The Euphrates Dam: a French-German Plan and a Russian Execution..Will Americans Destroy it?
“I dedicate my novel to those who, upon their submerged heads in the Euphrates Dam, glories were built and fortunes flourished, to the submerged”, this is how Abdul-Salam Ojeili, a Syrian writer from Raqqa, started his novel “al-Maghmoureen” (The Submerged) that was published in 1979. He was referring to those who lost their houses as a result of the building of the Euphrates Dam.
Despite of the economic importance of the dam for Syria, it was build upon the dreams of a generation of the region’s farmers who thought that the construction of the dam will turn their lands into paradises. However, the dam was the cause of their displacement as the lake water flooded their villages, amid promises from the successive Syrian governments to compensate them.
In his novel, Ojeili referred to the “social inundation” in the history of the region. Yet, he did not expect the dam to overwhelm a whole new generation of residents, and this is what Syrian fear the most now.
Euphrates Dam or al-Tabqa Dam headed mass media over the past few days. Its operation room was burned and became out of service, since it was bombed during the military operations led by the International Coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS in its stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city.
Engineers, who worked previously in the dam, warned from the continuation of the military operations around the dam. The operations would lead to a catastrophic collapse “that did not happen before and will not happen after it”, according to what the former director of the dam, Engineer Abdul Jawad Sukran, said in an interview with Enab Baladi.
The Project is Old and was Carried Out During al-Assad’s Presidency
Data related to the “Euphrates Dam” are included in the Syrian educational curricula since it is considered as one of the “greatest achievements” of the “corrective movement” that was led by former President Hafez al-Assad in 1970.
However, the achievement was only at the level of implementation. The idea goes back to the 1955 successive governments . But it was halted by the unity between Syria and Egypt in 1958to be completed after the separation under Bashir al-Azma’s government, who was a Prime Minister from April 16, until September 14, 1963, and Khalid al-Azmwho was also a Prime Minister from September 17, until March 9, of the same year.
Al-Osboa al-Arabi (the Arab Week) magazine, mentioned in its December 3, 1963 issue that the Syrian government sent then Minister of Public Works, Robert Elias, for negotiations with the French Government, especially that the German Government procrastinated to finance the Euphrates Dam.
At that time, the Minister said that “the French Government confirmed West Germany’s determination to cooperate with the French side in building the Euphrates Dam”. He said also that “the French contribution will range between 30% to 40%, i.e. more than 200 million USD”.
According to what Syria News website published on September 25, 2016, the rise of Baath Party to power, after a coup on March 8, 1963, suspended the agreement. Negotiations about the implementation of the project were resumed in 1968, but through an agreement with the Soviet Union, whose engineers benefited from the French and German studies.
The implementation started in 1968 before the beginning of Hafez al-Assad’s presidency in 1970, when he gave orders to proceed in building the project through creating the Ministry of Euphrates Dam, as well as developing and reclaiming the lands of the Euphrates Basin.
Russian Experts are Responsible for the Project
The construction of the dam began in 1970 by experts from the Soviet Union, who were primarily responsible for the project and its effectiveness, according to the Russian engineer Gennady Nividovwho headed the first group of Soviet experts. The engineer, who worked from 1970 to 1973, was also supervising the project sector of the hydroelectric station.
In an interview with Russia Today in 2008, Nividov said that the Soviet Union sent engineers and experts with different specializations, including builders and installation workers. The total number of Soviet specialists and their families in Syria reached 12 thousand, while 1500 Syrian workers and engineers participated in the construction of the dam, according to official figures.
The Russian engineer added that “the first phase was concerned with digging and dredging inside the hole of the hydroelectric station base. This is in addition to welding the steel armament structures before pouring concrete and after linking the steel structures. The construction of the station started until the dam was sealed and the sewer was closed in 1973”.
On July 5, 1973, the Euphrates River ran through the gates of the hydroelectric station, in presence of Hafez al-Assad, who crossed the Euphrates River over the dam.
The Second Largest Arab Dam
The body of the dam was built of cement and steel and was designed to withstand earthquakes. It was completed on March 19, 1978 and became one of the largest dams in the Arab region, after the “High Dam” that was constructed by Egypt on the Nile banks in 1968.
According to official figures, the length of the Euphrates dam is 4,500 meters, its width 512 meters, its height 60 meters and it counts for 19 meters from the top.. Rising 308 meters above the sea level, its body can hold up to 41 million cubic meters of water and contains eight water discharges with electric power generators.
The Euphrates Dam holds behind it a lake that the Syrian regime called “al-Assad’s Lake”, but after the Syrian revolution activists called it the Euphrates Lake.
The length of the lake is 80 km, while its width is eight km. Its perimeter is 200 km and its area is 640 km. Its storage capacity is 14.1 billion cubic meters of water and the maximum storage level (water height in the lake) is 304 meters.
