Agriculture in the Nile delta traditionally benefited from the water and silt deposited by the annual Nile flood, making the delta one of the richest agricultural areas in the world and allowing one of the most advanced human civilizations ever seen to flourish in ancient times.
Today the Aswan Dam, a magnificent feat of engineering, controls the flow of the Nile waters allowing the waters to be used for irrigation of crops, drinking water and to generate hydroelectric power for 80 million dependent Egyptians.
Unintended consequences: Five years after the dam was built, the fishing industry which formerly sustained communities remained in decline with only 3,628 tons of the anticipated 20,000 tons caught annually. Ten years later the catch had dropped to 907 tons, and in 1978 the fisheries were catastrophically depleted.
Farmers have been forced to use about a million tons of artificial fertiliser as a substitute for the nutrients that no longer fill the flood plain. The water table has risen since the dam was built, increasing the danger of fertiliser and other agricultural waste products seeping into the river, the main source of drinking water for the local population
Swamps have resulted from Irrigation and more intensive farming, combined with inadequate drainage. Mosquitoes need shallow stagnant water to breed, and the lakeshore provides the perfect environment. The first cases of malaria were seen in northern Africa after Lake Nasser was established and latest research indicates that West Nile virus, a water-bred and mosquito-borne disease would not flourish if Lake Nasser had not been built. In some areas an increased occurrence, from 21% to almost 100% of the parasitic disease schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia (a disease caused by parasitic flat worms) has been recorded among the population. (National Geographic). While schistosomiasis has been present in the region for thousands of years, the stagnant water in the fields and the reservoir provide a perfect breeding ground.
More than 100,000 Nubians were forcibly resettled under the dam building programme with Sudanese Nubians relocated 370 miles (600 km) from their homes. The people tried to farm the riverbank arable land which was submerged by the reservoir, causing increased erosion. Some 50,000 farmers were eventually forced to abandon their land and traditional farming methods. The area they were moved to could not sustain the population, resulting in poverty and rising death rates.. The resettlement areas were infested with the tsetse fly, and many people were exposed to sleeping sickness ending up in refugeen camps where epidemics flourished due to inadequate hygiene. Resettled Nubians became dependent on food aid to avoid starvation.
Erosion of the Delta: For the first time in 10,000 years inhabitable land on the Delta has decreased due to the reduced supply of silt and sediment from the annual flood which has caused heavy erosion in the Nile Delta and beyond. The silt which no longer reaches the Delta now gets trapped behind the Aswan Dam, settling in thick layers on the floor of Lake Nasser. The reservoir is becoming smaller each year, and is less able to handle the water and electricity-generation needs of the nation.
Located in East Africa, Ethiopia, historically a rich country is today a poverty-stricken economy based on agriculture and therefore rain. Climactic conditions, worsened by failed government policies have been identified as the cause of famines that struck Ethiopia between 1961 and 1985, and in particular the one of 1983–5.The environmental effect of the Aswan Dam (commenced in 1960 and completed in 1960) should perhaps be factored in.
Three of the four major tributaries of the River Nile arise in Ethiopia where the Blue Nile begins; despite this the Ethiopians were left out of the negotiations to build the Aswan Dam. Egypt was allocated 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually with Sudan allowed 18.5. Unsurprisingly Ethiopia is currently constructing what will become Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam. Begun in 2011 and partly funded by China, it is expected to be operational by 2017. Concerned officials in the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation claim Egypt will lose 20 to 30 percent of its share of Nile water and nearly a third of the electricity generated by its Aswan High Dam. The Egyptian government has stated its intention to defend its historic water allotment with a military strike ‘not out of the question’.
From a global perspective, the Aswan Dam tends to increase the salinity of the Mediterranean Sea, affecting the outflow current which can be traced thousands of kilometres into the Atlantic. Variation of ocean currents has a direct correspondence with sea levels and salinity the consequence of which is only now being understood. Ocean currents have the ability to both cool, aiding the creation of Antarctic ice and the ability to warm, creating the warmer climates now being recorded.
Ethiopia : 1984 to 1985 famine in Ethiopia