Probably the Aswan Dam across the upper Nile in southern Egypt. The Aswan Dam was completed in 1970 as a project to control the wild and uncontrollable floods that have devastated Egypt since Biblical times, to increase farmland and also as a political move by the then-leader of Egypt, Gamel Abdel Nasser. The dam has been very successful at that, having mitigated the effects of serious floods in 1964 and 1973, as well as sparing Egypt the effect of droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the Aswan Dam has had a lot of negative effects too. Priceless cultural treasures such as the Buhen fort are now underwater, though the Temple of Abu Simbel was able to be saved through an expensive process of deconstruction and reassembly on another site. The dam has also prevented nutrient-rich silts from reaching the lower Nile, increasing Egyptian farmers’ reliance on artificial fertilizers, and devastating the ecosystems of the Nile Delta. The dam is also blamed for the propagation of a parasitic disease called bilharzia which flourishes in stagnant salt water, again in the Nile Delta caused by the lack of fresh water reaching that area. I think an argument can be made that the Aswan Dam is one of the worst river engineering projects in history, but it’s all about balance: are the lives saved in potential floods worth those lost, directly and indirectly, as a result of the dam’s other effects?
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