The birthplace of civilization has struggled through some tough times in recent years. The Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and now the conflict with ISIS have seriously damaged Iraq’s infrastructure and undermined its political stability. As if that wasn’t enough, Iraq may soon face another catastrophe as the country’s biggest dam reaches the end of its life. American officials in Baghdad are warning that Mosul Dam could collapse – and the subsequent flooding could lead to the death or displacement of over one million people.
Built in 1984, the Mosul Dam regulates the flow of the Tigris River to supply one million Iraqis with hydroelectric power. The dam is capable of holding three trillion gallons of water, which is key for survival in the desert nation. Mosul Dam was constructed on a base of gypsum, a soft mineral that readily dissolves in water. To combat this steady erosion and maintain the infrastructure, engineers have used a grout cement mix to fill any holes that appear.
However, this maintenance routine was interrupted in August 2014 when ISIS forces captured the dam for over a week. The militants did not intentionally damage the dam, but their brief presence nonetheless had long-term consequences. Even after the dam was recaptured, many of the Iraqi workers did not return and regular maintenance was not resumed.
The greatest risk of collapse occurs between late February and mid-May when the Tigris River is at its fullest. State Department officials warn that 500,000 people could be killed while a million more would be homeless. Mosul, a city of two and a half million people, could be under 45 feet of water within four hour of the dam’s collapse – and the water level could eventually rise to 70 feet. Baghdad would have a few days notice to prepare, but the flooding would still be devastating, with water levels of up to 14 feet expected.
The Italian government has offered to send troops while the Trevi Group, an Italian company, leads much needed repairs of the dam. As usual, politics is proving to be a roadblock. Noting the glacial pace at which the Iraqi government is dealing with the problem, American officials have urged Iraq to educate its citizens on the threat, so that the worst case scenario might be avoided.