Hager Harabech elaborates in Phys.Org how Amid Nile dam tensions, Egypt recalls Aswan 50 years on.
13 January 2021
Half a century since Egypt’s ground-breaking Aswan dam was inaugurated with much fanfare, harnessing the Nile for hydropower and irrigation, the giant barrier is still criticised for its human and environmental toll.
It is also a stark reminder—amid high tensions today as Addis Ababa fills its colossal Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) upstream—of just how volatile politics over the life-giving, but finite, Nile water resources can be.
The Aswan High Dam was spearheaded in the early 1950s by charismatic pan-Arabist president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Egypt, where the river provides some 97 percent of water for more than 100 million people, is the final section of the Nile’s 6,650-kilometre (4,130-mile), 10-nation journey to the Mediterranean.
For millennia, the North African country was at the mercy of the seasonal rise and fall of the river, dependent on the rainfall in nations far upstream.
But the 111-metre-high and 3.6-kilometre-wide Aswan High Dam, dwarfing the far smaller Aswan Low Dam built under British rule in 1902, crucially gave Cairo power to regulate the flow.
It was a “very important hydro-political act”, said geographer and author Habib Ayeb, a Nile expert who has taught at universities in Cairo and Paris.
The dam was inaugurated on January 15, 1971, three months after Nasser’s death, by his successor Anwar al-Sadat.
For the first time, “an Egyptian president decided to manage the Nile within Egypt”, to develop agriculture and the economy in the country, Ayeb added.
For Egypt, an otherwise desert nation where 97 percent of the population lives along the green and fertile Nile banks, the dam revolutionised its relationship with the land.
“The dam offered a reprieve to Egyptians by giving them enough water… and protecting them from the hazards of floods, which could be absolutely catastrophic,” said Ayeb.
It also brought electricity to much of the country, a move Nasser said was key to developing the nation.
Abdel Hakim Hassanein, who overlooks the river from his home close to the dam, some 700 kilometres south of Cairo, praised its construction.
“We didn’t have electricity before, we used oil lamps,” the 68-year-old said, adding that work at the dem remains a key source of local jobs.
Ethiopia, the second most populous nation in Africa, today uses similar arguments, saying its 145-metre (475-foot) GERD Blue Nile barrier—set to be Africa’s largest hydro-electric dam—is vital to provide power for its 110 million people.
But Egypt, with the Arab world’s largest population, sees the GERD as an existential threat.
‘Belly of the desert’
In the 1960s, many Egyptians also saw the Aswan dam as a threat to their lives—in a different way.
The lake behind the dam flooded the homeland of Egypt’s Nubian people, forcing tens of thousands to leave.
“For the Nubians, the High Dam is a symbol of oppression,” said rights activist Fawzi Gayer. “It wiped out a civilisation.”
Gayer was born just after his family was relocated to a dusty town its Nubian residents call Abu Simbel “Displacement”.
“We’re talking about a community with a Nilotic identity that breathes the Nile… and we have been thrown into the belly of the desert,” said Gayer.
“The elderly died of shock.”
The Nubians’ long-running demand for a “right of return” was included in the 2014 constitution, but their lands have been swallowed by the 355-kilometre-long Lake Nasser, which stretches south into Sudan.
It was not only people who had to move; the waters threatened to drown the three-millenium-old Pharaonic temples at Abu Simbel, kickstarting a massive UNESCO-led rescue mission that took eight years.
The ancient complex, including giant stone carved statues, was dismantled and moved to a new location, in one of the world’s biggest archaeological rescue operations.
There were environmental consequences too.
The creation of the giant lake also upset the river’s delicate ecosystem, holding back the fertile silt deposits, causing erosion and increasing use of chemical fertilisers.
For Ayeb, the dam also “proved to be a political bomb”.
In building Aswan, Egypt and Sudan agreed a Nile water sharing deal, but did not include any other upstream nations, including Ethiopia.
“It created the foundations for the break-up of the Nile basin as a framework for a common good,” said Ayeb.
Today, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Khartoum are mired in long-running fractious talks over the filling and operation of the GERD dam.
But, according to Ayeb, the critical challenge for Egypt is the management of the water it gets at present.
“Even if Ethiopia stopped its dam, there wouldn’t be enough water,” he said, arguing Egypt should halt desert irrigation—where nearly half the water is lost by evaporation—and stop agricultural exports.
Ayeb believes Cairo needs a new water and agricultural policy entirely.
Saudi Arabia unveils THE LINE a linear development of smart cities connected without cars as reported by DesignBoom seems to be a significant step out of the fossil fuels grip on any mode of transport but only in this corner of the country.
Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans for THE LINE, a 170 kilometer (106 mile) belt of communities connected without the need for cars or roads. described as ‘a revolution in urban living’, the project has been put forward as a blueprint for how people can co-exist in harmony with the planet. THE LINE will be completely free of cars and streets, with residents given access to nature and all of their daily needs within a walking distance of five minutes. furthermore, the team behind the project says that the linear development of hyper-connected AI-enabled communities will be powered by 100% clean energy.
all images and video courtesy of NEOM
Located in NEOM, linking the coast of the red sea with the mountains and upper valleys of the north-west of Saudi Arabia, THE LINE was announced by his royal highness Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and chairman of the NEOM company board of directors.‘By 2050, one billion people will have to relocate due to rising CO2 emissions and sea levels,’ says his royal highness. ‘90% of people breathe polluted air. why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution? why should we lose one million people every year due to traffic accidents? and why should we accept wasting years of our lives commuting? therefore, we need to transform the concept of a conventional city into that of a futuristic one.’
Although walkability will define life on THE LINE, with all essential daily services within a short walk, ultra-high-speed transit and autonomous mobility solutions will make travel easier and give residents the opportunity to reclaim time to spend on health and well-being. It is expected that no journey will take longer than 20 minutes. the communities themselves will be powered by artificial intelligence and will continuously learn in order to ‘make life easier’ for both residents and businesses. It is estimated that 90% of available data will be harnessed to enhance infrastructure capabilities. from an environmental perspective, THE LINE will comprise carbon-positive urban developments powered by 100% clean energy.
NEOM is a region in northwest Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea being built from the ground up as a ‘living laboratory’. Eventually the location, comprising towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centers, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations, will be the home and workplace to more than a million residents from around the world. It is hoped that THE LINE will create 380,000 new jobs, spur economic diversification, and contribute SAR 180bn ($48bn USD) to domestic GDP by 2030. construction of THE LINE will get underway in early 2021.
Sam Bowman back in December 2020 wrote this article on Sustainability From A Construction Standpoint whereby he demonstrates that all construction-related matters do not have to have any bearing on the planet.
It seems as though the more we examine our day-to-day actions, the clearer the extent of our environmental damage becomes. Almost every aspect of the way we live our lives has the potential to have a destructive influence. This is why it is so important that we take time to understand how we can more effectively coexist with the ecosystem. Sustainability sits at the heart of this idea.
Many of us are making changes to the ways we work, eat, and travel to have more positive influences on our planet. One of the key ways we can make a long-term difference is in our approach to construction. Whether building a new home is a professional or personal project, there are adjustments we can make in design, materials, and internal systems. These can both minimize the initial use of resources, and make the building itself a more environmentally friendly home to live in. Studies have even found that green buildings can be instrumental in minimizing pollution’s effect on mortality rates and thus reduce pressure on public health services.
So, what do these sustainable construction elements look like? How does the way we design and build our homes have a tangible effect on our planet? The truth is, there are a lot of areas we can improve on. But we’re going to take a closer look at a few key areas of focus when it comes to sustainable construction.
Our homes are the primary culprits of excessive energy consumption. This is not only important from a general sustainability and cost-saving perspective. One recent study has reported that residential energy consumption is responsible for around 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Therefore those constructing new homes must take measures that both improve energy efficiency and utilize less harmful forms of energy production.
Some key approaches in this area include:
This is one of the primary areas construction professionals focus on when building energy-efficient homes. Taking the time, and a little investment to obtain insulation materials and apply them from the outset of construction can make a huge difference to home sustainability. This is because an airtight home prevents thermal bridging, which is heat escaping through the walls. However, using a large quantity of insulating material isn’t especially sustainable. It’s best to obtain insulation with high levels of thermal heat resistance — known as an R-rating — but lower quantities.
Solar Panels. Choosing to go solar at the construction stage is a more sustainable approach for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the ultimate reduction in fossil fuel usage. However, it also reduces unnecessary utilization of construction materials, and the resources used to manufacture them — panels can be arranged to effectively replace these areas of the building. For those on a budget, installing solar panels as part of initial construction can reduce costs in other areas such as roofing materials, and solar water heating installation.
Heating and Cooling. One of the areas of most energy expenditure in American homes is heating and cooling. Aside from the aforementioned insulation, choosing the right heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) approach can have a huge impact on how sustainable a home is. This involves understanding what system is most appropriate for the size and shape of the space being constructed. A geothermal heat pump system may well be the most efficient option in colder climates and larger constructions. However, in small to medium spaces, mini-split heating and cooling appliances are less of a drain on energy, and only need to be utilized for short periods to heat or cool individual rooms.
