An Atlas of African Affairs

By Andrew Boyd; Patrick Van Rensburg | Go to book overview

8. The Nile

Over 30 million people in Egypt and the Sudan republic depend on the Nile, the world's longest river, as virtually the only source of water in an otherwise desert area. Its flow varies greatly, the flood peak bringing fifteen times as much water as the low average in spring, and some years proving much drier than others. Barrages and canals already built irrigate 6 million acres in Egypt and 500,000 in the Sudan with Nile water. Much of Egypt's perennial irrigation depends on the Sudan not drawing off more than a specified amount of the natural flow in the dry months, and there have been various agreements, and repeated disputes, about division of the water between the two countries. Both depend on Nile water for growing cotton, their main export crop, as well as food.

In 1960 work began on building a new and higher dam above the existing one at Aswan. Ultimately it is hoped that the high Aswan dam will permit at least the doubling of the irrigated area. It involves forming a reservoir stretching 300 miles upstream, of which 100 miles will be in the Sudan. Many of the inhabitants of this stretch have to be moved to new homes; those of the Sudanese section have reacted angrily to the offer of resettlement near the Ethiopian border. Some of the rock-cut temples and monuments of the ancient Nubian civilization in the area may be saved from the rising water by international action. Under a 1959 agreement on division of the new water supply, the United Arab Republic is to pay the Sudan £15 million in compensation for the flooding of Wadi Halfa and Nubia.

Russia agreed in 1958 to provide credits worth £37 million to help the building of the high dam; its total cost was then reckoned at about £240 million. Earlier, there had been competitive offers of aid for the project from the West and from Russia. In 1955 America, Britain and the World Bank had all offered aid; but Egypt's relations with the West worsened, and in July 1956 America and Britain withdrew their offers. The Suez conflict followed (7).

On the Blue Nile in the Sudan, a new dam is also to be built near Roseires at a cost of £32 million, partly with World Bank and German loans; it is expected that nearly a million more acres will obtain irrigation from it.

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