The 1979 Machhu Dam Disaster: Social Origins and Social Consequences: Download

In this webinar, Utpal Sandesara and Tom Wooten will discuss their book, No One Had a Tongue to Speak: The Untold Story of One of History’s Deadliest Floods. The course will cover the social causes and social consequences of the 1979 failure of the Machhu Dam-II in Gujarat, India. The flood wiped out dozens of villages and the industrial city of Morbi, killing at least 5,000 people. The course will cover the technical causes of the dam failure, the managerial problems that allowed design flaws to go unchecked, and the many ways the flood upended lives in the Machhu River Valley.

Five Learning Objectives of This Course:

• Dam collapses can have terrible social consequences.

• Dam collapses also have social causes: there is no such thing as a “natural” disaster.

• This disaster, like most disasters, emerged not from one mistake but from a cascade of them.

• Covering up causes of engineering disasters does the profession and the public a disservice.

• The case shows how crucial it is to take dams seriously: ASDSO members do vital work.

Tom Wooten

PhD Student

Tom Wooten is a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard University. He is co-author, with Utpal Sandesara, of the book “No One Had a Tongue to Speak: The Untold Story of One of History's Deadliest Floods." His sociology dissertation is a study of the transition to college for low-income students in New Orleans. 

Utpal Sandesara

Resident in Internal Medicine

Utpal Sandesara is a doctor in the Internal Medicine Residency Program at UCLA. He holds an MD and a PhD in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author, with Tom Wooten, of the book “No One Had a Tongue to Speak: The Untold Story of One of History's Deadliest Floods." His anthropology dissertation examines how families in India make decisions about sex-selective abortion, and he has also conducted research about the challenges of public health system integration.

Goals of the Presentation:
1. Attendees come away understanding the social failures that contributed to the Machhu Dam-II disaster
2. Attendees come away understanding the professional failings of civil engineers after the dam failure occurred
3. Attendees come away understanding the social consequences of the disaster, and just as importantly, the social consequences of the cover-up led by civil engineers

Part I         
Introduction and Context 
• Overview of Teaching/Learning Goals for Webinar 
• Origins of the project 
• Research questions 
• Research methods
• Writing and Releasing No One Had a Tongue to Speak 

Part II             
Designing the Dam: Professional and Managerial Failures Lead to Deadly Design
• A brief history of Morbi and the Machhu River Valley 
• Dam-building in post-independence India 
• Initial conception and design of Machhu Dam-II 
• Back-and-Forth between Designers and Regulators 
• Building the dam and post-hoc justifications 
• Early life of the dam: 1973-1978 

Part III               
The Events of August 11, 1979
• Dam workers and the supervising river valley engineer 
• Coping with a rising river downstream
• The dam collapse and the wall of water 

Part IV         

The Aftermath: Relief Efforts and Recovery in the Machhu River Valley
• The morning after 
• Outside relief efforts and the Chief Minister of Gujarat 
• Tallying the dead 


Downloadable Webinar
Open to view video.
Open to view video.