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The research paper address the debate on the developmental goals and environmental impacts of Aswan High Dam. Aswan High Dam is in Egypt and it construction began in 1961 up to 1971. The Dam was funded by the Soviet Union and revenues from the Suez Canal. The Dam helped Egypt increase in Agricultural production, invest in transport, control flooding and production of power. However, though Egypt benefited from the dam, the negative effects override the benefits. The dam has led to the use of artificial fertilizers which has led to eutrophication. There is increased water evaporation resulting to salinization of drinking water. Diseases that affect farmers have increased, displacements of people and climate change among others.
Construction of dams has raised numerous concerns and differing opinions. There is a need for a fruitful debate on establishing the best ways of meeting the growing energy needs, food production, and water requirements while conserving the environment (Arsenault 41). As efforts are made towards improving the quality of human life, more efforts should be geared towards conserving the natural resources. Debates on dams have raged since the 1940s and 1950s.
History of Aswan High Dam
Studies to construct the High Aswan Dam after the July 1952 (Strzepek et al. 117). The World Bank had agreed to provide finances but withdrew its offer after disagreements arose between the United States and the Egyptian President Gamal Nasser. President Nasser decided to continue the construction by funding the project with revenues generated from the Suez Canal and technical assistance received from the Soviet Union. Construction of Aswan High Dam began in January 1960 and was completed in January 1971. The dam is rock-filled, 3600 meters long, 980 meters wide at the base and 40 meters at the top. It is 111 meters high above the Nile and 196 meters above the sea level (Strzepek et al. 117). The dam is pyramidal in shape. In 1981, there was an earthquake occurred near the edge of the lake after Aswan High Dam reached the maximum level of 72 m.
Developmental Goals of Aswan High Dam
Aswan High Dam has positively affected Egypt. The dam is a hydroelectric plant with 12 turbines which produces 2.1 gigawatts. The production of electricity from the dam allowed many families to get electrical supply and the dam produces 15% of the total electricity used in the country every year (Arsenault, 42).
Additionally, Aswan High Dam has promoted agricultural production throughout the year (Arsenault et al. 41). After the construction of the dam, Egypt produces three times the amount of cotton and wheat. Egypt moved from basin irrigation to perennial irrigation and the production of food three seasons per year boosted Egypt’s food security and agricultural productivity. If such productivity were not experienced in Egypt, there would be massive suffering and death arising from food shortages and water. The Nile floods have been stopped and thus farmers can grow crops in three seasons in the year, and this has tripled the amount of food produced. After the construction of the dam, Egypt’s transport increased by 50% while total investment increased by 14% (Strzepek et al. 118).
Environmental Effects of Aswan High Dam
Aswan high dam has led to increased water surface area exposed to arid climate conditions. Additionally, water from the dam is lost through evaporation and seepage to the lateral groundwater aquifers. The rising of the water table closer to the surface is threatening ancient monuments. For example, the formation of salt. Before, the annual flooding of the Nile washed away the sand and the salt into the Mediterranean Sea. However, the flooding has stopped, and the natural salt together with the artificial fertilizers continues to build up (Caine, 15). This build-up has made the ground water salty, and thus this water is not suitable for irrigation and drinking. Egypt monuments are made of limestone and thus continues to decay due to salt build-up.
Although Aswan High Dam benefited farmers by helping the grow crops all year round, stopping of the Nile floods had adverse effects on the land as well. The flooding deposited rich fertile soils which allowed the growing of crops. Arsenault (43) state that the stoppage of floods meant that Egyptian farmers had to start using artificial fertilizers to enrich the soil. Some of the fertilizers used have harsh and dangerous chemicals which leak into the ground contaminating the drinking water systems. Additionally, the runoff of the artificial fertilizers has caused eutrophication in the Nile water. Eutrophication has stimulated plant growth in the waters, and the decomposition of the plants have led to low oxygen conditions in the water, causing destruction to the ecosystem.
The construction of Aswan High Dam led to increasing rates of infectious diseases such as schistosomiasis or bilharzia. In Egypt, Bilharzia has been a major problem since the construction of the dam provided a new home for the parasites in the standing water of Lake Nasser. These parasites are carried down the Nile River and are transmitted through the field workers feet. In the early 1980s, 70% of Egypt population was infected with the diseases. Schistosoma fluke is mainly found in shallow aquatic environments mainly in the irrigated regions where agricultural farmers spend most of their time (Caine 16). Much of Egypt’s land has irrigation water standing in the fields all year round. This provides a conducive environment for the growth of Schistosoma flukes. Though Aswan High Dam has contributed largely to Egypt’s economy, it has done to the detriment of the citizen’s bodily and ecological health.
Aswan High Dam has resulted in the degradation of Egyptian soils. Water evaporation from poorly drained fields has resulted into salinization. Even the application of fertilizers is not able to replace the texture and drainage of Nile sediments. Impoundment of the Nile sediments has increased erosion of the Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Before the construction of the dam, over 60 million tons of sediments were deposited to the Nile Delta, but these sediments no longer reach to the Mediterranean coast (Caine 13). The deprivation along the Mediterranean Coast has forced relocations due to the rising waters. The coast continues to be depleted, and with the rise in the sea level, there is climate change. This has led to significant losses of habitats and land for cultivation.
Aswan High Dam fulfilled the government objectives of controlling flood, enhancing irrigation, power generation and farming. However, the dam has adverse effects on Egypt’s geography and increased population that had not been planned for by the Nasser government. The dam negative effects on Egypt include displacement of the Egyptian Nubians, the rise of diseases, trapping of the Nile’s silt, the loss of water through evaporation, seepage and the decline in water due to salinization. Aswan High Dam has altered the life of Egypt. Some of the major effects include morbidity and deaths, psychological, grief and the loss of traditional cultural community structures. Though all the negative effects were predicted easily even before the construction of the dam, the government went ahead with constructing the dam. This could be a way of President Nasser demonstrating his power. Other alternative such as the Century Storage Scheme could be used to prevent flooding (Caine 21).
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- Arsenault Natalie, Rose Christopher, Azulay Allegra and Phillips Jordan. People and Place. Curriculum Resources on Huma-Environment Interactions. 2007, pp. 40-51
- Caine Mark. Engineering Modern Egypt: Water and Technology at the Aswan High Dam. Brown University, 2010, pp. 7-22
- Strzepek Kenneth, M., Yohe Gary, W., Tol Richard, S.J. and Rosegrant Mark. The Value of the High Aswan Dam to the Egyptian Economy. Ecological Economics. 2008, 66(11): pp. 117-126