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Egypt: The Aswan

The Environmental Impact
of the

The Aswan Dam is an embankment dam situated

across the Nile River in Aswan, Egypt. Since the

1950s, the name commonly refers to the High Dam,
which is larger and newer than the Aswan Low Dam,
which was first completed in 1902. Following Egypt's
independence from the United Kingdom, the High
Dam was constructed between 1960 and 1970. It
aimed to increase economic production by further
regulating the annual river flooding and providing
storage of water for agriculture, and later, to generate
hydroelectricity. The dam has had a significant impact
on the economy and culture of Egypt.

Before the dams were built, the Nile River flooded

each year during late summer, as water flowed down

the valley from its East African drainage basin. These
floods brought high water and natural nutrients and
minerals that annually enriched the fertile soil along
the floodplain and delta; this made the Nile valley
ideal for farming since ancient times. Because floods
vary, in high-water years, the whole crop might be
wiped out, while in low-water years widespread
drought and famine occasionally occurred. As Egypt's
population grew and conditions changed, both a desire
and ability developed to control the floods, and thus
both protect and support farmland and the
economically important cotton crop. With the reservoir
storage provided by these dams, the floods could be
lessened, and the water could be stored for later

Features and Objectives of HAD

The main aims of the construction of the High Aswan Dam can be
summarized as follows:
full control of the Nile flow at Aswan in the far south of Egypt;
regulation of the discharge downstream of the dam to match the
actual water
needs for different requirements;
protection of the Nile Valley and Delta from high floods and
drought hazards
that could persist for several consecutive years;
generation of cheap and clean hydroelectric power;
realization of horizontal land expansion by reclaiming new lands;
change in the system of basin irrigation (one crop per year), to
irrigation (two or more crops per year);
expansion in rice and sugar-cane cultivation to limit imports;
improvement of navigation through the Nile and navigable canals;
realization of great flexibility in agricultural planning, crop patterns

Advantages of High Aswan Dam


Few More..
Increase in Rice and Sugar-cane Areas


Resettlement of People
Lake Nasser flooded much of lower Nubia and

100,000 to 120,000 people were resettled in

Sudan and Egypt. The majority of the 50,000
Nubians resettled in Egypt were resettled
three to ten kilometers from the Nile near Kom
Ombo 45 kilometers downstream from Aswan
in what was called " New Nubia". Housing and
facilities were built for 47 village units whose
relationship to each other approximated that
in Old Nubia. Irrigated land was provided to
grow mainly sugar cane.

The Aswan High Dam, when it was build

created Lake Nasser, Lake Nasser Streches

back 270 kilometres from the Dam. The Lake
has also created a lot more land for people to
farm on. This is because a lot of water is
stored in the lake, and in turn this water can
be used to irrigate land around the lake. Lake
Nasser has also created a big fishing industry,
which produces 25,000 tons of fish a year, the
fishing industry is aiming to produce 100,000
tons by the year 2000.

Unfortunately this dam has caused a big change to

the lives of farmers downstream from the dam.

Usually when the river flooded once a year before the
dam was built. It deposited fertile soil from upstream
on its banks downstream. This washed up soil was
extremely fertile, and renewed itself every year at in
flood season. But now, since the dam was built the
annual flood has been stopped. Causing all the
farmers downstream to have to use fertilizers to grow
their crops, which makes it more expensive.

The Aswan High Dam is also used to

create hydro-electricity for Egypt,
In the 1980's this dam was providing half of Egypt's

Electricity, but by the 1990's this had fallen as energy

demands increased. The electric power capacity of the
Aswan High Dam is: 2.1 gigawatts (GW). It consists of
12 Hydro-Generators each rated at 175 MW. Egypt
currently has a total installed generating capacity of
16.6 gigawatts (GW) compared to 3.8 GW in 1976, thus
the percentage contribution by the High dam has
decreased from over half the total electricity
generation to less than 13%. This percentage will
continue to decrease as more thermal power plants are
added. Total capacity expected to be 26 GW by 2010.

Waterlogging and increase in soil

Before the construction of the High Dam, groundwater

levels in the Nile Valley fluctuated 8-9m per year with

the water level of the Nile. During summer when
evaporation was highest, the groundwater level was
too deep to allow salts dissolved in the water to be
pulled to the surface through capillary action. With
heavy year-round irrigation, groundwater levels
remained high with little fluctuation leading to
waterlogging. Soil salinity also increased because the
distance between the surface and the groundwater
table was small enough (12 m depending on soil
conditions and temperature) to allow water to be
pulled up by evaporation so that the relatively small
concentrations of salt in the groundwater accumulated
on the soil surface over the years.

