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A damn big problem in Iraq

Actually, a big dam problem:

Mosul Dam, formerly known as Saddam Dam (Arabic: "Sadd Saddam") is in danger of collapse. That's because the dam was built on unstable bedrock of gypsum that requires a constant infusion of grout to prevent the foundation from eroding and the giant earthen wall from collapsing. Over the years, engineers have pumped into the foundation more than 50,000 tons of a bentonite, cement, water and air mixture. As the Washington Post explains, "Twenty-four clanging machines churn 24 hours a day to pump grout deep into the dam's base. And sinkholes form periodically as the gypsum dissolves beneath the structure."

Despite these efforts, the dam's condition continues to deteriorate, raising the prospect of its complete collapse. Were this to happen with a reservoir full of water, predicts Engineering News-Record, "as much as 12.5 billion cubic metres of water pooled behind the 3.2-km-long earth-filled impoundment [would go] thundering down the Tigris River Valley toward Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The wave behind the 110-m high crest would take about two hours to reach the city of 1.7 million." In addition, parts of Baghdad (population seven million) would come under five metres of water.

The Army Corps estimates the flood would kill a half-million people immediately, while the aftershocks, such as power outage and drought, would kill many more. (Not coincidentally, Iraq was the site of Noah's Ark.) It would likely be the largest human-induced single loss of life in history.

Yipes. And then there's the secondary problem:
Yet, were a catastrophic failure to take place, who would be blamed for the unprecedented loss of life? Americans, of course. And understandably so, for the Bush administration took upon itself the overhauling of Iraqi life, including the Mosul Dam. Specifically, the U.S. taxpayer funded attempts to shore it up with improved grouting, at a cost of US$27-million. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has, however, judged these efforts mismanaged and ineffective.

Massive Iraqi deaths would surely spawn conspiracy theories about American malevolence, inspiring epic rage against the U.S. government and creating a deep sense of guilt among Americans themselves. Yet this blame and remorse would be entirely misplaced.

Read on. And be glad it's not your job to keep this crumbling thing standing.

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