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UN fears 'disaster' over strikes near huge dam

By Richard lloyd Parry in Quetta | 08.11.2001 19:01

08 November 2001

The United Nations is warning of a "disaster of tremendous proportions" after US planes bombed a hydro-electric power station close to a vast dam in southern Afghanistan.

UN fears 'disaster' over strikes near huge dam

By Richard lloyd Parry in Quetta

08 November 2001

The United Nations is warning of a "disaster of tremendous proportions" after US planes bombed a hydro-electric power station close to a vast dam in southern Afghanistan.

UN officials say that the loss of electricity will increase the suffering of civilians
in southern Afghanistan, which has already suffered massive damage from
American air raids. They fear that further air raids risk destroying the dam itself,
with catastrophic consequences for the region.

The Taliban city of Kandahar lost all its electricity a week ago, after bombs
knocked out transmission from the hydro-electric power station at the Kajaki
Dam in the remote reaches of Afghanistan's Helmand Province. According to
diplomatic sources in Pakistan, the raids also struck a military post which has in
the past been used by Arab militants of Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network.

The UN has sent Afghan employees to the isolated site to report on the extent
of the damage. Initial reports suggest that the dam itself was not directly hit by
the raids but, according to the office of the UN regional co-ordinator for
Southern Afghanistan, even the failure of the electricity creates the risk of
massive flooding and crop failures.

"In case the dam and/or the three tunnels (with regulators) leading the water
out of the dam also has been damaged it may result in a disaster of
tremendous proportions," says an internal report prepared by the regional
co-ordinator in the Pakistani city of Quetta and made available to The
Independent. "If the dam collapses the whole Helmand valley would be
flooded, risking the life of tens of thousands of people in addition to destroying
the lands benefiting around 500,000 people (and feeding around 1,000,000
people) ... It is crucial to have the situation at the Kajaki dam/power plant

The 48-year-old dam on the Helmand River is 300ft high, 900ft long, and holds
back 1.85 million cubic metres of water in a 32-mile long reservoir. Ironically,
the dam's engineering and the manufacture of the two turbines are American.
The connection of the power plant with the city of Kandahar, 60 miles
south-east, was one of the few development projects successfully completed
by the Taliban earlier this year.

The power station provides electricity to about half a million people and to
several hospitals and industries, including a large textile factory. But it also
powers the machinery which controls the crucial flow of the Helmand River
through the dam itself. Downstream of the dam, the population survives off
fields created out of the desert by irrigation. If this water supply is disrupted,
there will be severe damage to the harvest in a region already threatened by
drought and food shortages.

Too little water would make it impossible to plant the winter wheat. Too much water too soon would exhaust the reservoir, causing the wheat crop to shrivel in the spring. "In addition, in the case of the long-awaited rain arriving, the dam risks bursting without a proper functioning control/regulatory mechanism in place," says the UN report. "Needless to say, the regulatory mechanism is powered by electricity."
Kandahar lost much of its electricity supply three weeks ago, when a distribution plant in the city was damaged by US bombs. Water pumps were put out of action, forcing the population to rely on wells which had already been depleted by the continuing drought. The bombing of the Kajaki hydro-electric plant has cut off power, at its source, to the entire region, including the capital of Helmand Province, Lashkar Gah.
Kandahar's central Mirwais Hospital continues to operate on a generator supplied by the Red Cross, but fuel shortages and a lack of spare parts mean that it is unlikely to run for much longer. "In view of the ongoing war and increasingly cold winter temperatures, unless international support is provided to keep the central hospital functioning it will have to close with disastrous consequences for the suffering population," the UN regional co-ordinator reports.

Diplomatic sources in Pakistan say that a contingent of Arab troops of Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida group had in the past been based at a military post close to the Kajaki dam. It is not clear whether they were present when the bombing took place, or whether the damage to the hydro-electric plant was inflicted deliberately or whether it was an accidental consequence of inaccurate targeting.

By Richard lloyd Parry in Quetta
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dam disaster

08.11.2001 23:25

Funnily enough, conspiracy theorist Ellis C Taylor predicts a dams and water disaster for the month of November on his website

dwight heet