Losses due to salinization

Since most of the farmland did not have

proper subsurface drainage to lower the

groundwater table, salinization gradually
affected crop yields.[16] A total of 2.1 million
hectares thus required subsurface drainage at
a cost that exceeded the construction cost of
the High Dam. Only 20 years after completion
of the High Dam the problem was seriously
addressed and a large-scale drainage program
was initiated.

Coastal Erosion
The High Dam has accelerated erosion of coastlines

(due to lack of sediment, which was once brought

by the Nile) in Egypt and, according to some
sources even all along the eastern Mediterranean.
Coastal erosion occurred and efforts to control it
were made even before the construction of the High
Dam. This erosion may to some extent have been
caused by the limited trapping of sediments behind
the Old Aswan Dam. The High Dam accelerated
erosion and made the construction of further
expensive coastal protection works in the Nile Delta

Health Impact
The standing water in irrigation canals is a breeding

ground for snails carrying the parasite bilharzia. The

incidence of bilharzia increased due to the Aswan
High Dam inhibiting the natural fluctuations in water
height. Important factors contributing to the
prevalence of schistosomiasis were poor sanitation
and limited awareness of how the disease was
transmitted. Provision of clean water, sanitation,
health education and rural clinics has reduced the
overall prevalences of schistosomiasis from more
than 40 per cent during the pre-dam period to 10
per cent in 1995 and only 2% in 2002.

Reservoir sedimentation
Reservoir sedimentation. Sediment deposited in the

reservoir is lowering the water storage capacity of Lake

Nasser. The reservoir storage capacity is 162 km3,
including 31 km3 dead storage at the bottom of the lake
below 147m above sea level, 90 km3 live storage, and
41 km3 of storage for high flood waters above 175m
above sea level. The annual sediment load of the Nile is
about 134 million tons. This means that the dead
storage volume would be filled up after 300500 years if
the sediment accumulated at the same rate throughout
the area of the lake. Obviously sediment accumulates
much faster at the upper reaches of the Lake where
sedimentation has already affected the live storage
zone.[20] It would take about another 900 years until the
live storage zone would be completely sedimented and
operation of the dam would become impossible some
time before that.

Reservoir evaporation; Aquatic

weeds; Pollution from fertilizers
Evaporation from Lake Nasser is estimated at 10km 3 per

year, varying mainly as a function of the lake area. While the

absolute amount of water lost to evaporation is enormous, it
is only 11% of the average volume stored in the Lake and
18% of Egypt's share of the annual flow of the Nile.
Before the dam was built, the 50,000 km of irrigation and
drainage canals in Egypt had to be dredged regularly to
remove sediments. After construction of the dam, aquatic
weeds grew much faster in the clearer water, helped by
fertilizer residues. The total length of the infested waterways
was about 27,000 km in the mid-90s. Weeds have been
gradually brought under control by manual, mechanical and
biological methods.
The increased use of artificial fertilizers has caused chemical
pollution which the traditional river sediment did not do. +

Fishery in the Delta and the Mediterranean

Mediterranean fishing and brackish water lake fishery

declined after the dam was finished because nutrients

that used to flow down the Nile to the Mediterranean
were trapped behind the dam. For example, the
Sardine catch off the Egyptian coast declined from
18,000 tons in 1962 to a mere 460 tons in 1968, but
then gradually recovered to 8,590 tons in 1992. A
scientific article in the mid-1990s noted that " the
mismatch between low primary productivity and
relatively high levels of fish production in the region
still presents a puzzle to scientist.
The Aswan Dam tends to increase the salinity of the
Mediterranean Sea, and this affects the
Mediterranean's outflow current into the Atlantic
Ocean. This current can be traced thousands of
kilometers into the Atlantic.

Algae Growth
Because of the lower turbidity of the water

sunlight penetrates deeper in the Nile water.

Because of this and the increased presence of
nutrients from fertilizers in the water, more
algae grow in the Nile. This in turn increases
the costs of drinking water treatment.
Apparently few experts had anticipated that
water quality in the Nile would actually
decrease because of the High Dam.

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Dam Specifications
The Aswan High Dam is 3,830 metres long, 980

metres wide at the base, 40 metres wide at the

crest and 111 metres tall. It contains 43 million
cubic metres of material. At maximum, 11,000
cubic metres per second of water can pass through
the dam. There are further emergency spillways for
an extra 5,000 cubic metres per second and the
Toshka Canal links the reservoir to the Toshka
Depression. The reservoir, named Lake Nasser, is
550 km long and 35 km at its widest with a surface
area of 5,250 square kilometres. It holds 111 cubic
kilometres of water.

A Panoramic View & Lake Nasser