Posted by: preservenile | May 18, 2012

Merowe Museum and the International Museum Day

18 May has been celebrated worldwide as the International Museum Day since 1977 after an initative of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). According to ICOM:

This day is an occasion to raise awareness on how important museums are in the development of society.

For the cause of this blog, we thus find it important to give an example of how a museum can fail this objective. The case is the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project and the building of the Merowe Museum in Sudan.


When the call for salvage archaeology in the Fourth Cataract region was issued in 2003 by the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) during the building of the Merowe Dam, it was proposed to build a museum exhibiting the artefacts from the Merowe Dam campaign at Al-Multaga, the first resettlement site to be built for the affected people. 

When the salvage campaign was well established with many international teams working in the Fourth Cataract, NCAM shifted the policy and decided instead to build the museum at the dam site. This was naturally provoking to the Manasir Executive Committee, one of the democratically elected local committees aiming at representing the affected people. The representatives became strongly opposed to the building of the museum outside the region inhabited by the affected people – and especially at the site of the Merowe Dam, which is not only a symbol of the destruction of their land, but also in a neighbouring tribal territory. Ali Askouri, one of the leaders, expressed it like this:

(…) our history is given to another community (Sudan Tribune 27.02.2007).


The building of the museum for the region to be flooded at the dam site, was probably the final drop of provocations for the representatives of the affected people, for all archaeologists were expelled from working in the land of the Manasirs by their tribal representatives. They subsequently issued a statement saying that the request for the archaeologists to leave followed:

(…) the failure of the government to honour an undertaking that archaeological treasures salvaged from the reservoir area would not be removed to distant museums’ (Sudan Tribune 27.02.2007).

The Dam Implementation Unit finally financed a new museum in the town of Merowe, which was officially opened by President al-Bashir on 3 March 2009 – the same day as he inaugurated the Merowe Dam. However, the exhibition focuses on the region of Napata and Merowe.


Neither the people of the Fourth Cataract nor the fate of their land were mentioned on the posters in the displays, when the museum was previewed in 2010. The museum remains closed for visitors until this day… It seems like the Dam Implementation Unit has used funds for building a museum for the affected people to construct the Merowe Museum (and resort) for a neighbouring tribe and region.  


As ICOM and the International Museum Day remind us, it is important to have local and regional museums in order to represent subordinate or alternative identities and for the past to be more accessible for people living outside the capitals. Local museums should be built in the region of the people that they represent. In the case of the Fourth Cataract, where the land is flooded and the people uprooted, the museum should be built where the majority of the displaced people live, i.e. at one of the resettlement sites.

The article Ethical implications of salvage archaeology and dam building: The clash between archaeologists and local people in Dar al-Manasir, Sudan by Henriette Hafsaas-Tsakos concludes the matter like this:

In my opinion, the heritage that archaeologists uncovered in the Fourth Cataract will become an important focus for identity maintenance in the future, as the people of the Fourth Cataract have been uprooted from their familiar natural and cultural landscape. It is thus essential that they have access to the interpretations of their history as well as the collected remnants of their heritage, so that they can use archaeology to form their own narratives and understandings of their past and thus grasp the implications for their present and future.


It is very important that archaeologists, who in northern Sudan are among the very few people with chances to visit the areas threatened by dam building, discuss the problems arising from the dams as well as their experiences from previous salvage campaigns in order to form strategies that can help prevent further catastrophes linked with such ‘development’ projects.

Therefore, it is a very intriguing contrast the announcement of the following three venues:

1. The lecture ‘Dams are development’: China, Sudan’s Al-Ingaz Regime and the political economy of the Sudanese Nile is held by Harry Verhoeven at the Royal African Society in London on 8 May. 

