The construction of Egypt’s Aswan High Dam during the 1960s and subsequent filling of the Lake Nasser reservoir forced relocation of Nubians living in the region. Many efforts were taken by the government to better the lives of those forced to leave. Irrigated land was given to displaced Nubians who owned at least an acre previously and monetary compensation was given to those who owned less. Subsidies were given to help families move and to help in the time immediately after moving. Economic development to benefit Nubians was also considered through the agricultural land previously mentioned as well as the construction of factories in the town of Kom Ombu, less than 30 miles downstream of the dam. Additional housing and infrastructure was provided to accommodate an influx of people in Kom Ombu and for the construction of two new villages for people who did not wish to live in Kom Ombu (Scudder).
While the Egyptian government showed concern for people displaced by the dam project, problems still arose. Design of housing and choice of location for resettlement were the only inputs Nubians were given for relocation planning. In construction, the Nubian village structure was upended through increased population density, neighborhood layout modification for production ease, and smaller dwellings in comparison to traditional housing. Due to time constraints, contractors provided rushed, shoddy housing and much of the new farmland was not ready for use. Additionally, physical removal of Nubians became uncoordinated, and food shortages arose. Higher death rates and lack of water supply existed in Kom Ombu during the initial years after the Nubian influx. Significant cultural loss due to moving inland from the Nile and assimilation occurred during this time. The acre stipulation for land compensation left 40 percent of previous land owners without plots, and those who did receive plots were expected to farm theirs (Scudder). Additionally, promised land and housing was not given to all Nubians due to shortages. Lack of development in the region post resettlement has lead to high unemployment (Egypt Independent); combined with overall dissatisfaction of government sponsored developments, many have found reason to leave the area to seek jobs in larger cities such as Cairo and Alexandria (Guardian). Through assimilation and dispersal, their ancient language is becoming lost (Egypt Independent). Some factions of Nubians have wanted to reclaim their land by resettling on the shores of Lake Nasser, but priority has not been given to them over other groups. There is a silver lining in all of this: Nubian women gained economic power, attending school at higher rates and working in shops and offices for the first time after the filling of Lake Nasser (Scudder).
The Egyptian government took steps to accommodate the relocation of Nubians, but they have been and continue to be marginalized as a result of the Aswan High Dam construction. Overall, the construction of the dam is a success; whether or not one views Nubian dislocation as a failure should rest in how little the government empowered the Nubians during the process. Today, three dams are planned which may force relocation of Sudanese Nubians and threaten the existence of 500 archaeological sites (International Rivers).
The pictures above are from Nubian developments sponsored by the Egyptian government.