Aswan High Dam: What is it?

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There are two dams in Aswan controlling the Nile River and generating hydroelectric power. The Aswan High Dam caused controversy due to potential environmental damage. The first Aswan Low Dam was built by the British to control flooding. The Aswan High Dam was built in the 1960s with Soviet help after other countries reneged on their agreement. The dam caused mass flooding and displacement of people, but Egyptians believed it was worth it for controllable floods and hydroelectric power. However, problems have emerged such as shrinking Lake Nasser, erosion of the Nile banks, and declining fertility of the Nile Delta.

There are actually two dams in Aswan, not one, although most people talk about the Aswan High Dam when referring to the “Aswan High Dam”. Together, these two dams control the flow of the Nile River through Egypt and are also used to generate hydroelectric power for the Egyptian people. The Aswan High Dam has attracted much controversy since it was built in the 1960s. Some people fear that the dam could cause irreparable environmental damage and would like to see it removed, even if that would have some serious consequences for Egypt.

Aswan’s first dam, known as Aswan Low Dam, was built in the late 1800s by the British and reinforced several times. This dam was initially designed to control the annual flooding of the Nile, a major event in Egypt. For thousands of years, Egyptians have lived and farmed near the Nile, taking advantage of the annual floods to irrigate and fertilize their fields. As the population grew, unpredictable flooding became a problem, causing loss of life and damage to property, and the British responded by damming the river, in an attempt to control the flooding.

The first Aswan High Dam proved inadequate for the task, and in the 1950s several countries, including the United States, pledged to help build a dam further upriver. However, these countries later reneged on the agreement, forcing Egypt to seek help from the Soviet Union, and construction of the Aswan High Dam began in the 1960s.

Following the construction of the Aswan High Dam, mass flooding occurred upstream of the Nile, displacing people from their homes and causing considerable damage to some priceless archaeological sites. The lake that formed behind the dam is known as Lake Nasser, named after the late Egyptian president Nasser. The Egyptians believed that upstream flooding was a reasonable price to pay for controllable seasonal floods and a constant source of hydroelectric power.

In the long run, several problems have emerged in Egypt due to the Aswan High Dam. Lake Nasser’s capacity is shrinking due to silt deposits behind the dam, and as the silt doesn’t reach the rest of Egypt, Egyptians have been forced to use chemical fertilizers to sustain their crops. The banks of the Nile are also experiencing severe erosion, as they are being eaten away by the Nile without being replaced by fresh silt, and the fertility of the Nile Delta has declined dramatically. Evidence also seems to suggest that salinity levels in the Mediterranean rose after the construction of the second Aswan High Dam, leading to instability of fish stocks.

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