The night sky above Sai Island is magnificent. Stars, planets, and the moon twinkle without competition from light bulbs and fluorescent tubes. After the sun has set, a gentle darkness covers the landscape until the next sunrise.
The Sudanese power grid distributing electricity from the controversial Merowe Dam, which we mentioned in the previous entry, ends at Dongola 175 kilometres south of Sai. So, the towns north of this point are running on power generated by diesel engines, and some of the rural households also use diesel generators. In the villages, one can see on the posts flanking the gates of the most imaginative locals decorations with lamps set in the jaws of crocodiles.
Already in the days of President Nimeiri, the electrification of the country was high on the political agenda, since power is an uncontested factor for development. The means to achieve this, however, are controversial. The hydropower plant of the Merowe Dam on the Fourth Cataract was inaugurated in 2009, after a construction phase during which between 50.000 and 78.000 people were uprooted from their land and resettled in the desert.
The ecological consequences of damming the world’s longest river were not thoroughly evaluated before hand, so we are left with observing the changes as they take place. From Sai, we have already noticed the last three winters the invasion of numerous nimiti (small, biting flies) for a much longer period than normal. This is very probably caused by the lower level of the river, which prolongs the suitable conditions for their breeding.
Ignoring the signs of ecological disasters, the Sudanese government is planning to build dams on the remaining cataracts of northern Sudan, as seen on the map (Fig. 10.3, p. 232) of UNEP’s report Sudan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment.
The northernmost of these dams is on the Dal Cataract, which is situated less than 40 kilometres northeast of Sai. According to the Anti Dal Kajbar Committee (www.sudan-forall.org/Anti-Dal-Kajbar-Dams_Executive-Summary.pdf), there are two proposed options for this dam: Low Dal and High Dal. In the former case, all points below 201 metres above the sea level will be submerged upstream from Dal; in the latter, the artificial lake will cover everything below 219 metres above sea level… In either case, the so-called Cathedral site of Sai Island, the focus of our activities, will be submerged. Located 196 metres above sea level, not even the capitals on top of the columns would be visible, if the Dal Dam is implemented; and if the High Dal is opted for, the same will happen to the Qalat Sai, the pharaonic town, and the Kerma tumuli…
Perhaps the loss of the anquities is the least of the worries for a land, when its people are threatened by flooding and a new Nubian exodus… So, before returning to more straightforward concerns of archaeology, we will look in the next entry at the local resistance to the dam, and propose some alternative means for producing electricity in the area.