Aswan Dam

Aswan High Dam
The Aswan High Dam as seen from space
Aswan Dam is located in Egypt
Aswan Dam
Location of the Aswan Dam in Egypt
Official nameAswan High Dam
LocationAswan, Egypt
Coordinates23°58′14″N 32°52′40″E / 23°58′14″N 32°52′40″E / 23.97056; 32.87778
Construction began1960
Opening date1970
Dam and spillways
Type of damEmbankment
ImpoundsRiver Nile
Height111 m (364 ft)
Length3,830 m (12,570 ft)
Width (base)980 m (3,220 ft)
Spillway capacity11,000 m3/s (390,000 cu ft/s)
CreatesLake Nasser
Total capacity132 km3 (107,000,000 acre⋅ft)
Surface area5,250 km2 (2,030 sq mi)
Maximum length550 km (340 mi)
Maximum width35 km (22 mi)
Maximum water depth180 m (590 ft)
Normal elevation183 m (600 ft)
Power Station
Commission date1967–1971
Turbines12×175 MW (235,000 hp) Francis-type
Installed capacity2,100 MW (2,800,000 hp)
Annual generation10,042 GWh (2004)[1]

The Aswan Dam, or more specifically since the 1960s, the Aswan High Dam, is an embankment dam 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 associated 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.[2]

Construction history

The earliest recorded attempt to build a dam near Aswan was in the 11th century, when the Arab polymath and engineer Ibn al-Haytham (known as Alhazen in the West) was summoned to Egypt by the Fatimid Caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, to regulate the flooding of the Nile, a task requiring an early attempt at an Aswan Dam.[3] His field work convinced him of the impracticality of this scheme.[4]

Aswan Low Dam, 1898–1902

The British began construction of the first dam across the Nile in 1898. Construction lasted until 1902, and the dam was opened on 10 December 1902. The project was designed by Sir William Willcocks and involved several eminent engineers, including Sir Benjamin Baker and Sir John Aird, whose firm, John Aird & Co., was the main contractor.[5][6]

Aswan High Dam prelude, 1954–1959

In 1952, the Greek-Egyptian engineer Adrian Daninos began to develop the plan of the new Aswan Dam. Although the Low Dam was almost overtopped in 1946, the government of King Farouk showed no interest in Daninos's plans. Instead the Nile Valley Plan by the British hydrologist Harold Edwin Hurst to store water in Sudan and Ethiopia, where evaporation is much lower, was favored. The Egyptian position changed completely with the overthrow of the monarchy, led by the Free Officers Movement including Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Free Officers were convinced that the Nile Waters had to be stored in Egypt for political reasons, and within two months, the plan of Daninos was accepted.[7] Initially, both the United States and the USSR were interested in helping the development of the dam, but this movement happened in the midst of the Cold War, as well as of growing intra-Arab rivalries.

In 1955, Nasser was trying to portray himself as the leader of Arab nationalism, in opposition to the traditional monarchies, especially the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq following its signing of the 1955 Baghdad Pact. At that time the U.S. feared that communism would spread to the Middle East, and it saw Nasser as a natural leader of an anticommunist procapitalist Arab League. America and Britain offered to help finance construction of the High Dam, with a loan of $270 million, in return for Nasser's leadership in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. While opposed to communism, capitalism, and imperialism, Nasser presented himself as a tactical neutralist, and sought to work with both the U.S. and the USSR for Egyptian and Arab benefit.[8] After a particularly criticized raid by Israel against Egyptian forces in Gaza in 1955, Nasser realized that he could not legitimately portray himself as the leader of pan-Arab nationalism if he could not defend his country militarily against Israel. In addition to his development plans, he looked to quickly modernize his military, and he turned first to the U.S.

Egyptian President Nasser and Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev at the ceremony to divert the Nile during the construction of the Aswan High Dam on 14 May 1964. At this occasion Khrushchev called it "the eighth wonder of the world".

