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Pole to Pole

Day 61: Aswan

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThis complex is the nerve centre of Egypt, from which half of the country's electrical power and ninety-nine per cent of its water flow. Its importance is colossal, but so is the investment needed to keep it going. Hamdy Eltahez, the Chairman of the High Dam Authority, who showed me round, was blunt about the need for outside help. A massive programme to replace all twelve Russian-built turbines with American models is currently under way. But there is now a new problem. The lake behind the dam is silting up rapidly. Since 1964, there has been an eighty-two-foot build-up of sediment at the Sudanese end of the lake. At this rate the water flow will be rapidly reduced and in some cases cut off altogether. Eltahez and Egypt are looking for a new international saviour, someone to invest in the vast costs of digging a by-pass canal around the silted-up area. To invest in nothing less than diverting the Nile.

Some people question the wisdom of building the dam at all, pointing out that the yearly flooding of the Nile provided vital fertility, which now has to be provided artificially; this is expensive and destructive. The Nubians question why they had to lose seventy-five villages and have thousands of their people resettled to make way for the lake. But Eltahez is adamant. The Aswan Dam saved Egypt in the nine years of drought between 1979 and 1988.

Whichever way you look at it, it is an extraordinary undertaking, the only project in modern Egypt to rival the works of the Pharaohs.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 61
  • Country/sea: Egypt
  • Place: Aswan
  • Book page no: 132

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  • Egypt
  • Day 7 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
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  • Day 9 
  • Around the World in 80 Days

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