Iraqi Dam Collapse Could Result in Half a Million Deaths
You know things are getting bad when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (they of the infamous New Orleans levee design) start speaking up about the threat to human life posed by a dam - with statements that read: "The Mosul dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure probability," and "If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely." According to new assessments released by the Corps and other U.S. officials, the Mosul Dam, the largest one in Iraq, is in grave danger of collapsing.
Its collapse could release a trillion-gallon wave of water, enough to flood two of Iraq's largest cities, Baghdad and Mosul (under 15 ft and 65 ft of water, respectively), and kill hundreds of thousands of citizens - as many as 500,000. Perhaps not surprisingly, a project aimed at reconstructing and strengthening the dam has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement. In a brilliant moment of foresightedness, the engineers that first erected the dam in the early 1980s built it on top of gypsym, which dissolves upon contacting water. Over the last few decades, Iraqi engineers have continued to pump huge amounts of grout into the dam in a futile attempt to keep it from collapsing.
Despite the danger posed by the dam's imminent collapse, Iraqi government officials have shown little concern - opting to listen to their own engineers, who have downplayed the bleak scenario drawn by the Army Corps. Iraqi officials at the Water Resources Ministry recently turned down a request made by the Corps to finish building a dam at Badush, located between the Mosul Dam and the city, as a stopgap measure.
Abdul Latif Rashid, the country's minister of water resources - deeming the situation not critical - has made his priority fixing the Mosul Dam by shoring up the existing design with a smaller concrete wall. "Is the dam going to collapse tomorrow? I can't tell you that. Let us hope that we avoid a disaster and focus now on a solution," he said.