Water politics and archaeology

In the Nile Valley, the exploitation of the water resources and the archaeological research go more often than not hand in hand. Inevitably, this observation carries along political implications in various degrees and fashions:

–       The knowledge of the balance between human cultures and their natural environment helps understand the modes of use of the Nile waters in the present time. Professor of geography at the University of Bergen, Terje Tvedt, has eloquently demonstrated this understanding on several occasions through his examination of the politics of the Nile in a historical perspective. His latest edition, The River Nile in the post-colonial age. Conflict and Cooperation among the Nile Basin Countries (London-New York 2010), gives very little space to archaeology, but the study of the modern history of the ten states involved in the topic of the administration of the waters of the longest river in the world is the main filter for the presentation of the problems in this very important publication.

–       The purpose of irrigation occupies inevitably a very important place in such case studies, both on the sociopolitical and archaeological-historical dimensions. The scale of the human intervention is perhaps the most crucial factor affecting this purpose. Recent studies of the tissues of mummies found in Nubia by researchers of Emory University in the USA have shown that already from the ancient times, irrigation works in Nubia caused an alteration of the riverine environment that threatened the health of the inhabitants by the rise of diseases like schistosomiosis. We have referred in a previous entry to such risks in obviously higher scales from the construction of dams along the Middle Nile Valley. For it is the case that in the last decades, dams along the river have been seen as the most effective solution, notwithstanding the destruction of both the natural landscape and the local human communities. Especially for the case of the Nile, dams should not be regarded as environment-friendly solutions for the supplementary reason that they are not as effective structures as dams can be when they are exploiting water falls in countries with high precipitation (e.g. Norway). It can thus be the case that dams on the Ethiopian highlands would be more effective than the ones planned in Sudan. To suggest the building of such, however, would implicate the prior agreement of all stakeholders through processes that groupings like the Nile Basin Initiative can guarantee.

–       Finally, it is therefore the prerogative of the governments ruling over the states sharing the Nile waters to promote more environment-friendly projects for the necessary exploitation of this unique water resource for the entire East Africa. The corruptness of various sectors of governmental administration in those countries, though, risks the trust that the international community could show towards their respective planning. A characteristic example of a lacking decision-making process is from Egypt where the recent revolution has shown that the people disagreed with Mubarak’s regime to give the land next to the Lake Qarun as concession for resort development. The area around Lake Qarun is unique for both its fossil and archaeological record as well as it natural beauty. The overturn of that regime revealed the hideous project and gave raise to a follow-up of demonstrations against a possible future implementation. An online petition has already achieved wide support.

The same we wish for the one attempting to protect the Middle Nile Valley from the plans for new dams:

 http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-the-dams-in-sudan.html

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