10 Feb 2012

Time to break down Aswan High Dam?

During my trip across the Nile Delta in Eqypt, I noticed:
  • Most agriculture is small scale, with multiple crops on a single hectare.
  • The military grows crops (!)
  • Irrigation canals are in poor shape (clogged with plants, etc.)
  • There's a LOT of hard infrastructure that would be in the way of a "flooding Nile."
A decent view of irrigation canal, a branch of the Nile and farms*
My impression is that Egypt -- which faces food insecurity -- has a few ways to improve its lot:
  1. Change water use incentives, to improve water efficiency and the value of crops per drop.
  2. Consider removing Aswan High Dam (AHD), to release nutrients (replacing artificial fertilizer), restore the Delta ecosystem (improving fisheries**), and increase available water (due to a drop in evaporation -- 25% of ALL flows in Egypt -- in Lake Nassar).
(1) and (2) could both happen, of course. (1) will not if entrenched beneficiaries block it. (2) would be much harder, given the nationalist associations with AHD and greater numbers of special interests, but I reckon that it's the right move. The costs of reduced hydropower, increased flow variability, and significant adjustments to existing infrastructure are worth bearing, given the potential benefits -- esp. if other Nile Basin countries start to use more Nile water. (Does anyone have a study of the potential to bust AHD?)

Bottom Line: Aswan High Dam was not a good idea when it went into service in 1970 and history has shown that it is becoming a worse idea. It's time to restore the Nile and harvest the bounty of its natural flows.

* Here's an ugly view (click to enlarge):

** Here's what fishing ponds look like:

1 comment:

Richard Masson said...

Do not forget the dam creates Lake Nasser - which is a huge reserve of water in case of drought which could come into use if rains failed in Ethiopia etc; therefore if the dam was taken away some form of water control would need to replace it as otherwise this reserve of water would be lost and Egypt would also return to uncontrolled flooding.

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