We are very happy that our recent entries about the Merowe Dam and the proposed building of the Kajbar, Dal, and Shereik Dams have engaged our friends and colleagues in Sudan archaeology, so this entry has benefited from their inputs.
Although hydropower is generally considered among the environmentally friendly and renewable energy sources, dams have severe and irreversible consequences for the natural and cultural landscape. Therefore, international standards, such as those set forth by the World Commission on Dams, demand that an environmental impact assessment is undertaken before building a dam in order to make an informed decision whether it is safe to build it or not. Unfortunately, no serious assessment was made before the construction of the Merowe Dam. So, what are the consequences for the environment of the dam building scheme on the Nile?
In the Nile Valley, any dam will lead to the submergence and loss of riverine farmland and habitat – in the case of the Merowe Dam a stretch of the river spanning 173 kilometres is now permanently flooded by the reservoir.
The stagnant water in the lake will cause extensive sedimentation, which will reduce the storing capacity of the reservoir and also lower the production of electricity in the long-term. Estimations show that the total capacity of the reservoir of the Merowe Dam may be lost in less than 150 years – rendering the dam useless and worthless.
The trapping of sediments by the dam have also a large impact on the downstream environment. The water stored in the reservoir drops its sedimentation load there, giving it a high carrying capacity when released to the downstream river valley, which causes massive erosion of the riverbanks. In addition, the loss of the annually deposited fertile silt, which until now kept the downstream riverine agriculture vital, will lead to more extensive use of artificial fertilizers, as also happened in Egypt after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
The Aswan High Dam and the Merowe Dam have already genetically isolated a large reach of the Nile with impact on fish migrations and the life of endangered species, like the Nile crocodile. If the other dams are implemented, the Nile of northern Sudan will no longer be a river but a series of artificial lakes. Our colleague Bruce B. Williams of the Oriental Institute of Chicago paraphrased Brian Fagan saying that this development constitutes the real Rape of the Nile.
The Nile is the only permanent river that manages to cross the Sahara – the largest desert and one of the hottest regions in the world. The river is thus the life blood of the societies both in northern Sudan and in Egypt. However, stagnant water in the Sahara has a very high rate of evaporation. Damming the Nile is thus a giant waste of water in one of the driest regions of the world.
Our colleague Brenda Baker, physical anthropologist at Arizona State University, informs us that slow or stagnant water promotes breeding of mosquitoes that transmit malaria and the presence of the snails that host the causative organism of schistosomiasis. She is concerned that the new reservoirs forming and the long irrigation canals made to the resettlement sites in the desert in all probability will increase substantially the incidence of both malaria and schistosomiasis in the affected regions.
With all these disadvantages of dam building, what would be more viable alternatives for electrification of northern Sudan?
We agree with our colleague Tim Kendall that
Sudan has the richest, most reliable energy supplies on earth, without destroying the remaining Nile Valley. One has only to harness them: Since no one lives in broad stretches of the desert, where the sun burns brightest and the wind blows the hardest, the construction there of combined wind and solar generating farms would have little or no impact on existing human settlement; no people would have to be displaced. In this, Sudan would have an opportunity to lead the world in clean energy and to demonstrate how it can be achieved! The designers of the generators (various international firms) would have an ideal laboratory to compete and to show off their newest machines and technologies. It would also be a huge public relations benefit for Sudan, which has so long been battered by bad publicity. It seems like a winning scheme for all: the government, the people, the land, the Nile.
Until electricity is generated through solar parks, lamps running on solar power can be purchased from IKEA. This is perhaps the best idea for gifts for archaeologists and others to bring to friends and colleagues in Sudan hoping that similar products will soon be available at a fair price in the country itself.
Furthermore, we were delighted that our idea of run-of the-river generation of hydroelectricity was responded to by Muhammed Jalal Hashim, who has explored this idea much further than us. We hope to return with more news about the thoughts for a common project in the next couple of weeks.
Coming to an end in this entry, we will look at two green energy projects of our countries of origin: a hypermodern example from Norway and a return to traditional approaches from Greece:
- Norway has recently signed a contract to support the Sahara Forest project in Jordan, where a combination of technologies will turn arid desert areas into fertile lands. We can hope that since Sudan is one of the countries that Norway gives most of its aid money to, it will also benefit from Norway’s concern for the environment when Sudan progresses with its ‘modernization’.
- The Green Project is based in Greece and promotes renewable energy sources, energy-saving, and rational use of energy. Their form of action is road trips, and in 2010 they travelled through Africa from Athens to Cape Town in order to rediscover green energy traditions of the African waterways.
In conclusion, we envision that a combination of modern technologies harvesting power from the sun and winds and traditional technologies utilizing the flow of the water in the river can render the damming of the Nile not only unwanted but also unnecessary.