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February earthquake damages dams in Middle East

Tonhe is turkish Authorities announced on March 30 that 140 dams had been inspected since two earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria in February. None were seriously damaged, they insisted. Still, many Middle Easterners remain concerned about the state of the more than 860 dams along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and their tributaries.

United Nations Eight dams in the region, including three in Syria, have opened cracks since the quake, officials said. The Talur Dam in Syria’s Idlib Province has been devastated by the war, and on February 8, there was an aftershock and the embankment burst. Floods have washed away this year’s harvest and left streets littered with rubble. Thousands fled. A crack more than a meter wide has opened at the Sultansuyu dam 200 kilometers north of the Syrian border, prompting Turkish authorities to release water as a “precautionary measure”.However, engineers say the dam is damaged beyond repair.

One of the smaller and lower quality dams in the Middle East, the Thalur Dam was built from compacted earth. Jonathan Hinks, former president of the UK Association of Dams and editor of a book on earthquakes and dams to be published this year, points out that no concrete dam has ever failed due to an earthquake. Fears that Turkey’s massive Ataturk Dam, the world’s third largest, was damaged in the latest earthquake have proven unfounded.

Others are less confident. Many dams in the region are at least partially constructed of mud. Ceyhun Ozcelik, an engineering professor at Gaziantep, said even small leaks in these barriers can cause pressure buildup that can wash them away. Twenty years ago, the Zeyzoun Dam in northern Syria collapsed within hours, flooding nearby villages. High dams (those with high walls at high altitudes) in the region are hundreds of times larger. Years of war have meant that many parts of Syria and Iraq have fallen into disrepair.

The dam itself induces seismic activity when water pressure increases near the tectonic fault. Since the 1960s, there appear to be about 140 earthquakes worldwide that have been triggered this way, at least one of which has killed thousands.

After the February earthquake and subsequent heavy rains, Turkish officials eased pressure on the dams by lowering the water table. Rivers that have dried up due to dams have turned into rapids. In the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakah, the Khabur River flows through dry farmland for the first time in years. The island that once surfaced in the Tigris River in the Iraqi capital Baghdad briefly sank again. It’s a sign of sclerotic management of the region’s waterways, which need earthquakes to keep them flowing.

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