Mosul dam engineers warn it could fail at any time, killing 1 million people

A tragedy is just waiting to happen in one of the largest cities in the Middle East, engineers warn. The Iraqis who built the dam structure for the Mosul dam warn that the structure is “increasingly precarious” and threatens to kill 1 million people. They also said the government’s answer has been ridiculous.

Photo by Rehman Abubakr.

The Mosul Dam is the largest dam in Iraq, providing electricity for the 1.7 million residents of Mosul. However, it has a long record of instability. Built in an unstable geological setting, the earthen embankment dam is located on top of gypsum, a soft mineral which dissolves in contact with water – a recipe for disaster. Leaks began right after the dam was built in 1986, with 24 machines continuously pumping grout into the dam base. More than than 50,000 tonnes of material have been injected, but did little to stabilize the structure. A September 2006 report by the United States Army Corps of Engineers noted, “In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world.”

Now, the engineers responsible for building the structure in the first place warn that the situation is reaching critical levels, after winter snows melted and more water flowed into the reservoir, raising pressure. After the city was more or less under the control of the Islamic State, the injection machinery wasn’t operated anymore and the maintenance crew was dissolved. The government was slow in reacting, and while negotiations with an Italian construction firm for carrying out urgent repairs is being discussed, no agreement has been reached.

Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Nasrat Adamo, the dam’s former chief engineer who spent most of his professional career patching the fundamental flaws of the dam said that the situation has been disastrous after ISIS.

“We used to have 300 people working 24 hours in three shifts but very few of these workers have come back. There are perhaps 30 people there now,” Adamo said in a telephone interview with the Guardian. “The machines for grouting have been looted. There is no cement supply. They can do nothing. It is going from bad to worse, and it is urgent. All we can do is hold our hearts.”

Nadhir al-Ansari, another Iraqi engineer from when the dam was built, voiced concerns about rising water levels.

“The fact that the bottom outlets are jammed is the thing that really worries us,” said Ansari, now an engineering professor at the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden. “In April and May, there will be a lot more snow melting and it will bring plenty of water into the reservoir. The water level is now 308 metres but it will go up to over 330 metres. And the dam is not as before. The caverns underneath have increased. I don’t think the dam will withstand that pressure.

He also warned that if the dam actually collapses, the consequences will be incalculable. There’s no backup plan, no evacuation plan, and officials don’t seem interested or able to deal with this problem.

“If the dam fails, the water will arrive in Mosul in four hours. It will arrive in Baghdad in 45 hours. Some people say there could be half a million people killed, some say a million. I imagine it will be more in the absence of a good evacuation plan.”

The US embassy in Baghdad has already warned American citizens to leave the city. We don’t know when the dam will collapse, but this scenario is becoming more and more likely.

48 thoughts on “Mosul dam engineers warn it could fail at any time, killing 1 million people

  1. William dennis-leigh

    Epic disaster likely to happen with international consequences. Everything in Iraq will change in a moment.

  2. Brian

    This is the big problem with big dams. People should never have been allowed to live in the dam flood area, but they always do. The largest mass deaths have been from dams.

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  4. Kisai

    Good luck convincing nobody to live near a river that is dam’ed.

    The government of Iraq should evacuate everyone with the assumption that the dam is going to break and take out Baghdad in a wave of destruction. A controlled breach is better than a chaotic one. Once evacuated, drop a bomb on it and let nature take it’s course.

  5. Jossarian

    This how this world would collapse if Islam takes control of it. Muslims are not able to sustain anything, so people will be dying in massive amounts.

  6. Jossarian

    Both countries are mouth feeded with mountains of petrodollars and heavily depended on migrant workers. Just cut the petrodollar supply and see what is going to happen there.

  7. Jossarian

    Well, didn’t know that Muslim is a kind of race. Thanks for enlightening me.

    I’ve had impression that it is rather some kind of ideology, resembling Nazism in many aspects (like belief in islamic superiority for example). Can I be called a racist crap if I complain about Nazis as well? Is it important to claim to be some kind of cult in order to get such protection against criticism?

  8. Jossarian

    Well, but I didn’t wrote anything about oil reserves above. Having oil is one thing, getting cash for it is quite different story. Iraq is a failed state which is not able to manage its natural resources. Even if some of this oil is being sold this does not help with proper dam maintenance.

    ISIS does simply not care about eventual disaster as well.

