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Egyptian Officials Says Aswan Dam Saves Their Country from Drought

January 8, 1985 GMT

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ While much of Africa suffers drought and famine, Egyptian officials say their country has been spared both, thanks largely to the Aswan High Dam built some 20 years ago with Soviet help.

Since it began functioning in 1968, the giant dam has been criticized for the flooding of landmarks from the days of the pharoahs, increasing the salt content of soil used to grow food, holding back rich silt that used to be a natural fertilizer and driving thousands of villagers from their Nile Valley homes.

However, the largest rock-fill dam in the world also created a 2,600- square-m ile lake behind it, which has been providing Egypt with hydroelectricity and water for irrigation during the past five years of drought.

Although south of the dam the drought has dropped the Nile to its lowest level since 1913, Egyptian Electricity and Power Minister Maher Abaza told The Associated Press there is enough water in Lake Nasser to provide irrigation and electricity to meet projected demands even if the drought continues for the next three years.

″The drought has affected the amount of water in the lake behind the dam, and the level of water has decreased by several meters,″ Abaza said. ″The drought is not dangerous to Egypt now because we still have a stock of water.″

Unlike Ethiopia and Sudan, Egypt does not rely primarily on rains to obtain water for agriculture. Since the dawn of history, the Nile, the world’s longest river, has been the land’s primary source of water.

There are two main tributaries - the Blue Nile, which originates in Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and the White Nile, which rises at Lake Victoria in Uganda. The two streams come together at the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and the Nile winds northward through Egypt to its mouth on the Mediterranean near Alexandria.

The Nile’s annual flood used to drench the wide fields of the delta and the farmlands of Upper Egypt, spreading a rich layer of silt carried downstream from the Ethiopian highlands. The high dam ended the annual flood, but the government said at the time of its construction that the project would enable farmers to obtain an adequate supply of water year-round.

Abaza said that if the drought continues for three more years, the amount of hydroelectric power generated by the high dam could drop by about 10 percent.