The content of the very interesting lecture is summarized:

“China has been critical in the development of Sudan’s ambitious Dam Programme. After the secession of South Sudan, the rump state of Sudan, still led by the military-Islamist regime of Omar al-Bashir and Ali Osman Taha is trying to develop a post-oil future. Together with the Agricultural Revival Programme, big dams are an integral part of Khartoum’s ‘hydro-agricultural mission’, the Khartoum Salvation (Al-Ingaz) regime’s attempt at recalibrating northern Sudan’s political economy and dealing with difficult economic times ahead. However, Al-Ingaz’s hydro-agricultural designs are generating local and regional resistance that might well turn violent in the future.”

It is just recently that we became aware of the important research undertaken by Harry Verhoeven through the Chatham House briefing paper ‘Black Gold for Blue Gold? Sudan’s Oil, Ethiopia’s Water and Regional Integration’.

2. A meeting in Chicago on 26 May to respond to the emergency of the new dams that threaten with “The Death of the Nile”.

3. A conference on 6-7 July in Durham where it appears as a possibility to find ways “to build a dam and save cultural heritage”…

The aims of the conference are:

“This interdisciplinary workshop brings together specialists and interested parties to encourage a practical discussion about minimizing damage to cultural heritage during and after the construction of dam projects. This workshop is intended to begin a multi-year project, and will set the foundation and framework for future international sessions.  The ultimate aim is the production of a practical set of guidelines for cultural heritage management in dam construction aimed at developers, foreign contractors, and policy-makers. We cannot save or even record everything before it is lost, but must consider how best to choose, and what advice can be given to those in a position to make such decisions.”

The Dam Implementation Unit of Sudan is now building a dam complex comprising Rumela Dam at Upper Atbara River and Burdana Dam at Setit River in Eastern Sudan. The resident engineer of the twin dams, Mosab Mokhatar, said in December 2011 that the implemented work has reached 15% and that the foundation for the power generation station is under construction.


The site of the twin dam is located 20 km upstream from the junction of the Atbara and Setit rivers and about 80 km to the south of the Khashm el-Girba Dam.

Dam constructions

The Rumela Dam on Atbara will have a height of 55 metres and the Burdana Dam on Setit will have a height of 50 metres. The two dams will be connected and have a total length of 13 kilometres. The twin dam complex will thus have a joined reservoir with a storage capacity of about 2.7 billion cubic meter of water. The maximum filling level will be 517,5 metres above sea level. The project includes the construction of hydropower stations on both Rumela and Burdana Dams with a total installed capacity of 135 MW, which should be capable of producing 380 GWh per year.

Rumela and Burdana dams

Project aims

The objective of the project is to support the development of Eastern Sudan, through enhancement of agriculture production, generation of hydropower and potable water utilizing locally available water resources from the Atbara and Setit rivers. The Project also aims to increase agriculture production in New Halfa area currently irrigated by Khashm El-Girba Dam, as well as, the development of new land consisting of 150,000 ha in Upper Atbara. Additionally, the Project will provide flood protection measures along the river banks through the regulation of the river flow in the Project area.

Project costs

The total cost of the dam complex is estimated at $ 1.9 billion, of which $ 838 million is for the construction of the dams by the two largest Chinese dam construction companies, the China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC) and China Water and Electric Corporation (CWE).

In addition to the project implementation costs are hydroelectric and electric costs, technical and consultancy service costs, land owning and population resettlement costs and project implementation management and supervision costs by the Sudan Dams Implementation Unit (DIU).  The consultant for the project is the French company Sogreah, which also designed and supervised the implementation of the Khashm el-Girba Dam during the 1960s. The Rumela and Burdana dam designs were revised by La Meer International Company, the same company that allegedly revised and supervised the design of the controversial Merowe Dam.

Environmental Impact Assessment

It is the French company Sogreah, part of the Artelia group, that has undertaken the environmental impact assessment studies that outline the environmental management plan and resettlement plan.  They are also responsible for the environmental impact assessment for the irrigation scheme. These documents are not available online, but an e-mail requesting them have been sent to the company.

Any developer of dams should keep in mind the recommendations from the World Commission on Dams. The commission urges that before dams are built, the dam project needs to gain public acceptance and that dams should only be built if rivers and livelihoods are sustained (World Commission on Dams Report, 2000, p. 214).


