Aswan High Dam Dam in southern Egypt that impounds the waters of the Nile River in Lake Nasser, the world's second-largest artificial lake.
Located near the city of Aswan, the Aswan High Dam provoked controversy even before it was constructed. The United States had promised funds to Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser to underwrite the construction of the dam. Egypt claimed nonalignment during the Cold War—that is, it allied with neither the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) nor the United States. However, while seeking funding for the dam, Egypt completed an arms deal with the USSR In retaliation, the United States withdrew the funding offer, whereupon Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, claiming that revenue from the canal would offset the dam's construction costs. This provoked an international conflict over control of the canal. Nasser, meanwhile, secured funds from the USSR for one-third of the dam's construction costs, the total of which exceeded $1 billion. The dam was an important part of Nasser's vision for Egypt. He sought it to provide inexpensive power and irrigation to the Nile Valley, even in times of drought. Although construction lasted from 1960 to 1970, by 1964 the dam was storing water, and it produced hydroelectric power by 1968. The dam was formally inaugurated in 1971. It was an impressive engineering feat. The dam is 111 m (364 ft) tall and 3,600 m (11,800 ft) long. This massive barrier created Lake Nasser—90 m (300 ft) deep, 16 km (10 mi) wide, and with a holding capacity of 168,900,000,000 cubic m (about 136,927,000 acre-ft), or the volume of the Nile's entire flow for roughly two years. The Aswan High Dam has provided economic benefits to Egypt. The lake has brought an additional 324,000 hectares (about 800,000 acres) under cultivation and converted 283,000 hectares (700,000 acres) from flooded land to useful farmland. A treaty grants Egypt's southern neighbor, Sudan, one-third of the water impounded, while Egypt has rights to the remaining two-thirds. (In fact, economic difficulties have prevented Sudan from claiming its full share, and Egypt has consumed more than its share.) The annual Nile flood is now controlled, the dam provides hydroelectric power, and Lake Nasser supports a fishing industry. The dam has caused a number of problems, however. The creation of Lake Nasser forced the Egyptian government to relocate an ancient Egyptian temple at Abu Simbel that would have otherwise been submerged and destroyed. Other archaeological sites were lost. Egypt also had to relocate 90,000 Egyptians and Nubians, including some in Sudan, from lands that were flooded or submerged. In addition, massive amounts of water evaporate from Lake Nasser, which is surrounded by a hot and arid desert. This reduces the amount of water available for irrigation or the generation of electricity, and it increases the river's salinity. The dam has severely reduced the deposits of fertile silt that the floodwaters once brought to the valley floodplain and Nile Delta. Consequently, Egyptian farmers have had to increase the use of chemical fertilizers. Meanwhile sediment accumulates at the bottom of the reservoir, which gradually reduces the reservoir's volume. The lack of sedimentation downstream from the dam has had other harmful effects, such as erosion of the riverbanks. More ominously, with the loss of the silt that once regenerated the delta, erosion has led to flooding in the delta caused by the encroachment of salty seawater. A projected rise in global sea levels could submerge large areas of the delta, the site of two-thirds of Egypt's crowded farmland. The loss of silt has also damaged the ecology of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. This silt once nourished algae and plankton that in turn fed sardines, shrimp, and other sea creatures. Since the opening of the Aswan High Dam, the fish and shrimp catches have declined significantly.