The real estate industry is finding that there’s a growing demand for homes with sustainable features. However, we should take the approach that sustainability should be a consideration from the outset. It’s not just an additional feature, but an integral part of the home itself. Material choices play an important role here.
From the perspective of the body of the building, concrete continues to be a popular choice. However, it is also one of the least sustainable materials — its production is responsible for around 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Alternatives are becoming increasingly accessible. Ferrock, for example, is an iron-based compound that incorporates recycled waste materials, resulting in it being a carbon-negative construction option. Even in circumstances where a concrete outer shell is needed, its use can still be reduced. Tightly packed straw bales can allow for thinner concrete outer walls and even minimal use of plaster and gypsum on the inside of the home.
Material considerations are integral to making how we live with the building more sustainable, too. Thermal mass — a material’s ability to absorb and retain heat — is particularly important for walls and foundations. Understanding these properties help us to make intelligent choices about the most sustainable material for the location of the building. High thermal mass elements like brick and stone allow for those homes in cooler climates to absorb more heat from the sun and spread it throughout the home. While low thermal mass items such as steel and wood can be more appropriate for high-temperature areas where coolness needs to be maintained. This is conducive to long term sustainability, as it is more reliant upon the renewable properties of the natural environment rather than putting pressure on temperature controls that consume large amounts of energy and emit waste.
The design of the building itself can have an impact on its sustainability. Architects are increasingly expected to devise solutions that support environmentally friendly construction, enable sustainable occupation, and reduce the negative impact on the spaces these homes inhabit.
One such approach is vertical design. In the U.S., we have vast geography to enjoy, and as such we have developed a tradition of creating large, sprawling homes that extend outward. However, with populations on the rise, particularly in cities, this isn’t a sustainable approach. Increased demand for space means that architects are straying away from looking outward, and looking upward instead. Homes with more floors also have the benefit of being more energy efficient; they have fewer exposed walls, and heat rising from the bottom of the home helps to heat the whole house.
Architects are also considering how to cut down on unnecessary material expenditure and construction emissions. A popular solution to this is learning how we can adapt to what already exists. Cargotecture uses old shipping containers as the basis for construction. This provides a modular approach to architectural design, giving scope for tailoring, and even later additions. It also tends to have a shorter construction process, reducing waste during building. That said, the tiny home movement has also become a popular choice to minimize the use of construction materials. These houses, generally less than 500 square feet, also limit their impact on the environment. As detailed in the linked resource, they also tend to produce 14 times less carbon than the average home.
We have a responsibility to consider how all elements of our lives can be made more sustainable. As such, whenever we build a new home we must put time into making choices that minimize our negative impact on the planet in both the short and long term. The materials, energy systems, and architectural styles that are conducive to sustainability are becoming more accessible. We, therefore, have fewer excuses not to make our environmental and social responsibilities forefront in our construction decisions.
Researchers have advanced understanding of how wireless charging roads might influence driver behaviour.
By applying statistical geometry to analysing urban road networks, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) researchers have developed city planning in a future where electric vehicles (EVs) dominate the car market.
“Our work is motivated by the global trend of moving towards green transportation and EVs,” says postdoc Mustafa Kishk.
“Efficient dynamic charging systems, such as wireless power transfer systems installed under roads, are being developed by researchers and technology companies around the world as a way to charge EVs while driving without the need to stop. In this context, there is a need to mathematically analyse the large-scale deployment of charging roads in metropolitan cities.”
Many factors come into play when charging roads are added to the urban road network. Drivers may seek out charging roads on their commute, which has implications for urban planning and traffic control. Meanwhile, the density of charging road installations in a city, and the likely time spent on and between the charging roads by commuters, could influence the size of batteries installed in EVs by car manufacturers.
Calculating the metrics that could be used to analyze a charging road network is very significant, as Kishk’s lab colleague, Duc Minh Nguyen, explains.
“Our main challenge is that the metrics used to evaluate the performance of dynamic charging deployment, such as the distance to the nearest charging road on a random trip, depend on the starting and ending points of each trip,” says Nguyen.
“To correctly capture those metrics, we had to explicitly list all possible situations, compute the metrics in each case and evaluate how likely it is for each situation to happen in reality. For this, we used an approach called stochastic geometry to model and analyze how these metrics are affected by factors such as the density of roads and the frequency of dynamic charging deployment.”
Applying this analysis to the Manhattan area of New York, which has a road density of one road every 63 meters, Kishk and Nguyen with research leader Mohamed-Slim Alouini determined that a driver would have an 80 percent chance of encountering a charging road after driving for 500 meters when wireless charging is installed on 20 percent of roads.
