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Iraq: the country of two rivers without water

Domenico Guglielmi

November 30, 2007

Since the American invasion, the hydration system in Iraq, the richest country in water in the Middle East, has been completely devastated. The lack of concrete reconstruction projects by the government and the difficulty of humanitarian organisations to intervene in an effective way have caused hydration and humanitarian emergencies which are scarcely manageable. To this situation are added the issues surrounding the risk of the eventual collapse of the country's largest dam.

Domenico Guglielmi

Equilibri.net (30 November 2007)

The Mosul Dam: between real risk and unfounded alarmism

Currently the dam at Mosul supplies drinking water and irrigation to the whole surrounding region and to the valley as far as Baghdad, generating 300MW of electrical energy to the region. According to American experts from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the dam could be on the verge of collapse, creating a disaster of huge proportions, be it in terms of human lives (a possible 500,000 victims are spoken of together with the total flooding of Mosul with its 1.7 million inhabitants) or be it in terms of the country's agriculture. The pressure that would be generated by the upstream waters could create a downstream wave of about 20 metres in height whose impact would hit Baghdad (400km to the South). Worries have been growing since May, when following the inspection by the US Special Inspector General for Iraqi Construction (SIGIR), a letter was sent to President Nuri al-Maliki from American Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus. According to experts the damage would be fundamentally due to the strong erosion of the chalky ground on which the very dam was built in 1984. Since the beginning of its construction, the Iraqi authorities have carried out maintenance works, injecting liquid mortar in order to eliminate the infiltration of the subsoil (more than 200 tonnes of mortar, yearly since 1990, have been used).

In light of the American report has come the reaction of the Iraqi government and of the Special Inspector for the Reconstruction of Iraq, Stuart Bowen, who have declared that the danger of collapse isn't imminent. Even the spokesman for the Ministry of Hydration Resources, Ali al-Dabbagh has strongly confirmed that the American report is a fraud and that the installations are constantly monitored, underlining that the problems at the core have always been there and that they are under control, with a general structure which is in good order. The Minister of Hydration Resources, Latif Rashid has already declared that from 2008, they will carry out works to encase the core in a sack which won't allow for any possibility of infiltration.

The Association of Iraqi Muslim Scholars (AMS) attributes the responsibility both to the Americans and the Government for the mal-management of the dam and to the insufficient funds designated for its maintenance ($27million). For some time already, before the declaration over the possibility of imminent collapse, many Iraqi and international associations denounced the mal-management of works to the dam on the part of American SIGIR, even raising the suspicion that the centre of the dam may have been voluntarily damaged. In recent months, it has emerged how a Turkish company who had taken a contract for $640,000 for the construction of bins intended for the cement with which to reinforce the dam, technically they badly constructed them, so that they were never used.

The Government's underground goings-on and the interventions by humanitarian organisations

The majority of the water in Iraq is distributed with tankers which depart in the morning from the potholes and distribute water for the remainder of the day. In Falluja for example, the tankers set out to re-fill the potholes of Abu Ghraib and Al Asrakhia, managing to answer to the demand of almost 75% of the city. Between August and September, UNICEF extended the water distribution operations, establishing new sources above all for Baghdad. It is estimated that 38.5 million litres of water are distributed to various parts of the capital, covering hospitals, schools and evacuee centres for a total of 120,000 people. Seventeen hydration and sewage installations have been repaired by the governing bodies of Wasit, Kirkuk, Basra and Kerbala, while in Thiqar, 30,000 people have benefited from the reparation of three sewage networks, all interventions, which due to scarce security, require many months to reach a stage of completion. Humanitarian organisations are in the process of training numerous engineering experts in the field of hydration infrastructure and they are involved in the reparation of electricity centres which, in many cases, allow access to drinking water (such as in the case of the area of Al-Shua'iba in the city of Basra). Among the projects is that being led by UNICEF and UNOPS, for the construction of an electricity centre necessary for the functioning of purification systems in Sharq Dijala, which would carry drinking water to 2.7 million inhabitants in the Western part of Baghdad.

