Egypt celebrates Aswan Dam Anniversary

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Fri Jan 19 17:24:39 MST 2001

18 January 2001

Egypt celebrates Dam Anniversary
ASWAN, Egypt: Egypt on Wednesday feted its High Dam - a key factor in
modernizing the country, an engineering miracle, and symbol of a political
A parade marking the annual holiday celebrating the southern region of
Aswan, where the dam is located, also marked the 30th anniversary of the
completion of the dam.
The dam over the years has tamed the Nile and provided electricity. Packing
17 times as much sand and stone as the greatest pyramid at Giza, the Aswan
High Dam is as imposing as any of Egypt's ancient monuments.
Behind it Lake Nasser sprawls over 6,000 square kilometers (2,400 square
miles), the largest reservoir known to man. Below it, a ribbon of water
winds through the gray and brown cliffs of the Nile Valley.
"The village where I grew up had no electricity. I used oil lamps to study.
Now, thanks to the dam, every Egyptian village has electricity and clean
water," said Abdel Salam Hassouna, a civil servant from Cairo who was among
the tourists strolling along the dam Wednesday.
The dam once supplied as much as 80 percent of Egypt's electricity. New
facilities have been built over the years; it now supplies about 20 percent.
Cheers rang out and an audience lining the streets of Aswan, the main town
in the district of the same name, broke into applause as children marched to
the beat of a high school band Wednesday. Some of the marchers were dressed
in the traditional white robes and headdresses of the region's Nubian
The dam is as controversial as it is beneficial, with critics pointing out
that it has decreased Egypt's fertility and dislodged a whole population:
the Nubians.
Before the dam, Egypt suffered from either too much or too little water. To
regulate the flow, the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser advocated a giant
dam. But the United States and Britain blocked proposed World Bank funding
for the project, which the head of the dam authority said cost dlrs 400
Nasser, a charismatic leader and ardent supporter of Arab nationalism,
painted the refusal as part of a Western conspiracy to hold back Egypt's
progress. He nationalized the Suez canal to earn money for the dam's
The Soviet Union, the Cold War rival of the United States, gave Egypt part
of the construction money. With the help of Soviet technicians and experts
the dam's construction started in 1960 and was finished a decade later. In
January, 1971 the late President Anwar Sadat, Nasser's successor, officially
inaugurated the project.
Egyptian political analyst Mohammed Sid Ahmed said Nasser realized that "the
issue of water is a very critical one and ... a fundamental problem for the
Middle East."
The more than 100, 000 Nubians who had to bid farewell to their lands
forever are a living testimony of the price Egypt had to pay. Hundreds of
Nubian villages now lie beneath Lake Nasser, and thousands of Nubians were
scattered across Egypt.
Also dislodged were some of Egypt's most valuable pharaonic monuments. It
took international intervention to rescue the temples of Abu Simbel,
threatened by the dam's encroaching waters, and move them to higher ground.
Farmers in Egypt, a country that relies enormously on agriculture, had to
turn to artificial fertilizers now that the rich Nile's silt is accumulating
in the mammoth Lake Nasser instead of on their lands.
The imposing 111-meter (366-foot) high dam is 980 meters (3,234 feet) across
at its base, tapering pyramid-like to 40 meters (132 feet) at the top, where
buses regularly stop along a narrow road to disgorge camera-wielding
tourists. The dam is included on most package tours for foreign visitors.
"It's the work, struggle and blood of Egyptians that made this dam
possible," said Osman Badr Mohammed, a gardener at the dam complex. "When I
see how happy and impressed tourists are when they visit the dam, I feel
proud I'm Egyptian." (AP)

For reprint rights:Times Syndication Service

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