Nubians resist new dams

Having experienced the effects of the Merowe Dam on both the landscape (flooding) and the people (resettlement) in the Fourth Cataract region from close, we are naturally extremely concerned that the Sudanese Government is planning to build three more hydropower projects on the Nile in northern Sudan, namely the Dal and Kajbar Dams (downstream and upstream of Sai Island respectively) and the Shereik Dam, as well as a dam on the Atbara River – the last tributary of the Nile – in eastern Sudan.

We are alarmed about the news that we read in the blog of Peter Bosshard, policy director of the environmental organization International Rivers, that last year Chinese consortiums and corporations were awarded contracts of

  • $838 million to build the Upper Atbara Dam,
  • $711 million to build the Shereik Dam, and
  • $705 million to build the Kajbar Dam;

while the Dal Dam has not come as far in the process of implementation yet.

The people living in the region threatened by the Kajbar and Dal dams are Nubians. The Nubians consist of several tribes, and their land – Nubia – originally encompassed the region between the First Cataract and the confluence of the White and Blue Niles at present-day Khartoum. The Nubians still speak their own language, Nubian, which is called Rutana by the surrounding Arabic speakers, and maintain their ethnic identity also in other ways, such as their beautifully painted houses.

As a consequence of the dam buildings at Aswan in Upper Egypt, the Nubians living between the First and the Second Cataracts had to relocate four times in sixty years – in 1902, 1912, 1933, and 1963 . In total, the Aswan dams displaced 70,000 people in Egypt and 50,000 people in the Sudan, causing the ‘Nubian Exodus’ in the poetic phrasing of Hassan Dafalla, district commissioner of Halfa during the resettlement process of the 1960s. Some of the Egyptian Nubians were resettled on Elephantine Island opposite Aswan where they now live in the gaze of the tourists, as seen on the photo below from the tower of the luxurious Mövenpick Resort.

The majority of the resettled Nubians of Sudan is now leading an impoverished existence at Khashm al-Girba on the Atbara River – a failed development project more than 900 kilometres away from their original homeland.

Since the resettlement of dam victims in Sudan is still acutely felt, the Nubians living between the Dal Cataract and Tombos at the upstream end of the Third Cataract are fiercely opposed to being resettled. In June 2007, the army killed at least four anti-dam demonstrators at Kajbar (Sudan Tribune 15.06.2007), who attempted to prevent Chinese and Sudanese engineers from undertaking a feasibility study. The latest protests in Nubia took place at the end of February when people affected by the Dal Dam protested against surveys conducted by the Dam Implementation Unit in order to prove the feasibility of the project (Sunday Nation 03.03.2011).

In northern Sudan, there exist undoubtedly more viable alternatives for producing electricity than dam building: These would be the construction of solar parks and the individual use of solar panels, as well as the installation of large and small wind turbines for public and private energy provisioning.

Last but not least, the power of the water itself could be used in a good old way but for a new beneficial purpose: We urge Sudanese engineers to to abandon the outdated mode of dam building and rather explore means and ways to reintroduce the water-wheel; this time not for lifting water from the river and the wells to irrigate the fields, but in order to generate electricity by profiting mechanically from the constant flow of the river itself.

Since we see it as all-important that no further dams are built on the Nile, we will continue by explore the negative effects of dams in the next entry.

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4 Responses to Nubians resist new dams

  1. chirine nour says:

    the question is does chinese construct solar parks and wind turbines?

    • ergamenis says:

      Perhaps they do – in that case the problem can be focused on the given wish of the Sudanese government to appear as taming the natural forces, and therefore came our suggestion of the re-introduction of the waterwheels by local engineers to generate power from the flow of the river!
      But since they appear not to – and perhaps they do not have that type of energy stock that is needed to produce the material for constructing the solar panels necessary, imagine the Europeans intervening in such alternative forms as to administer solutions friendly to the environment and contrary to the political directives stemming from the conflict of USA and China: what a wonderful world this would be…

  2. dianabuja says:

    When I was working in southern Egypt/Red Sea Hills, I would often visit the Ababdi groups that camped from time to time on the outskirts of Aswan. I was also working with some of the replaced Nubians on the possibility of a Nubian museum, and that finally did materialize. As for dams, yes I agree, a sordid and mixed history throughout Africa.

  3. ergamenis says:

    Thanks for that comment too!
    We are more and more looking forward to setting up some entry together – perhaps the Red Sea people will prove a more efficient topic than the Greeks?

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