Aswan High Dam Opened (1970)

The Aswan High Dam on the Nile River began operation of July 21, 1970.  The dam is one of the largest in the world—and perhaps the most controversial dam in the world.  The Arabic name for the dam is Al-Sadd all-Ali.

Aswan High Dam (photo by Hajor)

            The Nile River is an essential resource to the peoples of the Nile River watershed, mostly in what is now Egypt.  Most Egyptians, 95%, live within 12 miles of the river and its diverse delta system.  Managing the massive flows of the river has always been an active part of the civilization of the region.

            Modern attempts to control the flow of the river began with the building of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902.  The dam, built by the British, was designed to control flooding and provide a more even flow of irrigation water for cotton farms in the delta.  Its height was raised twice to make it more effective, but it was still too small to produce the desired results

Egyptian President Abdel Nassar and USSR Premier Nikita Krushchev celebrate the Aswan High Dam

            Consequently, plans for a new dam, a few miles upstream, began in the 1950s.  During the Cold War, both the U.S. and England on one side and the Soviet Union on the other side competed to gain an alliance with Egypt by agreeing to pay for the dam.  However, both the U.S. and England backed out of the deal.  The Soviet Union stayed and became Egypt’s partner to help plan, build and finance the dam.

            Construction took from 1960-1968, but the official date of opening was July 21, 1970.  The dam is huge—111 meters high, 3830 meters long, and 980 meters wide at the base.  It is an embankment dam, constructed of rock, clay and dirt.  The amount used to build the dam is equal to the equivalent of 17 Great Pyramids of Giza.  The dam created Lake Nassar, one of the ten largest reservoirs in the world. 

            The Aswan High Dam has produced significant benefits for the people of Egypt.  By providing reliable irrigation water, it has doubled the annual food production of the country.  It supplies 50% of all the electricity of the nation.  River transportation has been improved, and the reduction in flooding has saved countless lives and resources.

The Nile River and its delta depend on a predictable flow of water from the Aswan High Dam (photo by Jacques Descloitres, NASA)

            The controversy about the dam, however, relates to many negative impacts.  About 90,000 Egyptians were relocated, and with insufficient assistance, most became impoverished.  Annual flooding once spread highly fertile silt across the adjacent agricultural lands to the river; now, to replace those nutrients farmers must apply manufactured fertilizer.  The raising of the water table and heavy irrigation have combined to increase salt deposits in surface waters, reducing the overall quality of much cultivated land.  The permanent wetlands and shallow lake waters created by the dam have allowed the devastating disease, schistosomiasis, to spread to epidemic proportions.  Fisheries in the eastern Mediterranean Sea have declined due to increased salinity and reduced fertility of the water.

            The Aswan High Dam illustrates the dilemmas faced when humans modify the forces of nature. Today big dams like this one are generally looked down on by environmentalists, but the benefits—flood control, energy production, reliable water supply—are enormous.  Maybe Hamlet should have asked this:  To dam or not to dam—that is the question!”

References:

Encyclopedia Brittanica.  Aswan High Dam.  Available at:  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Aswan-High-Dam. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Furman, T. and L. Guertin.  Problems with the Aswan Dam.  Department of Geosciences, Penn State.  Available at:  https://courseware.e-education.psu.edu/courses/earth105new/content/lesson06/04.html.  Accessed July 21, 2017.

PBS.  Aswan High Dam.  Wonders of the World databank, Public Broadcasting System.  Available at:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/wonder/structure/aswan_high.htmlm  Accessed July 21, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

August 1
Hawaii National Park Created (1916)
August 2
White Giraffes Found in Kenya (2017)
August 3
Arbor Day in Niger
August 4
Liang Congjie, Pioneering Chinese Environmentalist, born (1932)
August 5
First Traffic Light Installed in U.S. (1914)
August 6
Rajendra Singh, the Waterman of India, Born (1959)
August 7
World’s Oldest Tree Cut Down, Accidentally (1964)
August 7
Elinor Ostrom, Noble Laureate in Economics, Born (1933)
August 8
Banqiao Dam Collapse, World’s Biggest Dam Disaster (1975)
August 9
Smokey Bear Born (1944)
August 10
John Kirk Townsend, Pioneering Naturalist, Born (1809)
August 11
Gifford Pinchot, Father of American Forestry, Born (1865)
August 12
“The Lorax” Published (1971)
August 13
Roald Amundsen Completes Northwest Passage (1905-1906)
August 14
Hetch Hetchy Began Producing Power (1925)
August 15
Sponge Act passed (1914)
August 16
E. F. Schumacher, Environmental Economist, born (1911)
August 17
Cape Hatteras National Seashore created (1937)
August 18
Margaret Murie born (1902)
August 19
Cickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefield established
August 20
The Great Fire (1910)
August 20
Rajendra Pachauri, Nobel Peace Laureate in Climate Change Research, Born (1940)
August 21
“Bambi” Released (1942)
August 22
Loch Ness Monster first seen (565)
August 23
Chile’s Atacama Desert Blooms (2017)
August 24
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine, Established (2016)
August 25
National Park Service Born (1916)
August 26
Krakatau Volcano Erupted (1883)
August 27
First Oil Well Drilled (1859)
August 28
Roger Tory Peterson, Ornithologist, Born (1908)
August 29
Henry Bergh, Founder of ASPCA, Born (1813)
August 30
International Whale Shark Day
August 30
Lord Walsingham Shot 1,070 Grouse (1888)
August 31
John Muir Home preserved (1964)
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