A Humanitarian Disaster Threatens the East of Syria

Eldorar Alshamia Editor | 29 March, 2017

The situation of fear and panic is the top of the scene in Syria, especially in the province of Raqqa, after the circulation of reports issued by several local and international parties about the imminent collapse of the Euphrates dam, and flooding of large areas of land, resulting disasters not limited to material, but it includes killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

This issue raise many questions most important is the real situation of the dam, its collapse is near, or is it just rumors, what is the position of the local and conflicting parties near it, and what measures are required to prevent the occurrence of this disaster?

Euphrates Dam "Location, Creation and Importance"

The Euphrates dam also called al-Tabqa Dam is located on the Euphrates River in the city of the al-Tabqa or "al-Thawra" city, located 50 km west of the city of Raqqa. The dam is four and a half kilometers long, 60 meters high, its size is 41 million cubic meters, the left section of the dam is 150 meters long, 15 meters high, and is built between the main dam and the left section, which is 75 meters high and has a drainage capacity of 19,000 cubic meters per second. It is integrated with the hydroelectric station and consists of eight openings with iron gates, front and back, each 15 meters width, 14 meters high.
The hydropower station is an essential part of the dam, located on the right bank, the largest power station in Syria, with a total capacity of 880 megawatts, an annual output of 2.5 billion kWh.
There is a channel called al-Baleekh on the northern entrance to balance drainage and relieve the pressure on the dam, used for irrigation purposes as well.

The dam has a lake with a storage capacity of 14 billion cubic meters of water, 80 km long and 8 km wide and its area is 642 km2, saving water started in 1973 and the lake is considered one of the most important resources of fish in Syria.

The idea of building the dam was put forward in 1955 and stopped during the Syrian-Egyptian unity after three years. It was renewed in 1962 after an agreement was signed with the Soviets to build a storage dam in al-Tabqa, but the construction process did not begin until 1970, after establishing a ministry for leading and carrying out the work, where the completion of the dam project in several stages, and ended after nine years.

What Will Happen if the Dam Collapses?

The Syrian regime lost control of the dam in February 2013, after the revolutionary factions took over the city of al-Tabqa. The dam was then shelled by the regime, but the factions worked to ensure full protection for experts and technicians, and worked to repair the damage. Control of the dam was shifted to IS organization after dominating the entire region at the end of the same year, and now the area of the dam witnessed violent clashes between IS organization and Syrian Democratic militias, backed by the United States of America, causing damage to the body of the dam and the control room without knowing the seriousness of the damages.

However, almost a month ago, the United Nations warned of a catastrophic flood in Syria due to the high rainfall this year on the one hand and damage to the dam because of the air strikes of the International Alliance. This reinforced IS narrative that the dam will be soon out of service, and all its iron gates stopped working as a result of the shelling, and warned of its collapse.

UN report: Possible imminent collapse of the Euphrates dam is due to deliberate sabotage by IS organization and lack of necessary maintenance, as well as raids by the International Coalition and attacks by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The dam is a very delicate issue, especially since its collapse will put the lives of more than three million people in danger, as well as the threat that will affect most areas of southeastern Syria, and its collapse will lead to the sinking and loss of the station. As well as the sinking of the banks of the river completely, the eradication of livestock and plant, and the elimination of 80 percent of the oil wealth, and the obliteration of all the monuments between the city of Raqqa and the Iraqi borders, the most important of which are Halabia and Zalabia, Tel al-Hariri and al-Salihiyah.

Local and International Reactions

IS Organization: Amaq agency of the organization reported a source in the Bureau of Services exit of the Euphrates dam of service, as a result of the closure of all gates by air raids and US artillery, which resulted in the cessation of the work of the dam and the interruption of electricity feeding and the exit of all equipment and sections of the dam out of service completely , the organization warned of the collapse of the dam at any moment, as a result of rising water level, and the inability to send maintenance workshops.

