Abu Simbel and the Aswan High Dam

On this Day:

In 1960, the building of the Aswan High dam in Egypt, began.

The Aswan Dam, or more specifically since the 1960s, the Aswan High Dam, is the world’s largest embankment dam, which was built across the Nile in Aswan, Egypt, between 1960 and 1970. Its significance largely eclipsed the previous Aswan Low Dam initially completed in 1902 downstream. Based on the success of the Low Dam, then at its maximum utilization, construction of the High Dam became a key objective of the government following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952; with its ability to better control flooding, provide increased water storage for irrigation and generate hydroelectricity, the dam was seen as pivotal to Egypt’s planned industrialization. Like the earlier implementation, the High Dam has had a significant effect on the economy and culture of Egypt.

Before the High Dam was built, even with the old dam in place, the annual flooding of the Nile during late summer had continued to pass largely unimpeded down the valley from its East African drainage basin. These floods brought high water with natural nutrients and minerals that annually enriched the fertile soil along its floodplain and delta; this predictability had made the Nile valley ideal for farming since ancient times. However, this natural flooding varied, since high-water years could destroy the whole crop, while low-water years could create widespread drought and consequently famine. Both these events had continued to occur periodically. As Egypt’s population grew and technology increased, both a desire and the ability developed to completely control the flooding, and thus both protect and support farmland and its economically important cotton crop. With the greatly increased reservoir storage provided by the High Aswan Dam, the floods could be controlled and the water could be stored for later release over multiple years.

The Aswan Dam was designed by the Moscow-based Hydroproject Institute.

The Aswan High Dam is 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) long, 980 m (3,220 ft) wide at the base, 40 m (130 ft) wide at the crest and 111 m (364 ft) tall. It contains 43,000,000 cubic metres (56,000,000 cu yd) of material. At maximum, 11,000 cubic metres per second (390,000 cu ft/s) of water can pass through the dam. There are further emergency spillways for an extra 5,000 cubic metres per second (180,000 cu ft/s), and the Toshka Canal links the reservoir to the Toshka Depression. The reservoir, named Lake Nasser, is 500 km (310 mi) long and 35 km (22 mi) at its widest, with a surface area of 5,250 square kilometres (2,030 sq mi). It holds 132 cubic kilometres (1.73×1011 cu yd) of water.

Due to the absence of appreciable rainfall, Egypt’s agriculture depends entirely on irrigation. With irrigation, two crops per year can be produced, except for sugar cane which has a growing period of almost one year.

The high dam at Aswan releases, on average, 55 cubic kilometres (45,000,000 acre⋅ft) water per year, of which some 46 cubic kilometres (37,000,000 acre⋅ft) are diverted into the irrigation canals.

In the Nile valley and delta, almost 336,000 square kilometres (130,000 sq mi) benefit from these waters producing on average 1.8 crops per year. The annual crop consumptive use of water is about 38 cubic kilometres (31,000,000 acre⋅ft). Hence, the overall irrigation efficiency is 38/46 = 0.826 or 83%. This is a relatively high irrigation efficiency. The field irrigation efficiencies are much less, but the losses are reused downstream. This continuous reuse accounts for the high overall efficiency.

The High Dam has resulted in protection from floods and droughts, an increase in agricultural production and employment, electricity production, and improved navigation that also benefits tourism. Conversely, the dam flooded a large area, causing the relocation of over 100,000 people. Many archaeological sites were submerged while others were relocated. The dam is blamed for coastline erosion, soil salinity, and health problems.

The assessment of the costs and benefits of the dam remains controversial decades after its completion. According to one estimate, the annual economic benefit of the High Dam immediately after its completion was E£255 million, $587 million using the exchange rate in 1970 of $2.30 per E£1): £140 million from agricultural production, £100 million from hydroelectric generation, £10 million from flood protection, and £5 million from improved navigation. At the time of its construction, total cost, including unspecified “subsidiary projects” and the extension of electric power lines, amounted to £450 million. Not taking into account the negative environmental and social effects of the dam, its costs are thus estimated to have been recovered within only two years. One observer notes: “The impacts of the Aswan High Dam (…) have been overwhelmingly positive. Although the Dam has contributed to some environmental problems, these have proved to be significantly less severe than was generally expected, or currently believed by many people.” Another observer disagreed and he recommended that the dam should be torn down. Tearing it down would cost only a fraction of the funds required for “continually combating the dam’s consequential damage” and 500,000 hectares of fertile land could be reclaimed from the layers of mud on the bed of the drained reservoir.

Periodic floods and droughts have affected Egypt since ancient times. The dam mitigated the effects of floods, such as those in 1964, 1973, and 1988. Navigation along the river has been improved, both upstream and downstream of the dam. Sailing along the Nile is a favorite tourism activity, which is mainly done during the winter when the natural flow of the Nile would have been too low to allow navigation of cruise ships. A new fishing industry has been created around Lake Nasser, though it is struggling due to its distance from any significant markets. The annual production was about 35 000 tons in the mid-1990s. Factories for the fishing industry and packaging have been set up near the Lake.

22 monuments and architectural complexes that were threatened by flooding from Lake Nasser, including the Abu Simbel temples, were preserved by moving them to the shores of the lake under the UNESCO Nubia Campaign. Also moved were Philae, Kalabsha and Amada.

These monuments were granted to countries that helped with the works:

• The Debod temple to Madrid
• The Temple of Dendur to the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York
• The Temple of Taffeh to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden of Leiden
• The Temple of Ellesyia to the Museo Egizio of Turin

These items were removed to the garden area of the Sudan National Museum of Khartoum:

• The temple of Ramses II at Aksha
• The temple of Hatshepsut at Buhen
• The temple of Khnum at Kumma
• The tomb of the Nubian prince Djehuti-hotep at Debeira
• The temples of Dedwen and Sesostris III at Semna
• The granite columns from the Faras Cathedral
• A part of the paintings of the Faras Cathedral; the other part is in the National Museum of Warsaw.
• The Temple of Ptah at Gerf Hussein had its free-standing section reconstructed at New Kalabsha, alongside the Temple of Kalabsha, Beit el-Wali, and the Kiosk of Qertassi.

The remaining archaeological sites, including the Buhen fort and the cemetery of Fadrus have been flooded by Lake Nasser (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Most people know the joke about the fish that swam into a wall and then said: “Dam!”

But what did the dam say? Dumb bass…

Second, a Song:

Studies Weekly on YouTube.com states: “Welcome to Studies Weekly’s Youtube channel. We have a wide range of videos such as primary source interviews, supplemental content, product tutorials and more. At Studies Weekly, we provide the resources to help teachers spend less time planning and more time teaching.”

Studies Weekly states: “Find out more about the Aswan High Dam in Egypt and the remarkable story of how it finally came to be.”

Here is Studies Weekly video on Abu Simbel and the Aswan High Dam. I hope you enjoy this!

Abu Simbel and the Nile


Thought for the Day:

“Events are not a matter of chance.” – Gamal Abdel Nasser

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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