Without an environmental impact assessment at hand, it is difficult to judge the feasibility of the project. However, we can learn from experiences of a former dam project on the River Atbara.

  • The Khasm el-Girba project: In 1964, a dam was built on Atbara in order to provide irrigation water for the Khashm el-Girba Agricultural Scheme as well as hydroelectricity. The agricultural scheme was developed partly for resettling Sudanese Nubians (whose land was flooded after the building of the Aswan High Dam that submerged 500 kilometres of the Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan) and partly for nomads that were encouraged to become sedentary. However, the dam has not functioned as planned. Siltation and subsequent loss of storage capacity is now a well-known problem for dams on the Nile, with both economic and ecological implications. The reservoir behind the Khashm el-Girba Dam extends for 80 kilometres upstream. The annual siltation rate in the reservoir is estimated at 40 million m3 yearly, and the storage capacity of the dam was severely reduced only seven years after the dam was completed. For this reason, the reservoir has been flushed (i.e. completely emptied during the flood) annually since 1970. This is naturally causing mass mortality of fish. The original capacity of the dam was 1,3 billion m3, which has now been reduced to less than half with implications for both storing of irrigation water and electricity production. One of the aims of the new dam projects on Upper Atbara and Setit is to reduce the siltation of the Khashm el-Girba reservoir. It is thus appropriate to question if the building of these dams constitutes viable economic investments in terms of generating electricity and water storage for irrigation, or if their main function will be as silt traps for the Khashm el-Girba dam with short expected lifespans also for the new dams. Furthermore, the Khashm el-Girba Agricultural Scheme has not performed as expected and to the satisfaction of the investments that were made. Amongst the problems faced by the settlers have been low crop yields, insufficient water for irrigation, low revenues, shortage of fuel, machinery and spare parts, and rising production costs. The Nubian inhabitants of the scheme have not managed to attain a standard of living that is comparable or higher than the standard of living that they had before being resettled.

It is perhaps wise to make different investments in order to improve the living conditions for the underprivileged people of Eastern Sudan instead of another failed development project in the form of dams.


We therefore suggest abandoning plans for further dam building on the Atbara and the Nile, and rather turn to alternative means for producing electricity, like solar and aeolic energy, or power of the run-of-the-river. The storage of water for irrigation could be undertaken in deep wells next to the river. The benefits of the wells would be that they have small surfaces and thus are not loosing much water in evaporation in contrast to the dam reservoirs. At the end of the agricultural season, the wells could be emptied and the silt trapped in them could be extracted and used as fertilizers on the fields. These means of producing electricity and storing water should all be feasible and adapted to the fragile environment of eastern Sudan.


Archaeological surveys were undertaken in the area to be flooded by the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums during the summer of 2011.


  • The US$ 838 million contract with the Chinese firms for building the dams was signed on 6 April 2010.
  • The Ground Breaking Ceremony of the main work of the dam complex took place on the project site on 18 November 2010. Mr. Mutaz Musa Abdalla Salim, Director General of DIU, Mr. Wolfgang Gantner, Chief Engineer of the consultancy firm, all project leaders, Chinese staff, and local employees participated. The construction period is expected to be around 5 years.
  • The signing of loan agreement of US$ 85 million with Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development on 22 December 2010.
  • A loan agreement of US$ 180 million was signed on 28 March 2011 between the Government of Sudan and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development to help finance the dams on the Upper Atbara and the Setit rivers.
  • On 24 February 2012 OPEC Fund for International Development signed a US$30 million public sector loan agreement with the Sudan to co-finance the Upper Atbara Dam Complex Project.
  • On 15 March 2012 Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development signed a second loan agreement of US$ 85, so the total amount of Kuwaiti funding is now US$ 170.
  • The dams are scheduled to be completed in March 2016.
Posted by: preservenile | April 22, 2012

Preserving the Middle Nile in Antiquity

The European Committee has recently published a short article about the plans for new destructive dams on the Nile in northern Sudan in the online Project Gallery of the prestigious archaeological journal Antiquity. This will hopefully attract more attention to the threat that the dams constitue for the natural environment, the cultural landscape, the people living there, and the cultural heritage. Unfortunately, a link to the petition is missing, so we repeat it here:

Posted by: preservenile | April 16, 2012

African Archaeological Review

The latest issue of African Archaeological Review (AAR) is hosting the statement of the European Committee for Preserving the Middle Nile. The statement as published in AAR can be found here. For those without access to the journal, the original version is also accessible in the present blog here.

