Sudan has enough problems. Despite the need to modernize though to increase the national power supply and create more arable land, the Merowe Dam will cost more than the $1.8 billion price tag.
But modernization comes with a price. The dam, which experts say is the largest hydropower project under development in Africa, is expected to create a sprawling 100-mile long lake that will displace 50,000 people who live in villages along the river.
Also to be submerged are some of Sudan’s ancient sites, where archaeologists are now working feverishly to find what they can while they still can. The affected locations, according to government scientists, include the noted Pharaonic and Napato-Meroitic towns and cemeteries at Gebel Barkal, the post-Meroitic tumuli of Zuma and the Christian monastery of Ghazali, among others.
Actually they don’t even know what’s really going to be submerged.
The work is already producing surprising results, said Dr. Ahmed, who has devoted his career to the area. Before the hurried digging began, many archaeologists did not consider this particular stretch of the Nile to be a major settlement site. But the ancient buildings, tombs, pots and other finds are proving that wrong, he said.
“This dam has a negative side but it also has a positive side,” Dr. Ahmed said. “This area has been ignored by archaeologists. It has never been surveyed properly. We are mostly relying on surveys from British occupation. We’re learning that the area is far more interesting than anybody thought.”
It seems that every time a dam is built, this story is repeated, with new place names and cultures plugged into the equation.
The current inhabitants of the land to be flooded always get an even rawer deal too, with inadequate compensation that’s administered in a haphazard fashion.