“This is the first study to incorporate stochastic geometry into the performance analysis of charging road deployment in metropolitan cities,” Kishk says. “It is an important step towards a better understanding of charging road deployment in metropolitan cities.”
Corruption and Predation in Exercising Power: Algeria and Iraq as Case Studies by Nahla Chahal, Professor and researcher of political Sociology, Editor in Chief, Assafir Al Arabi.
All throughout 2020, Assafir al Arabi conducted a study on corruption as one of the pillars of power, just as important as repression, impoverishment, and despair. For such exercise, we chose Algeria and Iraq as case studies, hoping to extend our research to include other countries. This work will appear in the Books of Assafir al Arabi in three languages, Arabic, French, and English, and their online versions.
The following studies seek to examine corruption in Algeria and Iraq. They do not tackle its manifestation as bribes or looted public funds, but rather as a major governance mechanism, an essential part of its structure and operations.
Corruption is no self-treatable symptom; it cannot cure itself nor can its tailored arrangements; rather, it is channelled to empower a ruler(s), to sustain and perpetuate their power and hegemony. It could be more effective than oppression; takes on various shapes and forms; attacks society by taming it into submission, talks people out of pursuing change, and impoverishes them.
Corruption infests everything and partners with many people to various extents. Alternately, it asks for their complicity, or their acceptance thereof, at the very least, to simplify their lives. It remunerates certain social strata in particular, which happen to be fused with the ruling powers, for matching ideological considerations at times, and tribal-sectarian affiliations at others.
Numerous studies tackle corruption as a question indicative of imprudent governance, lack of transparency, collapsed mechanisms of oversight and accountability, or faded rule of law. The question of corruption has been widely contextualised in theory and through international standards outlined by organisations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and Transparency International. Those focused on nepotism, theft, and lining influential people’s pockets; they proposed measures to protect whistle blowers, enhanced access to information, made way for civil society, and instilled social accountability; all of which have contributed to the creation of an extensive useful database.
But to focus on those alone would be limiting, as they capture neither dynamics nor functions of corruption. Certainly, all such aspects of corruption must be interconnected somehow, given meaning and rendered a real “configuration”. The studies presented here precisely seek to examine such hypothesis and identify the circumstances that make corruption flourish.
There is, of course, a direct relationship between rampant corruption and failed national liberation –or its defeat– for getting rid of older colonialism is no complete realisation of that end – liberation. Massive privatisations also accompanied such failure and opened up new doors for corruption. Furthermore, real decision-making mechanisms may be seen hiding behind decision-making formalities, whether in ministerial cabinets or parliamentary buildings. Interchangeably, it hides behind decrees. Namely, corrupt practices take legal cover.
In his paper on Algeria, “Corruption as a Configuration of Power,” Daho Djerbal (1) argues that corruption is deemed institutionalised not only when widespread, but also when organised on the basis of socio-economic clientelist networks entrenched within the State apparatus, then disseminated into society through alternating intermediaries. It emerged fiercest, he says, when the State monopolised economy – in both capitalist and socialist paradigms.
Corruption is a configuration of economic rent which began as a system of economic and political regulation, whereby relations between State and its institutions, enterprises and their partners, civil society and its organisations, are all subject, by hook or crook, to rent-seeking logic instated to allocate all national resources (human, natural, financial, technical, and organisational), develop them, and distribute their generated revenues. Corruption thus became a “rite of passage” to accessing numerous public services.
As for decrees, Djerbal considers them as means for elected assemblies and democratically appointed authorities to avoid discussing major topics at hand. Those are tools invented to ensure wider reproduction of this system of new profits, to render the executive branch as sole party in charge of economic evaluation, and to arbitrage between conflicted interests for the sake of increasing revenues and systematise their redistribution. He also considers corruption and democracy as interlinked. As such, the emergence of “pragmatic practices” assumed by the authorities rely on a system of “remunerations, gift exchange, the fragmentation of spheres, places, and actors who determine what is legal and illegal, moral and immoral, legitimate and illegitimate…”
To illustrate his reflections, he gives a number of real-life examples from Algeria and analyses exposed “scandals”, the logic behind their trials, and the verdicts reached against their protagonists.
In investigating corruption in Algeria, Rachid Sidi Boumedine (2) wonders about what could be defined as corruption. He notes that one culturally distinguishes between corruption and bribes, commonly called “tchippa” or “qahwa,” that is, money ordinary citizens pay to buy access to services (mundane, occasionally) or any other goods, though already granted by virtue of law. One feature of a clientelist system is embodied in excessive authorised violations, starting from the highest ranks of the hierarchy, which simultaneously places the lower ranks at the mercy of executive circles, who could, in turn, punish the former for violation of the written law, if there need be.