We hope that the publication of the petition to stop the dams in Sudan by the European Committee in an academic journal focusing on archaeological research in Africa will bring awareness to archaeologists about the serious threat that the dams constitue towards the environment, the people living there, and the cultural heritage marking the landscape or buried in the soil.

Another outcome should also be more signatures on the online Petition to Stop the Dams in Sudan.

Cover image of African Archaeological Review 2012: 29/1

Posted by: preservenile | March 22, 2012

22 March – the world water day

Would be unwise to leave such an important day uncommented. Even if we do it through the words and the eyes of others:

north of Soleb

Posted by: preservenile | March 20, 2012

A day with many news…

As days go by, it seems that the news concerning dams on the Nile are increasing. Three pairs of such news will be presented today.

1. a. “The University of Khartoum re-opened its doors on Sunday after being closed for two months following clashes between police and students” who held demonstrations in solidarity to the Manasir, is reported in today’s online version of Sudan Tribune:,41958

1. b. While Sudan Vision Daily informed its readers that, “Sudan ministers of electricity and dams, agricultural, animal resources and industry have predicted a giant leap in the field of agricultural, animal and industrial production in Dams Implementation Unit in Northern State to enable the region to export its products to Saudi Arabia and Egypt” (our highlighting):

2. a. At the same time, the world’s largest market research resource viewed that “Sudan’s power sector is benefiting from large-scale investment in new infrastructure. China has emerged as one of the biggest players in the sector, having already played a major role in developing Sudan’s hydroelectric power facilities. Hydropower currently accounts for almost 60% of Sudan’s total power generation output, with the remaining output largely comprising oil-fired facilities. Meanwhile, there is growing interest from foreign investors in the potential to develop thermal and solar power sources in Sudan. A diversified approach to power infrastructure development could help Sudan extend the availability of energy to rural and peripheral regions.” Therefore, there is the speculation that “Sudan is becoming a place of considerable interest for companies looking to invest in underdeveloped infrastructure markets where there is much scope for growth.” However, the claim that “there is potential for Sudan to engage in cooperative electricity transmission projects with neighbours such as Ethiopia” should be taken in consideration with caution.

2. b. The reason is that the humanitarian and ecological crises linked with hydropower project in Sudan are also affecting Ethiopia, as is shown eloquently for the case of the Gibe III dam:

The cooperation between the two lands – and Egypt – should be made under the auspices and principles of international organizations and fora like the Nile Basin Initiative.

3. a. International investment is coming to Sudan from various sources, one of which is Qatar that is going to support – among other things – archaeological works in the country. The projects, though, that will be supported were submitted two years before the Sudan Dams Appeal was launched by the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums…

3. b. Finally, N.C.A.M. and I.S.N.S. circulated today the program for the Meeting where this Appeal will be discussed and urged the interested participants to submit applications for participation as early as possible because … there is not enough space for all potential attenders in … the British Museum!!! We hereby reproduce the program:

When the Sudan Dam Crisis started, there was a hope among those worried for the future of the Nile and Atbara in Sudan that the financial crisis in the world in general and in Sudan in particular would prevent the government from implementing these harmful projects.