  9. Michael James

    Yes, Iraq is definitely a failed state now, thanks to the United States invading it under false pretenses. Before that, they were making a lot of cash from the sale of oil. None of this excuses the fact that whoever built that damn was clueless though.

  10. Dave6034

    No, Islam isn’t a race, it’s a religion, but Arabs are among the few races stupid enough to believe such nonsense (their average IQ is about 80).

    According to Islam, Allah controls the Earth in the minutest detail — never does the Sun rise nor a flower open without Allah’s commanding it to. Therefore we should ignore this dam and let Allah decide what happens next, or as they’d say in Mosul, “inshallah”.

  11. Westcoastliberal

    Well, isn’t “W” the one that invaded Iraq based on “evidence” he knew at the time was phony? Had he not invaded, circumstances in Iraq would be much different today, no? George W Bush is the idiot that keeps on giving!

  12. USHA#17

    Willfully ignorant conservatives will never accept Bush’s role in bringing about the circumstances now preventing ongoing structural maintenance. Enjoy wallowing in your stupidity.

  13. Kevin Egan

    The death of a million innocent people? You really should try to think about the humanity you share with the rest of us before you make a grotesque comment like that.

  14. Larry Evans

    if Obama hadn’t run away like a little girl, we’d still have a presence and ISIS would never had come about.

    But then, some say we deliberately created ISIS to get rid of Assad.

  15. Brian

    Why not slowly release the water and rebuild? You could even justify letting the people stay there if the dam was replaced well before it got risky. The gov could start to move people out of the most dangerous flood areas over time.

  16. fostecs

    The majority of dams around the world are earthen and are safe. At issue is the underlying geology. This dam should not have been built at this location. This dam seems to be suffering problems similar to Wolf Creek Dam (Lake Cumberland, Kentucky, USA) that has been repaired by a joint venture company with Treviicos, a subsidiary of Trevi, as a member company, under contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Both dams were built upon geology that is prone to erosion.

  17. LikeBuffaloWingsALittleTooMuch

    I’m a conservative and I blame Bush for much of the Iraq fiasco.

    However, this dam was built in 1986, so G. W. Bush can’t be blamed for its construction. Just for the fact that it’s in any way our problem now.

    Of course, the 297 Congressmen who voted to invade Iraq after 9/11 should also be made to personally patch the dam by hand.

  18. Kisai

    The problem here is that Daesh will certainly kill anyone that gets near it. It’s a ticking time-bomb, and as with all earth-fill dams, if water starts going over it, it’s game over.

  19. gloomyharvester

    Ignoring the dam in favor of the will of Allah is not what happened here, but hey, why read the article when you can make up your own facts.

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  21. EngineerGA1

    You project that if the political control issues are resolved, there are sufficient technical means to stabilize the dam?

  22. EngineerGA1

    Our exit from Iraq (or lack thereof) would not have prevented the rise and current state of ISIS. The proposed SOFA at the time of exit would have left residual forces primarily configured for air ops, force protection, training, and deterring Iranian meddling in Iraqi internal affairs (at least in the form of suppressing the formation of Shi’a militia a la al-Sadr). Our internal waffling about Syria is what caused this in the first place. The fact the “anti-Assad moderate rebels” could never form a coherent coalition (and we backed them anyway) started this foolishness [and we couldn’t leave well enough alone after the Arab Spring]. We ended up arming al-Nusra and similar elements on the ground. Assad would have been happy to suppress that foolishness. Western powers are squeamish about the methods required to successfully do so, but Assad (and the Russians) are not. Let us presume that 1 Homs (or even 5) were required to end this bloody mess. The UN estimates that 250,000 have been killed and as of the end of 2014, 6.5 million persons were displaced (probably another couple of million displaced by now) and Europe has been flooded with migrants, not to mention that Lebanon & Jordan’s governments have nearly collapsed economically because of the refugee influx. Which is the lesser evil? You decide.

  23. EngineerGA1

    Very true. Never forget that the Sadat signed the Camp David Accords partially because Golda Meir made clear after the Yom Kippur War that if Egypt tried again the Aswan Dam could disappear, with the attendant results for Egypt.

  24. fostecs

    Trevi has been dealing with the repair of dams all over the world. It is amazing what technology exists now to remediate dams that are in jeopardy.

  25. Falcon-9

    Average IQ is 80? Where do you get this nonsense from? I suppose from your goldfish brain. And if their attitude was like that, the dam would never have been built in the first place.