Boumedine also notes how rentier networks function “internally”, like a clan (a family, village, affiliated community). As such, familiar arrangements of gift-exchange and mutual donations -characterised by their binding and impactful nature- create a favoured system of rights and obligations in society. Such principles consolidate a clientelist system by creating, nourishing, and sustaining reciprocal obligations among its members. He also claims that the system in Algeria has become neo-patrimonial.
This configuration of looting and corruption thus draws upon social acceptance for sustenance. As such, at least in part, it is not considered as theft carried out at the expense of the larger public. Such ideological design –which legitimises looting, whereby the latter is an act directed against an anonymous, undefined, long-hated state after all– thus becomes a gateway to a new social paradigm. He illustrates the question through describing those recurring handouts to the “poor”, or housing opportunities delivered in accordance with ever-contested lists – fashioned along surreptitious criteria. These operations further plunge their beneficiaries into that recognised mire of a clearly unjust system. It is a system that benefits whoever knows their way around maintaining good relations with network agents, ensuring access to those lists.
In their cowritten article reviewed by writer Omar Aljaffal (3), researchers Mohsin Ahmad Ali (4) and Abdul Rahman Al-Mashhadani (5) consider how the 2003 US occupation of Iraq –which toppled the political regime, dismantled the foundations of the state, reformulating them in accordance with US visions and under the administration of the “American civil governor of Iraq”, Paul Bremer– resulted in the transformation of corruption from a manageable and resistible phenomenon into a system protected by laws and legislations. It was thus turned into a daily practice protected by force of weapons, media, platforms, and religious fatwas.
The writers see the destruction of the public sector in the monopolisation of secure jobs by the ruling power and its parties. Those jobs are thus used as a card to purchase voter power in parliamentarian elections, whereby parties promise their supporters and clans jobs in return for their electoral vote. Subsequently, the number of government employees would reach 4.5 million, as opposed to 880 thousand employees in 2003. The two researchers claim that corruption developed and transformed into an “acceptable” social phenomenon after 2003, accompanied by a political shift towards a market economy led by political parties that landed with the occupier and/or emerged after 2003. Those parties have sectarian and racist agendas. Those parties ratified regulations and laws that furthered their interests, such as the “Jihad military service” – for people who had established organisations of armed resistance against Saddam Hussein’s regime and for “political prisoners”. As such, we do not stand before one type of corruption only (which manifests in bribery, among other illegal activity), but also before corruption protected by a legal framework that includes a larger range of different economic activities, subsequently rendering the country’s riches into material up for grabs to those in power and control, inside and outside Iraq. Between 2003 and 2018, financial crimes hit unprecedented records while financial waste surpassed $350 billion. The two researchers also affirm a close connection between intensified and aggravated corruption and external factors that instigate and encourage it. Many cases of corruption are thus entwined with external objectives abroad. Their article tackles manifestations of corruption throughout Iraq and its sectors, as well as those tools used by the ruling power to perpetuate its rule and those it uses to appease society.
Overall, research on corruption faces various challenges, some of which are obstructive indeed. Those include lack of published data, prohibited access to documents, lack of documentation in the first place, mistrust in researchers, and the potential harm that threatens the latter should their research be published. Additionally, research faces challenges that pertain to researchers themselves, from sticking to one familiar methodology they are prone to reproduce, to the scarcity of institutions capable of embracing and supporting them, or lack thereof, to competing over whatever little is available, all the way to declining intellectual standards and knowledge in general, and so on.
Ultimately, the endeavour we undertake here goes with an unexhausted obsession with searching and trying. It questions the way existing powers rule our countries. Along with the contributing researchers, Assafir Al-Arabi thus hopes to have tackled some of the aspects that could answer such a fundamental question.
1- Daho Djerbal is a historian. He teaches contemporary history at the University of Algiers 2. Besides his extensive research on economic and social history, he studies the relationship between history and memory. He has been the director of Naqd publication, a review of social studies and critique, since 1993. 2- Rachid Sidi Boumediene is both scientist and sociologist. He published a number of books and articles throughout his career as academic and consultant in both Algeria and abroad. 3- Iraqi poet and writer. He recently worked on a project that analysed Basrah’s local government in Iraq, as part of a “conflict resolution studies program” at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He received the Mostafa Husseini Prize for young journalists in 2017. 4- Professor of political economy at the University of Basrah. 5- Senior lecturer at Al Iraqia University, specialised
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