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Aswan High Dam, Egypt


Nubians have been waiting decades to return to their homeland around Lake Nasser on the banks of the Nile, but Egyptian authorities have other plans for much of the land. Many people were forced out of their villages in the 1960s when the Aswan High Dam was built. Much of the area is under water now, but what remains is literally the Nubians' promised land: The government pledged they would be able to return. However, the government announced in October 2016 that the land was for sale to Egyptian and foreign investors, as well as farmers. [1]

The Nubians have staged protests over the years, but their efforts often end in beatings and arrests. Most recently, security forces arrested 24 people on September 3, 2017 who were participating in a small, peaceful march in Aswan [2]. Those arrested staged a hunger strike at the General Security and Central Security Forces Center in el-Shallal in Aswan to protest the security forces’ behavior with the demonstrators. [1][2]

They were playing drums and singing as they called for the government to activate Article 236 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution, which states, “The state [must work] on developing and implementing projects to bring back the residents of Nubia to their original areas and develop them within 10 years in the manner organized by law.” [1]

Local and International rights groups condemned the decision, spearheaded by Amnesty International’s Report from September 12. Stating that the Egyptian authorities should release the activists. [3]

Egypt began displacing Nubians in 1902, when work on the Aswan Low Dam took off. Massive removal came between 1963 and 1964, when the government was building the Aswan High Dam during the days of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Residents of 44 Nubian villages were forced to relocate to temporary shelters. [4]

Sisi launched a project in December 2015 designed to increase Egypt's agricultural area by 20% and create new urban communities for the rising population. The project involves 1.5 million acres of land. For this purpose, in August 2016, Sisi issued a decision to annex 922 acres of Khorqandi and Toshka lands in the old Nubian area on the banks of Nasser Lake in southern Aswan. In October 2016, he announced the annexed acres would be auctioned off to Egyptian and foreign investors. The following month, in response to the decision, Nubians organized the “Nubian Return Caravan” and headed to Khorqandi and Toshka to try to halt the auction and get the land returned to them. Security forces stopped the caravan, encircled the protesters and cut off their access to food and beverages. The protestors announced a sit-in for days on the main road. Once government officials came to negotiate with them, Nubians gave the government one month to respond to their demands. [1][5][6]

On Jan. 18 of this year, they got their response during the Youths Conference in Aswan. Sisi exempted 12,000 acres from the Khorqandi project and designated it for the Nubians. He earmarked 320 million Egyptian pounds ($18.1 million) to wrap up projects currently under way in Nasr al-Nuba and Wadi Karkar by June 2018 by improving sewage services, electricity and other facilities. Nubians activists maintain that the money have not been spent yet and that and the details of the expenditure have not been revealed because there is no law organizing the work of the committee.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Aswan High Dam, Egypt
State or province:Aswan Governorate
Location of conflict:Aswan
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Aswan High Dam is a rock-fill dam located at the northern border between Egypt and Sudan. The dam is fed by the River Nile and the reservoir forms Lake Nasser. Construction for the project began in 1960 and was completed in 1968. It was officially inaugurated in 1971. The total investment for constructing the dam reached $1bn. With a reservoir capacity of 132km³, the Aswan High Dam provides water for around 33,600km of irrigation land. It serves the irrigation needs of both Egypt and Sudan, controls flooding, generates power, and helps in improving navigation across the Nile.

Level of Investment:1,000,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:100,000
Start of the conflict:09/01/1960
Company names or state enterprises:Arab Contractors from Egypt - Construction
RusHydro (RusHydro) from Russian Federation
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Amnesty International:
Nubia Project:
Nubian Return Caravan:
Nubian Union:

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Human rights organizations, Nubian Union,
Forms of mobilization:Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Arguments for the rights of mother nature


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:- That Cairo reject the annexation of the Nubian Forkund villages to the 1.5 million feddans project.
- Excluding the region from the lands offered to investors.
- Amending the 2014 Presidential Decree 444 that considers the lands of 16 Nubian villages on the border to be military zones.
- Asking the parliament to expedite the implementation of Article 236 of the constitution, which says “the state shall work on developing and implementing projects to bring back the residents of Nubia to their original areas and develop them within 10 years in the manner organized by law.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] - Aswan High Dam Resettlement of Egyptian Nubians, 2016

Authors: Scudder, Thayer

[6] - Nubians give Egyptian government deadline - Al-Monitor - December 8, 2016

[5] - Egypt’s Nubians protest for right to return to their lands - Al-Monitor - November 22, 2016

[1] - Two dozen of Egypt's Nubians arrested for protesting, face hearing - Al-Monitor - October 2, 2017

[2] - استمرار حبس 24 نوبيا في مصر بسبب مسيرة بدون تصريح

Imprisonment of 24 Nubian activists in Egypt because of unlicensed protesting - Reuters - September 6, 2017

[3] - Egypt: Release 24 Nubian activists detained after protest calling for respect of their cultural rights - Amnesty International - September 12, 2017

Meta information

Last update18/08/2019



The Aswan High Dam, Aswān, Egypt.

Enceclopedia Britannica

Nubian protesters continue sit-in against sale of Toshka land in Egypt's Aswan