The American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and the American President Dwight Eisenhower told Nasser that the U.S. would supply him with weapons only if they were used for defensive purposes and accompanied by American military personnel for supervision and training. Nasser did not accept these conditions, but then he looked to the USSR for support. Although Dulles believed that Nasser was only bluffing and that the USSR would not aid Nasser, he was wrong— the USSR promised Nasser a quantity of arms in exchange for a deferred payment of Egyptian grain and cotton. On 27 September 1955, Nasser announced an arms deal, with Czechoslovakia acting as a middleman for the Soviet support.[9] Instead of attacking Nasser for turning to the Soviets, Dulles sought to improve relations with him. This explains the later offer of December 1955, in which the U.S. and Britain pledged $56 and $14 million respectively towards the construction of the dam.[10]

Gamal Abdel Nasser observing the construction of the dam, 1963

Though the Czech arms deal actually increased the American willingness to invest at Aswan, Great Britain cited the deal as a reason for reversing its promise of funds. What angered Dulles much more was Nasser's diplomatic recognition of China, which was in direct conflict with Dulles's policy of containment.[11] There are several other reasons why the U.S. decided to withdraw its offer of funding. Dulles believed that the USSR would not fulfill its commitment to help the Egyptians. He was also irritated by Nasser's neutrality and attempts to play both sides of the Cold War. At the time, other western allies in the Middle East, including Turkey and Iraq, were irritated and jealous that Egypt, a persistently neutral country, was being offered so much aid.[12]

In June 1956, the Soviets offered Nasser $1.12 billion at 2% interest for the construction of the dam. On 19 July the U.S. State Department announced that American financial assistance for the High Dam was "not feasible in present circumstances."[10]

On 26 July 1956, with wide Egyptian acclaim, Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal as well as fair compensation for the former owners. Nasser planned on the revenues generated by the canal helping to fund construction of the High Dam. When the Suez War broke out, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel seized the canal and the Sinai, but pressure from the U.S. and the USSR at the United Nations and elsewhere forced them to withdraw.

In 1958, the USSR went ahead in providing support for the High Dam project.

A view from the vantage point in the middle of High Dam towards the monument of Arab-Soviet Friendship (Lotus Flower) by architects Piotr Pavlov, Juri Omeltchenko and sculptor Nikolay Vechkanov

In the 1950s, archaeologists began raising concerns that several major historical sites, including the famous temple of Abu Simbel were about to be under water. A rescue operation began in 1960 under UNESCO (for details see below under Effects).

Construction and filling, 1960–1976

A central pylon of the monument to Arab-Soviet Friendship. The memorial commemorates the completion of the Aswan High Dam. The coat of arms of the Soviet Union is on the left and the coat of arms of Egypt is on the right.

The Soviets also provided technicians and heavy machinery. The enormous rock and clay dam was designed by the Soviet Hydroproject Institute along with some Egyptian engineers. 25,000 Egyptian engineers and workers contributed to the construction of the dams.

On the Egyptian side, the project was led by Osman Ahmed Osman's Arab Contractors. The relatively young Osman underbid his only competitor by one-half.[13]

  • 1960: Start of construction on 9 January[14]
  • 1964: First dam construction stage completed, reservoir started filling
  • 1970: The High Dam, as-Sad al-'Aali, completed on 21 July[15]
  • 1976: Reservoir reached capacity.
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Aswandam
العربية: السد العالي
aragonés: Entibo d'Asuán
asturianu: Presa d'Asuán
azərbaycanca: Asuan bəndi
Bân-lâm-gú: Aswan Chúi-khò͘
беларуская: Асуанскія плаціны
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Асуанскія дамбы
bosanski: Asuanska brana
Cymraeg: Argae Aswan
español: Presa de Asuán
Esperanto: Asuana Baraĵo
euskara: Aswango presa
فارسی: سد اسوان
Fiji Hindi: Aswan Dam
Frysk: Aswandaam
한국어: 아스완 댐
hrvatski: Asuanska brana
Bahasa Indonesia: Bendungan Aswan
íslenska: Asvanstíflan
italiano: Diga di Assuan
עברית: סכר אסואן
Basa Jawa: Bendungan Aswan
Kabɩyɛ: Azwanɩ Tɔʋʋ
қазақша: Асуан бөгеті
Kiswahili: Lambo la Aswan
lietuvių: Asuano užtvanka
მარგალური: ასუანიშ კაშხალი
Bahasa Melayu: Empangan Aswan
Nederlands: Aswandam
नेपाल भाषा: अस्वन ड्याम
norsk nynorsk: Aswandammen
پنجابی: اسوان ڈیم
polski: Wysoka Tama
português: Represa de Assuã
română: Barajul Aswan
Scots: Aswan Dam
Simple English: Aswan High Dam
slovenčina: As-Sadd al-Álí
slovenščina: Asuanski jez
српски / srpski: Asuanska brana
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Asuanska brana
svenska: Assuandammen
татарча/tatarça: Асуан гидротөене
Türkçe: Asvan Barajı
українська: Асуанські греблі
Tiếng Việt: Đập Aswan
Winaray: Aswan Dam