Mullaperiyar dam is a 53.6 meter-high aging dam in the Western Ghats, adjacent to the Periyar wildlife sanctuary in Kerala. This 126-year-old dam has dangerously outlived the 50 years life that the British engineers intended it for.
N.K. Premachandran, a Kerala parliament member, said that this dam is "a ticking timebomb waiting to explode, not only because of its antiquity but also because it is located on an acknowledged seismic zone."
Premachandran has been the water resources minister of Kerala from 2006 to 2011 and has consulted experts from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Roorkee and IIT-Delhi to study the safety of the dam. Both institutes claim that the Mullaperiyar dam is fit to be decommissioned.
However, it was not pushed through because of the political wrangling and litigation in Supreme Court, TechXplore reported.
But in a report released by the UN last January 22, Mullaperiyar dam was included in the list among the world's big dams that are needed to be decommissioned. Premachandran is hoping that the UN's study will encourage the Supreme Court to decide on the dam's decommission that threatens millions' lives by this time.
Aging Dams Around the World
Indi is not the only country with aging dams; the USA and China also top the list with a significant number of large aging dams. For instance, China has 40% of the world's large dams or about 23,841, wherein its average age is 45 years old.
On the other hand, official records stated that India has 209 dams already over a century old. These dams were built when design practices and safety protocols were below the current standards.
Moreover, SciDev.net reported that Africa has fewer large dams than other continents but are deemed notable. Some of these are the Aswan Dam in Egypt, Akosombo Dam in Ghana, and Kariba Dam in Zambia and Zimbabwe. These dams are said to have an average age of fewer than 50 years.
Meanwhile, the dams in Latin America face widespread aging as the dams' average age closes to 50 years. Over 50% of the dams in South America are in Brazil, with a handful of them already over 50.
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Aging Dams Are High-Hazard Infrastructures
The aging dams' burgeoning legacy poses ever-growing safety risks as they become high-hazard infrastructures that become fragile as climate change affects them by increasing extreme river flows.
According to Yale Environment 360, aging dams have suffered failures in recent years, with over 170 of them happening between 2015 and 2019. Before 2005, the average to failures of dams is only four per year.
Dam engineers said that the most significant threats of aging dams in the coming years are probably in China and India, two countries that hold the greatest aging dams.
Both countries have also suffered dam failures in the past that killed tens of thousands of people. For instance, a flood has led to the disintegration of the Machchhu Dam in Gujarat, India, in 1979 that killed as many as 25,000 people.
While in China, the Banqiao Dam in Henan sent a wave of water seven miles wide ad 20 feet high at 30 miles per hour that killed an estimated 26,000 people, causing famine and epidemics that also killed 17,000 more people. This has been considered the deadliest structural failure in history and was kept secret for many years.
Although both dams are only 20 and 23 years old, respectively, their demise suggests that more ticking time bombs are in the area, what's more with aging dams that are over a century old.
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