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Officials from the United States, Iraq, and the United Nations have warned that the Mosul Dam in Iraq risks a severe failure if its structural flaws are not addressed and maintained properly. Since the Islamic State fighters gained control of the dam in August 2014, experts raised concerns regarding the maintenance of the dam; at that time, there were fears that the militants would destroy the dam. Within two weeks, the dam was recaptured by Iraqi forces, but its maintenance continues to face disruptions. Due to the rivalry between the Iraqi government and the regional government of Kurdistan, in addition to budgetary issues, half of the dam’s workforce have left their jobs after going unpaid for several months.

Mosul Dam
Mosul Dam and Mosul Lake, Wikimedia Commons/Ali Haidar Khan

The Mosul Dam was built in 1984 on the Tigris River and within two years, water began seeping through the dam due to the soluble geological foundation over which the dam was constructed. As a result, the dam required constant maintenance by filling in the caverns created by the running water, a process known as grouting. If the dam were to fail, an estimated 20 meter flood wave would move through the city of Mosul, and reach as far as Baghdad. The U.S. estimates that between 500,000 and 1.47 million Iraqis live in the path of the potential flooding. Estimates from a report by the International Water Technology Conference indicate that approximately 252 square kilometers in Mosul could be flooded if the dam were to break.

In order to prevent the potentially imminent collapse, Iraq has signed a $296 million contract with Trevi Group, an Italian contractor, that will provide maintenance and repairs to the dam for 18 months. Additionally, Italy is sending 450 troops to guard the dam. The U.S. has advised American citizens located in the flood plain to move out, and Iraqi officials have recommended that residents move at least 3.5 miles away from the river.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. U.S. Warns Mosul Dam Collapse Would Be Catastrophic – Reuters
  2. Iraq’s Mosul Dam at Risk of Bursting as Erosion Takes its Toll – BBC
  3. Mosul Dam Engineers Warn it Could Fail at Any Time, Killing 1m People – The Guardian
  4. Iraqi PM and US Issue Warnings over Threat of Mosul Dam Collapse – The Guardian
  5. Simulation Tigris River Flood Wave in Mosul City Due to a Hypothetical Mosul Dam Break – Thirteenth International Water Technology Conference