We were watching the construction of the Sadd el Aali, the Aswân High Dam across the Nile. This was an early stage—the excavation of a diversion canal and the filling of coffer dams, to keep the building site dry. Hassan, trained in Texas, was eager to explain what a stupendous achievement the Sadd el Aali will be when it is completed sometime in 1968. It will tower 364 feet above the bed of the Nile, he said, and its crest will be more than two miles long. Pressing against the High Dam will be 127 million acre-feet of water, forming a reservoir more than 300 miles in length.
"Granted," Hassan said, "it will not be the highest dam in the world, or the longest. And the reservoir will not be the greatest lake created by man. But has a more productive dam ever been built? The Sadd el Aali should repay construction costs in less than two years—with great advantages to shipping, electric power for new industries, and protection against floods."
Above all, the High Dam will be a wall against hunger. Ninety-nine percent of all Egyptians, almost 27 million of them, live on less than 4 percent of the land. Every year adds half a million people.
"Here we are like ants on a stick of candy," Hassan declared. "But the Sadd el Aali will help set the table for everybody. It will increase by a third the amount of land that can be irrigated the year round."
Still bubbling with statistics and enthusiasm, Hassan impressed on me the difference between the new and old Aswân dams.
The old dam, begun in 1898 and completed in 1902, has twice been improved by making it higher. Normally, its 174-foot height equalizes the high water of summer and the low water of winter. But the Nile's flow varies not only seasonally but from one year to the next. The record annual high, in 1878-9, was 5,333 billion cubic feet; the record low was 1,483 billion, in 1913-14. Both spelled catastrophe.
The very size of Sadd el Aali will curb the lethal whims of the river. In years of heavy flow, the new reservoir will store the excess water against dry years to come. Thus the High Dam is designed to dispel forever the Biblical Pharaoh's dream of the seven fat and the seven lean years.