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The gift of the Nile

In around 450 BC, Greek historian Herodotus described Egypt as ”the gift of the Nile”. Almost two and half thousand years later, Egypt is still the gift of the Nile, but the Nile has been reshaped due to interventions of several generations of Egyptians in their continuous attempt to harness the river flow. The utmost achievement in this regard was the construction of the Aswan High Dam (AHD), which started impounding water since 1964 and was officially inaugurated in 1970 following the completion of the turbine station. 

 The Nile River is the longest river in the world, stretching for 4,187 miles. The Nile flows from south to north and is formed by three major tributaries: the White Nile, the Blue Nile and the Atbara.
The Blue Nile has its source in the highlands of the African country of Ethiopia, by Lake Tana. The runoff from spring rain and melting snow caused the annual summer flood of the Nile that the Egyptians depended on for water to irrigate their crops, and deposit fertile top soil.
 Just north of Khartoum the combined White and Blue Nile meet their final major tributary, the Atbara which also has its source in the Ethiopian highlands.
The Nile then plunges into a canyon. Before the construction of the Aswan High Dam; the Nile rolled through a series of six rapids, called cataracts, between northern Sudan and southern Egypt. Since construction of the dam, the river has gradually changed its course.
North of Cairo, the Nile splits into two branches (or distributaries), the Rosetta Branch to the west and the Damietta to the east.
Lake Nasser is a man-made lake created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam, opened in 1971. The dam was built to regulate the flow of the Nile River, and thus benefit the region's inhabitants. However, technology often also disrupts a local ecosystem, the life and nature it affects.
 The canyon that was once behind where the dam is now, was flooded after the dam was built. Before the region was flooded for the dam, some Ancient sites were carefully moved. Others were permanently covered and destroyed by the water. Lake Nasser stretches over a distance of 312 miles. Gone are the days when Egyptians worry that the Nile will flood too high, destroying their crops; or fall too low, not providing proper irrigation. To enjoy the benefits of a steady river flow, thousands of peoples homes were submerged when the dam went into operation and Lake Nasser was formed.
The Aswan High Dam has caused other changes. The water surface of the lake has reduced the average temperature in the region. The dam has also harnessed the water for the production of electricity and navigation has been improved.
Farmers are forced to use chemical fertilizers because the rich top soil is now deposited in Lake Nasser instead of along the banks of the Nile. Furthermore, the Nile is no longer flowing strongly enough to keep salt water from the Mediterranean Sea from forcing its way up the Nile. The salt water disrupts the animal habitat and sterilizes the soil in the northern delta region where the banks of the Nile are becoming badly eroded.
In one generation, thousands of years of life along the Nile River have been permanently altered.
Just north of the border between Egypt and Sudan lies the Aswan High Dam, a huge rockfill dam which captures the world's longest river, the Nile, in one of the world's third largest reservoirs, Lake Nasser. The dam, known as Saad el Aali in Arabic, was completed in 1970 after 18 years of work.Egypt has always depended on the water of the Nile River. The two main tributaries of the Nile River are the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Lake Victoria is the source of the White Nile and the Blue Nile begins in the Ethiopian Highlands. The two tributaries converge in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan where they form the Nile River. The Nile River has a total length of 4,160 miles (6,695 kilometers) from source to sea
Before the building of a dam at Aswan, Egypt experienced annual floods from the Nile River which deposited 4 million tons of nutrient-rich sediment which enabled agricultural production. This process began millions of years before Egyptian civilization began in the Nile valley and continued until the first dam at Aswan was built in 1889. This dam was insufficient to hold back the water of the Nile and was subsequently raised in 1912 and 1933. In 1946, the true danger was revealed when the water in the reservoir peaked near the top of the dam
In 1952, the interim Revolutionary Council government of Egypt decided to build a High Dam at Aswan, about four miles upstream of the old dam. In 1954, Egypt requested loans from the World Bank to help pay for the cost of the dam (which eventually added up to US$1 billion). Initially, the United States agreed to loan Egypt money but then withdrew their offer for unknown reasons. Some speculate that it may have been due to Egyptian and Israeli conflict. The United Kingdom, France, and Israel had invaded Egypt in 1956, soon after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal to help pay for the dam
The Soviet Union offered to help and Egypt accepted. The Soviet Union's support was not unconditional, however. Along with the money, they also sent military advisers and other workers to help enhance Egyptian-Soviet ties and relations
In order to build the dam both people and artifacts had to be moved. Over 90,000 Nubians had to be relocated. Those who had been living in Egypt were moved about 28 miles (45 km) away but the Sudanese Nubians were relocated 370 miles (600 km) from their homes. The government was also forced to develop one of the largest Abu Simel temple and dig for artifacts before the future lake would drown the land of the Nubians.
After years of construction (the material in the dam is the equivalent to 17 of the great pyramid at Giza), the resulting reservoir was named for the former president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who died in 1970. The lake holds 137 million acre-feet of water (169 billion cubic meters). About 17 percent of the lake is in Sudan and the two countries have an agreement for distribution of the water.
The dam benefits Egypt by controlling the annual floods on the Nile River and prevents the damage which used to occur along the floodplain. The Aswan High Dam provides about a half of Egypt's power supply and has improved navigation along the river by keeping the water flow consistent.
There are several problems associated with the dam as well. Seepage and evaporation accounts for a loss of about 12-14% of the annual input into the reservoir. The sediments of the Nile River, as with all river and dam systems, has been filling the reservoir and thus decreasing its storage capacity. This has also resulted in problems downstream.
Farmers have been forced to use about a million tons of artificial fertilizer as a substitute for the nutrients which no longer fill the flood plain. Further downstream, the Nile delta is having problems due to the lack of sediment as well since there is no additional agglomeration of sediment to keep erosion of the delta at bay so it slowly shrinks. Even the shrimp catch in the Mediterranean Sea has decreased due to the change in water flow.
Poor drainage of the newly irrigated lands has led to saturation and increased salinity. Over one half of Egypt's farmland in now rated medium to poor soils
The parasitic disease schistosomiasis has been associated with the stagnant water of the fields and the reservoir. Some studies indicate that the number of individuals affected has increased since the opening of the Aswan High Dam.
The Nile River and now the Aswan High Dam are Egypt's lifeline. About 95% of Egypt's population lives within twelve miles from the river. Were it not for the river and its sediment, the grand civilization of ancient Egypt probably would have never existed.
The construction of the AHD, which can be considered an irrigation revolution for full utilisation of Nile water, entailed the introduction of regulated agriculture and controlled irrigation. Accordingly, farmers, who constitute the main beneficiaries of the AHD project, enjoyed numerous advantages. These include:
· guaranteed availability of irrigation water at any predetermined period for agricultural production,
· improved management of water supply throughout the Egyptian water system, resulting in a transfer of about one million acres from seasonal to perennial irrigation,
· agricultural expansion in millions of acres of new land owing to increased water availability,
· protection from high floods as well as from low floods, and
· generation of hydroelectric power to supply villages with electricity


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