  26. Falcon-9

    What he meant was that poster was being a bigot. And they do not believe in Islamic Superiority, they simply think they are right in their version of god. You won’t be racist if you complain against Nazis, but what about Jews? Were Nazis not “racist”, then? What were they? Surely they had similar impressions that you have about Islam, but instead for Judaism. Is that to be excused?

  27. Brian

    Yup. That means the only recourse is to remove the people and bomb it in a way that creates a relatively slow leak. We have precision bombs, we could probably do it now and not even put the people in danger. Of course if we make a mistake….

  28. Dave6034

    From Wikipedia, “Construction on the dam began in 1981 by a German-Italian consortium that was led by Hochtief Aktiengesellschaft”. Doesn’t sound like Arabs to me. Saddam used Arab labor for simpler projects, but had to constantly threaten managers with execution to keep the work on schedule. The US wasted billions in Iraq because workers would just pocket the money and build nothing.

    The IQ 80 figure is probably too high. I once tried to guide a Saudi “computer science” major through a simple algebra problem. He had never seen algebra before and had absolutely no idea what “x = y + 1” meant.

  29. wga8888

    Islam is a political-social structure for ruling people enslaved through military conquest.

  30. wga8888

    Don’t forget that Bush is responsible for killing the dinosaurs, the 1st Crusade in 1097, the black plaque in Europe in the middle ages, and the corrupt monarchies that resulted in the Progressive French & Russian Revolutions. Ask any American High School or college student.

  31. NJ_citizen

    Arguably the American invasion was an underlying cause, but it didn’t have to be that way. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.

    Furthermore, even assuming outright catastrophe occurs, it doesn’t absolve survivors from responsibility for their own fates (see Europe and Japan after World War II).

    Bottom lines:

    1. This impending disaster is a textbook example of the worth of an ounce of prevention.

    2. The immediate causes are undeniably local and regional in origin.

    3. The situation does not speak well for the people of that part of the world.

    4. Ironically, if the dam collapses many more will be killed than in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, but the economic damage will be lower.

    5. Civil engineering cannot be sustained in the absence of civilization.

  32. Falcon-9

    I never said they specifically engineered the dam, but Arab (Iraqi) engineers were part of it, and they did sustain the dam. And it is obvious they would pocket the money, after all, their living conditions weren’t that great. But, still, your IQ statement is nonsense. As for the Saudi you guided, it’s probably just he got into the stuff by his money instead of intelligence. You’ll find more intelligent Saudis in middle class.

    But just because you met some absolutely dumb Saudis, doesn’t mean that Arabs have an average IQ of 80. No race does, you’re being racist. They would never have existed until now if they did. You’ll find a higher proportion of intelligent Arabs outside Saudi Arabia, as that place is corrupt as hell. Arabs have made many contributions to the world, not as many now perhaps as in the past.

  33. Dave6034

    “after all, their living conditions weren’t that great.”

    Perhaps Arabs would enjoy better living conditions if they actually did their jobs instead of lying and saying they did?

    Nor does your meeting a few sentient Arabs prove that they’re all able to reason. You might as well argue that the Earth is flat as say that all races have the same average IQ: https://iq-research.org/en/page/average-iq-by-country

    The most “racist” people are those who’ve spent the most time living and working among ordinary non-whites. Drinking beer with token minorities at your Ivy League college doesn’t count.

  34. Falcon-9

    Many Arabs enjoy great living conditions in countries such as UAE, Oman, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria etc. In Iraq, they don’t. Mostly because it is a war-torn area with years of history of outside occupation and civil war. It’s not the Iraqi’s fault that is so, it is simply because it is such an important area, strategically and in resources.

    As for your website, it clearly says “These results are controversial and have caused much debate, they must be interpreted with extreme caution.”, and I refuse to believe a country has an average IQ of 59. It is simply because the population is not familiar with the test, and why IQ tests are not reliable mostly. Besides, what are the size of the samples? They make no mention. I stand by my statement that races have similar IQs. The Earth is not flat because it is proven by many scientists (as opposed to the IQ test you linked). Making claims about populations is far more liable to bias and error.

    As for “The most “racist” people are those who’ve spent the most time living and working among ordinary non-whites.”, once again, you’ve provided no sources for this statement other than your own claim. Besides, I doubt your own authenticity. Until you give better evidence for your claim, I really won’t argue further.

  35. Brian

    Punch a small hole in the dam with a cruise missile and let it safely drain out. I assume the world has tried to tell them to drain it on their own.

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