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Iraq's Mosul Dam In Critical Need Of Repair

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The Mosul dam in Iraq is in danger of collapsing. If it fails, it could cause massive loss of life in the city of Mosul and beyond.

NADHIR AL-ANSARI: The discharge of water will be about 500,000 cubic meters per second. And the height of the wave of water will be about 28 meters. It will flood about 75 percent of the city. And then the wave will progress down and fill (unintelligible).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Nadhir Al-Ansari. He's a professor of civil engineering at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden. Thirty years ago, he compiled the first report on the structural problems there. The dam was built, he says, in the wrong place. After he filed that report, a process of grouting began. That's to stop seepage of water that had begun to leak through the dam. Large teams of workers had to shore it up 24 hours a day in order to keep it operational. The dam survived even a bombing. But then came ISIS.

AL-ANSARI: In 2014, ISIS occupied the dam. And when they occupied the dam, all the engineers and workers, they run away and machines were destroyed. And even when they recaptured the dam, nobody has done any grouting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nadhir Al-Ansari says the government needs to put an evacuation plan in place for people who live in areas that would be flooded if the dam were breached. But that hasn't happened. This past week, authorities in Baghdad hired an Italian firm to start repairs again. But it's not a permanent solution. And the renovation project won't start right away. And as the snows melt this month, more water is flowing into the reservoir above the dam. It's left Nadhir Al-Ansari very, very concerned.

AL-ANSARI: Really, I am very frightened. They don't have that much material and the machinery are not enough to do the required quantities of grouting. So we are very worried that if a flood comes next month, that might destroy the dam.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That, he says, would be catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of people could drown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.