However, after OPEC Fund for Internation Development signed a US$ 30 million agreement with Sudan earlier this year in order to co-finance the Upper Atbara Dam complex (see previous entry), Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has now signed its second loan agreement with Sudan of US$ 85 million for the same project (the first loan, also of US$ 85, was signed in December 2010) . The total external funding of the dams amounts to US$ 200, but the contract awarded to Chinese companies for the construction is US$ 838! Unless further funding is provided, then the Sudanese goverment is the largest funder of the dam complex, while the country is in deep economic crisis. Furthermore, earlier this month, a donor meeting for Sudan was cancelled or postponed in order to press the Sudanese government from undertaking further atrocities in the states of the South Kordofan and the Blue Nile on the border with South Sudan.

We wonder whether it is possible to consider channeling these huge amounts of money to alternative means of producing energy and rethinking the technology for both producing energy and storing water in the Nile Basin!?!

We are therefore very interested in:

Posted by: preservenile | February 26, 2012

News about dam funding: OPEC (Updated)

According to Sudan Tribune, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) has signed a $30 million loan agreement with Sudan that will be used to build a dam on the Atabara river – the northernmost tributary of the Nile.

Update: OPEC has now published a press release concerning the loan. We quote it:

On February 24 OFID Director-General Mr. Suleiman J. Al-Herbish signed a US$30 million public sector loan agreement with the Sudan to co-finance the Upper Atbara Dam Complex Project. The agreement was counter-signed by HE Mahmoud Hassan Elamin, Ambassador of Sudan to Austria.

The project aims at improving living conditions of the population in the Eastern Region of the Sudan by increasing the amount of irrigable land, and consequently boosting agricultural productivity and food security, as well as improving electric power generation. This will be accomplished through the construction of a multipurpose dam complex on the Upper Atbara and Settit rivers and a 320MW hydropower station. On completion, the project is expected to directly benefit some 160,000 farmers and bring indirect benefits to the 1.7 million-strong population of Kasal State.

The photo below is illustrating the press release. It shows HE Mahmoud Hassan Elamin, Ambassador of Sudan to Austria concluding the loan agreement with Mr. Suleiman J. Al-Herbish, OFID Director-General.

The European committee is now preparing a letter of appeal to the OPEC Fund for International Development enclosing information about the devastating effects further dams on the Nile and Atbara will have and urging them to support alternative means of energy prodution.

We hope that the American Committee and others will do the same. The address is:

The OPEC Fund for International Development
P.O. Box 995, A-1011 Vienna, Austria

Posted by: preservenile | February 22, 2012

Some news from Sudan

The last two weeks saw a couple of new situations in the burning topic of dams in Sudan:

1. President Al-Bashir hailed the youths of Sudan who are working at the major projects such as the dams, addressing the employees working in the establishment of Upper Atbara and Setet Dams on Sunday 12th of February. The building of new dams and the hunt for gold appear as the President’s of Sudan alternatives to the oil crisis due to the splitting of the country last year.

Read more here:

2. However, it is only gold that appears in a press release from a couple of days ago by the Finance Minister of Sudan, Ali Mahmoud, as the only certain revenue that could cover the huge deficit and debt of the Sudanese economy, part of which is due to the constructions of the Merowe Dam, as well as the dams of the Upper River Nile and Siteet dams!

Read more here:

3. Moreover, Sudan decides to import electricity from Ethiopia, and in fact this electricity is produced by hydroelectric projects in the country that threatens most the status quo in the sharing of the waters of the Nile. Perhaps this is a sign that the Nile Basin Initiative has managed to help the cooperation between the different riparian nations. And along with the fact that this is a period of financial crisis for the entire world, we should perhaps hope that in the end the government of Sudan will not (be able to) proceed to the further dam buildings planned.

Read more here:,41651

4. Nonetheless, in order to achieve that, international pressure should be placed upon the Sudanese government. The fact that the army and police forces have severely punished the insurrection of the Manasir and of the students supporting the Manasir’s cause at the University of Khartoum should give a further reason to express a peaceful but determined support to the Sudanese people who stand up against injustice.

Read more here:,41644

And here:

Perhaps in the next entry we present these organizations that should be involved and raise their voice against the new dams planned in Sudan.

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