Syria's Democratic Militias: Militias reacted to the collapse of the dam and announced a four-hour suspension of military operations in the area on Monday, 27 March 2017, and allowed the maintenance teams to enter the pump. However, this interaction was considered unrealistic by experts and engineers, especially when the militias announced resuming military operations in the region, after a report by maintenance teams that they allowed to enter that there is no damage to the dam.

Raqqa Local Council: Mohammad Hijazi, deputy head of al-Raqqa Local Council denied what IS Organization mentioned about the dam collapse, saying that this is false propaganda, aiming at goals of the organization, stressing that the water level is still below normal, and level raising does not mean the collapse of the dam, which is designed to withstand levels above the normal, pointing out that there is already damage to the mechanical equipment of the dam, but there is a manual gate can be opened to drain water, and the engineering design of the dam prevents the collapse completely, even if damaged.

The Free Engineers Association: The local council's narrative was reinforced by the statement issued by the Free Engineers Association, which confirmed that the dam was prepared according to engineering standards where all the precautions and safety factors were used, and that the news about the possible collapse of the dam "is only malicious methods by the operators of the Syrian regime aimed at displacing the population of the Euphrates basin in Syria and Iraq, and changing the demography of the region. "

Engineers and workers in the Euphrates dam: The statement issued by specialized engineers in the Euphrates dam seems more aware of the previous data from other parties. Engineers have demanded of serious steps to be taken commensurate with the magnitude of the danger facing the region, considering that the four-hour ceasefire announced by SDF militias is not sufficient to carry out any maintenance or repair.

They also noted that the operations room directly responsible for the command and control of the generating groups is burnt, apart from what the militias have declared, and is completely out of operation, which means losing control of the station, inability of monitoring station equipment of pumps and turbines from the levels of water and oil in the reservoirs. "

The engineers added that the exit of the operating room from work would lead to its sinking because of the pumps stopped pumping water inside, so we have lost the room completely, and lost control of the gates of "spill."

Killing of the Director of the Euphrates Dam "Ahmed Hussein," and a technician of the station on Monday while trying to work on the maintenance and lifting the spillway dam gate.

Returning to the cease-fire deadline yesterday, the engineers stressed, "Giving a four-hour time to repair the damage of the Euphrates Dam is not sufficient to work, or even to assess damage to the Euphrates dam. These technical workshops need at least forty-eight hours , because the majority of cadres do not exist and left the city because of the bombing and battles taking place in the region, and their presence at such a speed is almost impossible, and when they are present, need to meet all mechanical and electrical specialties they also need additional time to enter and assess the damage, and find emergency and alternative solutions,, this takes time to bring the necessary equipment according to damage and its size. "

Dam engineers are demanding the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and take the decision to cease hostilities to spare Syria a humanitarian catastrophe, which is the killing of millions of civilians.

International Coalition: International Coalition ruled out on Monday any collapse of the Euphrates dam at the moment, but that may happen if the dam suffered attacks by IS organization, stressing that the warplanes did not use any explosives with large destructive force near the dam.

International Coalition: "Coalition forces did not use explosives with significant destructive power in their operations near the dam," the coalition said, adding, "The dam is not in urgent danger as long as it has not been attacked by IS organization."


Recommendations and Procedures to Prevent the Disaster

The Euphrates dam engineers and experts issued several recommendations for immediate implementation to prevent the development of dam damage and prevent collapse.

The most important of which is the cessation of military operations and coordination with the Turkish government to store the water coming from its territory within the lakes of its dams, until solving the problem and providing suitable generators to feed the crane at the top of the station, to raise the flood gates, provide a 500KVA diesel generator and place it next to the crane, provide a 200KVA generator to feed the irrigation outlet gates, and create safe human corridors that allow workers and technicians access to raise flood gates.


It seems that the fighting parties near the city of al-Tabqa has not yet taken real action to the level of the event, under the emphasis of expert engineers in their statement that a small truce for 4 hours only is not enough to restart the dam, and not taking actual steps to reduce the proportion of water flowing or cutting it off forever foreshadows the occurrence of what cannot be trusted.