An investment of $5.6 million is predicted but funds are scarce. The same UNICEF has been unable to answer to the request of the government for the provision of chemicals necessary for the treatment of water, due to the same lack of funds. The Polish Humanitarian Organisation (PHO) launched a project to help improve the quality of water in the region of Babele. The water purification installations are the only sources of drinking water in the city. In 2006, seven purifiers were repaired and in July 2007, thanks to financing from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the PHO began the construction of new water purification systems which will produce 50 cubed metres of clean water. The project sets out the construction of water pipes which will carry drinking water to the families in the village of Saied Esmail in the region of Ablu Garak.

If on the one hand, the humanitarian organisations are very active, on the other the lack of intervention by the government authorities within the territory is evident. It is all in the hands of sporadic projects carried out by humanitarian organisations, which between lack of funding, scarce security in the intervention zones and the vastness of the crisis, fail to confront the problem effectively. The reality is that despite the assurances of the Ministry of hydration resources, the country's hydration system is a long way off being re-established. Canals, dams, purifiers, desalination installations, pumping stations and installations for the treatment of sewage are almost completely unusable.

Water, between petroleum and gas

The re-construction of the Iraqi hydration system depends on the geopolitical choices of the United States and its allies, above all as regards the northern Iraq (provinces of Ninive and Dahuk), an area from which gas and petroleum should flow towards Turkey and therefore, towards Europe, with the intention of emancipating itself from dependence on Russian hydrocarbon. This project should lead, in the long run to the substitution of Russian hydrocarbons with those from Iraq. This strategy is defined by many analysts as the "balkanization of Iraq", setting out the division of resources from the north between the large, Western multinationals. To this proposal, the authorities of the autonomous Kurdish region continue to sign new contracts for the exploitation of gas and petroleum with other countries. The last seven regard the areas of Akre-Bijil and Shaikan near the dam of Mosul (whose maintenance is entrusted to this same authority). Other blocks (about 24) were assigned to the province of Dahuk with unspecified localities (which could include the areas eventually flooded by the downstream wave and upstream to the artificial lake). The eventual breakage of the dam would force almost a million people to move away from these territories (currently set aside for agricultural use), generating a vast wave of refugees towards Syria.

Once Iraq loses its hydration resources derived from the dam, Turkey will have total control over Iraqi water procurement through the construction of a new dam for $1.7 billion on the Tigris, where the river flows towards Iraq (the old "Ilisu" project, financed by the Societe Generale SA, German, Swiss and Austrian credit companies, which once completed, will produce 3800 Giga-watts of energy hourly, that is to say, 2.4% of current Turkish production). In this way, Iraq would lose a large part of its drinking water and it would see the definitive drying up of the wetlands of Shatt el-Arab. The results will be the eventual desertification of every type of agriculture: in the north due to the overflowing of the dam and in the south, due to the desertification of the wetlands. All of this is despite the United Nations Convention in 1997 over the "fair distribution of the water of the commercial rivers". However, despite this, in March 2007, Iraq, Syria and Turkey signed a protocol of agreement over the common management of the waters of the Tigris and of the Euphrates.

The behaviour of the American authorities in these months would seem to confirm their global strategy. The United States have invested only $2.1bn into the reconstruction of the water system (both for drinking water and the sewage system), to answer to a need of $14bn. According to Iraqi sources, $530 million would have been spent on hydration infrastructure. They also propose as a solution the construction of a dam at Badush, which however wouldn't be sufficient to function as a valve in the case of the breakage of the dam at Mosul and it would cost $300million to construct, which the Iraqi Government doesn't want to undertake. This is without considering the fact that in order to avoid that the dam is constructed on unsuitable ground, as happened with the dam in Mosul, geological inspections which would take years of work would be required.


Beyond some sporadic intervention, the reconstruction of the Iraqi water system is closely connected with the geopolitical strategies of the big powers present in the region. The management of the works regarding the dam in Mosul, in a precarious area of the Middle East , will represent an important pawn for the future assets of the region. That which seems obvious is that Iraq is devastated, impoverished not only of energy resources but also of water resources. It is the battle for control over water that will guarantee power status in the Middle East and as in Israel, water is controlled between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, Turkey could control this towards Syria and Iraq.

Translation by Megan Ball

:: Article nr. 38774 sent on 30-nov-2007 20:15 ECT


Link: uk.equilibri.net/article/8350/Iraq__the_country_of_two_rivers_without_water

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