The Most Dangerous Dam in the World: Mosul Dam

Middle East & North Africa

The Mosul Dam is in danger of collapse due to the increased rainstorms and the resulting flood would be devastating. As Iraq’s largest dam, it would send a 15 foot wall of water down the river to Baghdad and Mosul would be engulfed in a flood. The immediate impact would result in approximately 500,000 people’s deaths and the environmental impact could severely harm the quality of life for people in the Nineveh, Kirkuk, and Salahadin provinces. Specifically, the resulting famine and disease would affect the region for years to come.

   Maintenance work on the dam is the Iraqi government’s responsibility, but has not taken place since 2014. The necessary repairs to stop the erosion are estimated at a cost of $250 million to $500 million, according to members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party MP in the Kurdistan parliament.

    The threat of demise arises from the soil foundation of the dam. It is built on water soluble soils that must be constantly replenished to prevent collapse. The combination of gypsum, anhydrite, marl, and limestone continually dissolve in water. 

   The Mosul Dam was once known as Saddam Dam. Constructed in 1983, it stands 113 meters high and 3650 meters long along the Tigris River. It is the second largest dam in the Middle East and provides electricity to 1.7 million residents in Mosul.

   Following the immediate wave, disease would surely follow. Water-borne diseases, such as cholera would run ramped. Iraq already experienced a cholera outbreak in September due to the influx of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Floods typically submerge with sewer systems, which would only intensify the outbreak. The strength of the water deluge from the Mosul Dam would also destroy several buildings which could contain an array of toxic materials such as paints and gasoline.

   The danger of the Mosul Dam isn’t solely structural. In August of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized the dam, but Kurdish peshmerga forces took it back. Sitting on the frontline, there is no doubt a collapse would have a significant impact on the battle between ISIS and the peshmerga forces.

   However, Iraqi officials are dismissing the US reports of the danger as alarmist.  A US Army Corps of  Engineers report stated that decomposition of the soil is occurring at a faster rate than it did before construction in 2007. The report went so far as to call the dam the most dangerous in the world.

   If repairs are not made as soon as possible, Iraq will have another national crisis to deal with.