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The Aswan High Dam is one of the most impressive sights of modern Egypt, though it was built to reign in the ancient power of the Nile River, harnessing vital water at the same time.
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What is the Aswan Dam, why is it needed and why is it one of the must-see sites in Egypt? The dam is named after Aswan, the city on the first cataract of the Nile River in Egypt. There are actually two dams in Aswan, the newer Aswan High Dam and the older Aswan Low Dam.
Understand that both dams exist because of the Nile River. The purpose of the dam is to prevent the Nile River from flooding, to harvest water for agricultural purposes and to generate electricity.
Even if you took water and electricity out of the equation, the Nile River would flood every year during summer months because of waters from East Africa steadily flowing down. This has been a natural phenomenon ever since ancient times. Back then, floods were nothing to be concerned of. They actually brought more nutrients and minerals to soil, which made land around the Nile River fertile for farmers.
However, as the population grew, mankind saw the need to control these heavy waters, otherwise, the overflow would start to damage the fields. The results of flooding today are devastating. In a year with very high waters, an entire crop might be completely destroyed. Even in a year with low waters, there are many instances of drought and famine.
The Aswan High Dam is 3,830 meters in length, 980 meters wide at the base, and 111 meters tall. The dam contains 43 million cubic meters of material and moves 11,000 cubic meters of water every second.
There are also emergency spillways built in, as well as a canal (Toshka) that links the reservoir to the Toshka Depression. This gives you some idea of the power of the Nile River. Imagine that power uncontrolled! Now you see why the British people began planning for dam construction as far back as 1889.
Ever since 1967, power generators have been producing hydroelectric output. Today, twelve generators powered by the dam produce about 2.1 gigawatts each.
When the dam reached its peak performance it produced about half of the entire country’s electricity needs. (Though in recent times it has fallen to less than 15%) Egyptian residents can thank the dam for introducing electricity to many of its poor villages.
The Aswan High Dam is such a massive creation is has also become a tourist attraction and is included in most Aswan tours.