The Aswan High Dam

The Dam in Egypt That Stopped the Nile From Flooding

Picture of the first stage of construction on the Aswan High Dam in Egypt.
Four huge hydraulic tunnels dug out of the rock, in the first stage of construction of the Aswan High Dam. (May 14, 1964). (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

After ten years of construction, the Aswan High Dam (known as Saad el Aali in Arabic) was completed on July 21, 1970 in Egypt. The Aswan High Dam, located on the Nile River just north of the border between Egypt and Sudan, is an embankment dam built of rock and clay.

The Aswan High Dam was needed to help control the frequent cycles of flooding and drought within Egypt and to provide electricity. The water behind the dam pools into the world's third largest reservoir, Lake Nasser.

Size of the Aswan High Dam

At 364 feet (111 meters) high and about 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometers) wide, the Aswan High Dam was a marvel of construction. It cost about $1 billion to build but it was worth it if it could to solve the problem that had plagued Egyptian civilization for thousands of years -- the flooding of the Nile River.


In addition to preventing flooding of the Nile River, the Aswan High Dam brought electricity to households and villages across Egypt that had never experienced something many of us take for granted.

This electricity was generated by the dam's 12 turbines, which are capable of generating ten billion kilowatt-hours annually.

Fresh Water Reservoir

The Aswan High Dam prevented the Nile from flooding, but it was the reservoir behind the dam that provided a source of fresh water for the Egyptian people during the drought years. The lake that was created is quite large, with a gross capacity of 136,927,000 acre-feet (168.9 billion cubic meters).

Two-thirds of the lake lies in Egypt and one-third lies in the Sudan.

The part of the lake in Egypt is called Lake Nasser, named after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser who had spearheaded the building of the dam but died in September 1970, just a few months shy of the dam's grand opening. The part of the lake in the Sudan is called Lake Nubia, named after the ancient civilization that used to occupy the area.


When the plans for building the Aswan High Dam were being created, it became apparent that the area allocated for Lake Nasser/Lake Nubia was not only inhabited but also home to a number of important historical artifacts and buildings.

Before the dam could be built, 90,000 Egyptian peasants and Sudanese Nubian nomads had to be relocated.

As for the important historical sites, UNESCO worked on gathering international financial support to remove them before the area was flooded. The most notable of these were the two temples of Abu Simbel, built by the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses II. To move the temples, the entire temple complex was cut up into huge blocks and then moved out of the way. It was then reconstructed at a safe distance.

Negative Side Effects

While the Aswan High Dam has successfully mitigated the Nile's annual flooding and frequent droughts, this has caused a problem as well. For thousands of years, most of Egypt's people have lived alongside the Nile and their farmlands have been replenished with nutrients from the annual flooding. 

Now, with no flooding, these once nutrient-rich lands have become stripped of their richness and farmers are now having to supplement their soil with artificial fertilizers.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Aswan High Dam." ThoughtCo, Oct. 20, 2015, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2015, October 20). The Aswan High Dam. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Aswan High Dam." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 23, 2017).