Engineers’ Dreams: Africa’s Central Lake
I have been reading a book called Engineers’ Dreams: Great Projects That Could Come True by William Ley that was published in 1954. I had first heard about it from an American Scientist article years ago, but I finally got my hands on a copy through my library’s inter-library loan program as the book is long out of print.
The book is a collection of fascinating, mega-scale engineering projects that have been dreamed up over the years. Some of them, like the Channel Tunnel have actually come to pass, but a few are so grandiose they are unimaginable today.
One in particular was a plan to totally reconfigure the interior of Africa by creating a series of huge inland seas. The plan was originated by the German architect and engineer Herman Sörgel in 1935. His plan was to dam the Congo River where it passes through a string of deep, narrow gorges after it merges with one of its tributaries, the Kwa River. It would create a lake 350,000 square miles in area - larger than the areas of California, Nevada and Oregon combined.
Once the lake filled, it would be forced to overflow from another one of its tributaries, the Ubangi, into the Shari River which is one of the feeders for the present day Lake Chad.
Lake Chad would swell to the dimensions it was thought to have had over 10,000 years ago, spreading across the Ahaggar plateau. A river would then be created that would lead through Algeria, turn east into Tunisia and then eventually empty into the Mediterranean Sea at the Gulf of Gabes. This river could made navigable allowing ships to directly access the interior of Africa.
To get a sense of how much times have changed, the biggest issues that Ley sees are geo-political, and he has nothing to say about the environmental impact. In fact, he sees it as a way of “improving” a largely inaccessible, disease-ridden area. It would allow easy ship travel between areas of Africa that would require a journey by train or plane.