The former director of the dam, Abdul Jawad Sukran, explained to Enab Baladi that if the water reached this level and was not released systematically through the gates, water would begin to flow over the body of the dam and that can lead to a crack.
A Hydroelectric transfer station is annexed to the dam and it is considered as the first of its kind in Syria. It is from this station that the high-voltage lines are transmitted to several areas in Syria.
The station consists of eight hydroelectric groups each with a capacity of about 110 megawatts, which means that the total capacity of the station is 880 megawatts. According to official figures, the amount of electricity produced from the station from the beginning of its investment until December 2010 is about 67 billion and 858 millionkilowatt-hour .
The quantity of electricity produced at the global price is 120 times the cost of constructing the dam and hydropower station, which amounted to 150 million Syrian Pounds and included the cost of building materials, all the equipment, the services and wages of engineers. The electricity has contributed to irrigating large areas of land of more than 640 thousand hectares, in addition to generating electricity capacity of 2 billion kilowatt-hour per year. The dam is also a land bridge between the northern and southern banks of the Euphrates River.
The Most Important Dams along the Euphrates River
The length of the Euphrates River is about 2,940 kilometers from its source in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey until its estuary in Shatt al-Arab in Iraq. 1176 kilometers of the river length is in Turkey, 610 kilometers in Syria and 1160 kilometers in Iraq.
The number of dams along the Euphrates River in the three countries has reached more than 20 dams, the most prominent of which are three in Syria: the Euphrates, Tahir and al-Baath, as well as the Ataturk dam in Turkey and the Haditha dam in Iraq.
The Euphrates Dam
The Euphrates Dam is located in the city of al-Tabqah in Raqqa, north Syria. It is considered as one of the largest dams in the Arab world. It was established between 1968 and 1978 under the supervision of engineers from the Soviet Union. Its importance lies in the electricity generation and irrigation of 640 thousand hectares of planted lands in al-Jazira.
The length of the lake is 80 kilometers, with eight kilometers width, a perimeter of 200 kilometers and an area of 640 kilometers, as well as a storage capacity of 14.1 billion cubic meters.
Al-Ba’ath Dam is located between the cities of al-Thawra and al-Raqqa, to the east of the Euphrates Dam. The dam and its hydroelectric station were finished in December 1988.
The Tishreen Dam was built during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad on the Euphrates River, within the administrative area of Manbij in the eastern Aleppo countryside. It entered into service in 1999 at an estimated cost of 22 billion Syrian Pounds. The area of its lake is 166 square kilometers.
The dam is located on the Euphrates River, 24 km away from the Turkish city of Urfa. The dam was inaugurated in July 1992, in the presence of representatives and heads of government of 29 countries in addition to about 100 diplomats.
The size of the lake is 817 kilometers and the quantity of water collected in the dam is about 48 billion cubic meters.
It is one of the largest dams on the Euphrates River in Iraq. It is located 7 kilometers away from Haditha City, in Al Anbar Governorate. The dam was built in cooperation with the Republic of Yugoslavia between 1978 and 1986.
The Dam in the Grip of the “Islamic State”
After the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Syrian opposition factions managed to control the Euphrates Dam in February 2013.
However, the “Islamic State” managed to take over the dam after the control of Raqqa Governorate at the end of 2013. After battles with the opposition factions the Islamic State made it the capital of its Islamic Caliphate.
At the beginning of this year, the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, which is supported by the US-led Coalition Forces, launched a battle called “Wrath of Euphrates” to expel the “Islamic State” from Raqqa.
In recent weeks, the dam has been subject to frequent air raids and bombardments. This resulted in the breakdown of the hydroelectric station as a result of the burning of the control room and led engineers to ring the alarm bells due to the loss of control over the eight spillways gates on the dam.
On Sunday ,March 26th, Amaq News Agency of the Islamic State published a recording showing the burning of the control room and the destruction of most of the existing equipment.
“Amaq” explained that “Office of Services” is unable to send maintenance workshops to the Euphrates Dam (al-Tabqah), because of intense US bombing on the region.
The dam’s business leader, engineer Ahmad Al-Hussein appeared in the recording and talked about the bombing of the Euphrates Dam by planes and the destruction of most of its equipment.
He clarified that “the dam station lost complete water supply and flood overwhelmed all the equipment,” pointing out that “the dam went fully out of service ” .
Later, the Islamic State announced the killing of Al-Hussein along with his technical assistant, Hussein al-Khalaf, by an aerial bombardment while trying to enter the
dam for maintenance purposes. This was on monday, March 27, coinciding with a truce announced by Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Burning of the Control Room is Alarming
The engineer Abdul Gawad Sukran explained to Enab Baladi thedamages and fears of the hydroelectric station breakdown that is caused by the burning of the control room.
He said that “the breakdown of the station means the loss of the so-called local supply, and the provision of all equipment operating at the station with the necessary power. Drainage pumps are the most important of this machinery. They discharge the leaking water to the station and throw it to the river to be safe from sinking”.
