Friday, January 29, 2016

Dam, Dam, Double Dam: An Avoidable Crisis in Mosul

The Mosul Dam received massive media attention in 2014 when the Islamic State (ISIS) seized the structure. Concerned about the possible destruction to the dam, Iraqi, Kurdish, and air-led American forces scrambled to retake it. The coalition succeeded after weeks of hard fighting. If destroyed, the dam is estimated to kill 500,000 citizens in Mosul, leave over one million homeless, and damage bridges and other infrastructure along the Tigris River. But now that the Mosul Dam is back in Iraqi hands, the worry is not that ISIS will be responsible for the dam’s collapse.
Built on a foundation of gypsum, limestone, and clay, the dam is at risk of deterioration due to these substances propensity to dissolve when touched by water. American officials recently came forward claiming the dam is structurally unsound and will require immediate repairs to avoid disaster. While this issue is not a new one, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been slow to respond since retaking the position. His government also seems lax in warning its citizens in Mosul about the potential flood or proper protocol to take should the dam break.  Given the multiple problems facing the Iraqi government right now – ISIS, shortage of funds, and proving that the government is capable- it is easy to see how this might have been deprioritized. But help is very much available.
Trevi Group, an Italian company, is in negotiations with the Iraqi government concerning emergency treatment on the dam. However, the corporation wants an Italian security force present to ensure the safety of the engineers. Considering ISIS still controls the city of Mosul, lying only 51.5 km away from the dam, protection for their own personnel seems legitimate. However, there is resistance within al-Abadi’s cabinet about letting foreign forces help guard the structure, delaying any sort of immediate action particularly from those who fear an increased Western presence in Iraq. Financially, America petitioned the World Bank to loan Iraq the money needed for dam repairs.
Image result for mosul damThe Iraqi government’s negligence on this issue ensures short and long-term consequences. In the short-term, a broken dam results in the loss of a critical energy source, citizen’s lives, and damaged infrastructure along the Tigris River.  In the long-term, the already struggling administration loses credibility, stemming from the perceived inability to protect its own citizens and to maintain critical infrastructure. Such convictions could lead Iraqis into the open arms of ISIS. Even though it might be unpopular within al-Abadi’s government, foreign aid is essential to resolving this issue and avoiding disaster. 

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