The Targeting of the Euphrates Dam: Warning of a Humanitarian Disaster and War Crime
The Euphrates Dam, situated in the province of Ar-Raqqah, is a large and important structure in the area. It measures 4.5 km long, 60 metres high, 19 metres wide and its volume is made up of 1.5 million metric concrete cubes.
The dam was built to form the Euphrates Dam Lake (which was named “The Assad Lake”). The lake is vast: 80km long and up to 8km wide, with an area of 640km² and a storage capacity of up to14.1 billion cubic metres of fresh water. The larger part of the lake- whose shores reach up to 280km long- lies within the administrative borders of the province of Ar-Raqqah whilst the other section lies on the borders of Aleppo. The “Al-Thawra” city was also built and established close to the dam.
The dam was built by companies run by the previous Soviet Union. The contract to build the dam was signed in November 1968, and the inauguration took place in March 1978.
In early February 2013, the Free Syrian Army gained control of the dam, following the battles which took place over the control of the Ar-Raqqah countryside, and after they gained control of the city.
The Attacks on the Dam
On the 7/9/2012, the city of Al-Tabaqah was subjected to numerous attacks through the use of explosive barrels dropped by warplanes of the Syrian regime. They were launched from the Tabaqa military airport and targeted the area of the dam and its surroundings. One of the barrels landed on the dam, just 15 metres away from the dam gates.
Activists documented the attack which took place on the dam through the use of videos which recorded the moment of the attack, in addition to using photographic evidence of the remains of the barrel used in the attack.
This was not the first attack on the dam. On 30/4/2013 airplanes also targeted the dam through the use of rockets which led to several cracks forming in the dam. In addition, the areas close to the dam have also been subjected to numerous raids, the most violent of which took place on 12/2/2013 and 16/2/2013.
The Potential Risks in the case of the Dam being Hit.
Had one of the barrels yesterday hit the gates of the dam, the lake of the Euphrates would have completely immersed the city of Ar-Raqqah and its surroundings with its waters, potentially rising up to16 metres. In addition, the city of Deir Az-zour and Albokamal would have been immersed in approximately 4 metres of water, as well as parts of Al-Hassaka and Aleppo. It would have also led to a large rise in the water of the Euphrates, which could dangerously affect the province of Al-Anbar in Iraq. The danger could even affect some cities in the south of Iraq.
The immediate area of disaster extends across the length of the Euphrates, from the city of Al-Tabaqah to the Iraqi borders, with a total area estimated at 52680km²- or one third of the area of Syria. This area holds a population of around 3 million people.
Such a criminal act would also lead to the drowning and destroying of all ancient and historical areas that are located within the circle of danger, as well as the destroying of the infrastructure of such places. It would also wipe out 80% of the country’s oil resources.
Any potential hitting of the dam would also cut out electricity in Ar-Raqqah and its surrounding areas, in addition to causing enormous damage to the agriculture as well as ecosystems on the shores of the Euphrates in both Syria and Iraq.
The effect of all these disasters combined can very possibly lead to an unprecedented humanitarian and health epidemic, resulting in tens of thousands of injuries and deaths. Such an epidemic would be much more catastrophic than the dangers of the use of chemical weapons – by multiple times- which were used in Al-Ghouta last month.
The attacks targeting the dam, combined with all the large-scale dangers which could result from it, and the widespread destruction which could occur, is considered a war crime on all fronts according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The attacks which have taken place could well have lead to a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and Iraq.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC), whilst condemning the attacks on the dam, calls upon the international community to intervene and stop the Syrian regime from committing further war crimes against Syrian civilians. SHRC also confirms that the targeting of the dam can lead to losses greater than those in which the regime has used chemical weapons to date. This calls upon the international community to intervene immediately in fulfilment of its communal obligations, and to stop its politics of encouraging criminals of war to escape prosecution.
Syrian Human Rights Committee