He added that the suspension of pumps from work, with the continued leakage and collection of water inside the station, will result in the sinking of the station and the drowning of the entire equipment and turbines. He also revealed that water level began to rise slowly, which would lead to a big loss.
In addition to the sinking of the station, the danger lies in the suspension of the rubber tire crane, which is located on the southern bank of the dam and responsible for controlling the eight spillways, due to the lack of electricity provided by the local supply that is generated from the station.
1.5 Meters Safe Distance Until Today
The breakdown of the crane eliminates the possibility of opening spillways gates since it maintains water level at the safe limit by discharging water into the river. This happens in case of having large quantities of water that exceed the capacity of power generation sets to absorb them.
The engineer Sukran confirmed that since a week water level is constant in the lake at 302.5 meters. This means that there is a safe distance of 1.5 meters of water, which “makes us so reassured till now”. However, water level may rise to the level of “danger” in case Turkey, from which the Euphrates River flows, passed the water flowing from its territory to the Tishrin dam in Manbij.
“The water starts to roll over the dam when it reaches 304 meters. This happens in case the gates are not opened and the water is not drained, resulting in the creation of caves behind the lake in the dam, weakening its structure, thus the collapse of insulating cement blocks and the increase of caves until we reach the collapse”.
Four Measures to Prevent the Collapse
In order to prevent the disaster, urgent measures must be taken, according to Sukran. First, we should stop hostilities from all sides of the conflict in the area of the dam, which is 4.5 kilometers, and the Euphrates Dam. Then, we should put an end to bombing and targeting the area.
The second measure is to safely allow all technicians and engineers, in the dam and neighboring villages, to access the station. They should also be allowed to provide a thorough study to assess the station status and the requirements for bringing it back to work.
The third measure is that technicians and engineers should know the size of the hazards in the rubber tire crane. In addition, they have to estimate the possibility of its repair and secure the electric supply to raise the spillways’ gateways through a diesel generator of 500 kVA. Also, they should secure a 24-hour alternate group of specialists to deal with any emergency that may occur.
The last measure is to communicate with the Turkish Government in order to know if there is a possibility of preventing the flow of water through the Euphrates Dam and how long it should take to stop passing water to Syria. Since April, May and June are called “months of flood,” as a result of snow melting in Turkey, the Turkish Government is compelled to discharge a section of its dams and to pump large quantities of water towards Syria. In one year, the level of water reached six thousand cubic meters per second, although Syria’s basic part is 700 meters per second.
The head of the Interim Government, Jawad Abu Hatab, announced at a press conference with a number of former engineers in the dam on wednesday, March 29, that he met officials of the State Department and Turkish officials as part of the efforts to save the Euphrates Dam from collapse.
The Dam Director Fears a New “Tsunami”
The collapse of the dam will be a historic disaster that will surpass Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear disaster in 1945, which killed 220,000 people, and the tsunami disaster in Indonesia 2004 that left 300,000 dead, says engineer Abdul-Jawad Sukran,
Ibrahim Al-adhan, a former engineer at the dam, said at the press conference that if the dam collapses a wave of water will reach Al-Raqqa at a height of 12 meters with large latent energy. It will reach Deir ez-Zor with five meters high, through the river to Southern Zor until Al-Bukamal.
He pointed out that two million people living in the Euphrates valley are threatened, in addition to catastrophic losses in the infrastructure of small dams, irrigation stations and drinking water on the course of the dam, as well as losses in plant and animal wealth.
Syrians had an experience in the collapse of dams, when the “Zeyzoun Dam” collapsed in Al-Ghab Plain, northwest of Hama, in June 2002. According to official figures, more than 20 people were killed and all 140 houses in the village of Zeyzoun were destroyed. Four villages surrounding the area were flooded: Beshit, Qastun, Zayara and Qarqur. Sukran explained that in case of the collapse of “Euphrates Dam”, the disaster will be more than 200 times the disaster of the “Zeyzoun dam”. The risks will not be limited to those behind the dam, who will be directly affected, but the entire region from the borders of Turkey to the Arabian Gulf. Threats will be with varying degrees of interruption of drinking water, irrigation water and drought of farms.
The warning of the danger of the dam collapse and the return of fighting to the area was accompanied by a large-scale displacement of people in the area towards the nearby countryside, according to records and photographs of the displaced people that have been documented by Syrian activists. It was a reminder of the peasants who were displaced from their land, in the years of the dam construction.
In the “submerged,” Abdul-Salam Ojeili reports peasants’ talk about their unjust displacement decision:”Who are we in this big machine called the state? We are small screws, screws, wires, or fine and thick screws … pieces of metal that the machine must have, and at the same time are of no value and can only be used in its place in the machine. “
However, the novel insists: “our roots are tenacious in this land, like the roots of the trees. Have you ever heard of a tree carrying its roots on its shoulders and walking according to the words it hears?”
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