible for the building of this structure should, at no cost to the Iraqi government, pull down the damn dam in an orderly way, before catastrophe strikes. (2) The good minister appears to be contradicting himself – either a quake can bring it down in the next twenty years or it cannot. (3) Once again, the dangers poised by the Mosul Dam appear not to be taken seriously enough.
Jan. 3, 2013 update: Something else to worry about: according to an analysis, "Sedimentation and New Operational Curves for Mosul Dam, Iraq," by Issa Issa, Nadhir Al-Ansari, and Seven Knutsson of Lulea University of Technology, Sweden, the annual sedimentation rate in the reservoir behind the Mosul Dam is 0.59 percent. The authors conclude that this "suggests that the reservoir will be filled completely within 169 years." Well, it's something to worry about if the dam lasts that long.
Related Topics: Iraq, US policy
receive the latest by email: subscribe to daniel pipes' free mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.