Friday, February 23, 2018

River Nile and Aswan Dam

It has often been said that without the Nile there is no Egypt.  The Nile carries nutrients from the upper reaches of the Nile in the heart of Africa (in the south) to the lower reaches (in the north), towards the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Nile floods each year around June, depositing the nutrient rich mud on the banks of the river.  But the unpredictability of the flood causes much loss of property and lives.  Hence the Low (older) and High (newer) Dams were built to control the flow of water, and to generate electricity.  We flew south from Cairo to Aswan to see the dams.   

The High Dam backed the water up the river, and created a lake 550 kilometres long, longer than the distance between Hong Kong and Guilin 桂林.   Our flight to Aswan was delayed for more than 2 hours because of a dust storm.   We were told dust storms are common because we are in the middle of the desert.  

Looking south into the man-made Lake Nassat, we saw nothing but water and the horizon.  The source of the Nile is said to be actually in Rwanda, with which I am fairly familiar, having been going there for service-learning projects every year since 2013.  But one could not see Rwanda from Aswan.

Looking north, we could see the Nile flowing towards Cairo.  We could not see Cairo, either.  

We did see the high voltage power transmission system of towers, cables, … that carry the power to the users.  At one point, we were told, that the power stations here generate half of the electricity of Egypt.  

The dams eliminated un-controlled flooding.  Instead, they provide flooding on demand.  We took one of the 4-storey cruise boats from Aswan to Luxor.  On the way, we see hotels, hundreds of cruise boats, sailing boats, …

We were able to feed the seagulls with small morsels of bread that we pilfered from the dining room.  Birds seem to occupy a special place in Egyptian culture.  There are numerous birds of all kinds in the hieroglyphs at the tombs and temples from ancient Egypt. 

More importantly, perhaps, we also saw some of the cattle munching on grass on the flood plains.

Narrow strips of green fields growing all kinds of crops. 

Right behind those narrow strips of green rose the sands of the desert. All are Egypt. 

It was said that the dam prevented much of the fertile soil from the upper reaches of the Nile to reach the flood plains of Egypt, lowering the fertility of the land.  It was also said that the reduction in nutrients that reach the Mediterranean Sea reduced the catch of fish such as the sardines at the mouth of the Nile.  There is also the silting up of the man-made lake, and myriad other problems.  

But, by and large, the feared downsides do not seem to be as bad as the worse that was predicted before the dams were built.  While the upsides: the electricity, the control of water, the tourism, etc., seem to be quite real.  The Egyptians are immensely proud of Aswan.  

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