The Nile came form the semetic “nahal” which means “river valley” , later “neilos” in Greek and “nilus” in Latin. Coptic piaro or phiaro in Ethiopian Abaye or the Felege Gihon (Ghion river)according to the Bible. The Ancient Egyptians called the river Ar or Aur (black) because of the color of the sediment left after the river’s annual flood.
There is no Egypt without the Nile. Since “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.This epigram of Hecataeus, quoted first by Herodotus.
The Nile has a length of about 4,160 miles (6,695 kilometres). Its average discharge is 3.1 million litres (680,000 gallons) per second. 87.13% this water comes from Blue Nile of Ethiopia. he rest 13% comes from Ethiopia
In ancient Egypt, the Nile, and its delta, were worshiped as a god. The god Hapi, who came in the shape of a frog, represented the Nile delta. Several times throughout history, Egyptians have tried to unify the Nile valley under their rule by conquering the Sudan. The lands to the south of them that bordered the river were in constant danger. The Sudan was a part the reign of Queen Sheba later named Meroe, The Romans tried to invade the source of the Nile during the rule of Nero, and countless other times. This is because the Egyptians have always feared that one day the Nile’s waters would no longer reach their country. People believed, that since the flow of the Nile was so unpredictable, something had to have been affecting it. A legend says that during one particularly bad famine in Egypt, the Egyptian Sultan sent his ambassadors to the king of Ethiopia in order to plead with him not the obstruct the waters. A Scottish traveler in the 18th century recounted a story that the King of Ethiopia had sent a letter to the pasha in 1704 threatening to cut off the water. Given this fear it is quite natural that the Nile countries desire to secure their water supplies.
As we move into the 21st century, attention has shifted to the question of how to best us the 80 cubic kilometers of water that the Nile annually transports from Equatorial Africa across the Sahara to the Mediterranean Sea. The answers to these questions will most affect Egypt, with its rapidly growing population of 65 million people almost totally dependent on the Nile. Population growth in Egypt is expected to outstrip the water resources of the Nile early in the 21st century. This problem will be greatly complicated by population and economic growth in the upstream nations of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.
The Nile basin includes parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo (Kinshasa), Kenya, Uganda. Ancient Egypt could not have existed without the river Nile. Since rainfall is almost non-existent in Egypt, the floods provided the only source of moisture to sustain crops.
Every year, heavy summer rain in the Ethiopian highlands, sent a torrent of water that overflowed the banks of the Nile. When the floods went down it left thick rich mud (black silt) which was excellent soil to plant seeds in after it had been ploughed.
The ancient Egyptians could grow crops only in the mud left behind when the Nile flooded. So they all had fields all along the River Nile.
Length: (From White Nile Source to Mouth) 6695km (4184 miles).
The White Nile: Lake Victoria, Uganda. The Blue Nile: Lake Tana, Ethiopia.
Countries: The Nile and its tributaries flow though nine countries. The White Nile flows though Uganda, Sudan, and Egypt. The Blue Nile starts in Ethiopia. Zaire, Kenya, Tanzanian, Rwanda, and Burundi all have tributaries, which flow into the Nile or into lake Victoria Nyanes.
Cities: The major cities that are located on the edge of the Nile and White Nile are: Cairo, Gondokoro, Khartoum, Aswan, Thebes/Luxor, Karnak, and the town of Alexandria lies near the Rozeta branch.
Major Dams: The major dams on the Nile are Roseires Dam, Sennar Dam, Aswan High Dam, and Owen Falls Dam.
Flow Rate: The Nile River’s average discharge is about 300 million cubic metres per day. To get a more accurate idea about how much water actually flows in the nile look at this image:
Atbara is the first town on the Nile, when no more smaller rivers join the nile futher down it.
To find out where Atbara is have a look at the maps on the maps page. Or click here to go directly to the correct map.
Cubic metres * 35.31 = cubic feet.
Cubic feet * 7.481 = USA gallons
600 cubic metres = 21,186 cubic feet.
21,186 cu.feet = 156,776.4 USA gallons.
It puzzled the ancients why the amount of water flowing down the Nile in Egypt varied so much over the course of a year, particularly because almost no rain fell there. This puzzlement was compounded for the ancient Romans and Greeks because the Nile’s minimum flow was in winter and maximum flood occurred during summer. This is in contradiction to the European river flooding.
The White Nile maintains a constant flow over the year, because its flow is doubly buffered. Seasonal variations are moderated, first because of storage in Central African lakes of Victoria and Albert and second because of evaporative losses in the Sudd, the world’s largest freshwater swamp. The Sudd is especially efficient in reducing annual variations in streamflow. Unusually wet years increase the area of the Sudd which leads to larger evaporative losses than during dry years, when the area of the Sudd is reduced. This even modulates the seasonal variations of the Sobat, which is a seasonal stream that flows west into the Sudd from Ethiopia. The result is that the White Nile issuing from the Sudd – south of Malakal – flows at about the same rate all year long. This steady stream keeps the Nile downstream from Khartoum flowing during the winter months, when the Blue Nile/Atbara system has dried up.
The Blue Nile-Atbara system is a completely different hydraulic regime. It responds to the wet season/dry season variation of the Ethiopian highlands. In the winter, when little rain falls in the highlands, the Atbara and Blue Nile dry up.But in the summer, when moist winds from the Indian Ocean cool as they climb up the Ethiopian highlands, bringing torrential rains to Ethiopia. Day after day the monsoon drenches the highlands, quickly filling the dry washes and canyons with red rushing water, which pours over the cliffs and down into torrents that ultimately join the Blue Nile or the Atbara. Look at the graphs for Rosieres, on the Blue Nile, and Atbara, at the mouth of the Atbara River. The Blue Nile and Atbara are some of the best examples that we have of seasonal streams. Notice how little water issues from these streams during winter and early Spring – most of the water during this time of year comes from the White Nile – but see how the Ethiopian streams increase in volume during the summer monsoons! During the summer, the White Nile’s contribution is insignificant, a drop in the bucket. The annual flood in Egypt is nothing more or less than the distant echo of the annual monsoon in Ethiopia. In this sense, Egypt is really the gift of the Indian Ocean.
The same pattern is evident in the pattern for Aswan, only there is less water here due to evaporation of the Nile waters during its leisurely passage through the Sahara Desert. Water is lost due to evaporation – not to mention human usage – so that progressively less water flows in the Nile from Arbara, the Nile’s last tributary, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Aswan High Dam is 3,830 metres long, 980 metres wide at the base, 40 metres wide at the crest and 111 metres tall. It contains 43 million cubic metres of material. At maximum, 11,000 cubic metres of water can pass through the dam every second. There are further emergency spillways for an extra 5000 cubic metres per second and the Toshka Canal links the reservoir to the Toshka Depression. The reservoir, named Lake Nasser, is 550 km long and 35 km at its widest with a surface area of 5,250 square kilometres. It holds 111 cubic kilometres of water.
Unfortunately this dam has caused a big change to the lifes of farmers downstream from the dam. Usually when the river flooded once a year before the dam was built. It deposited fertile soil from upstream on its banks downstream. This washed up soil was extremely furtile, and renewed itself every year at in flood season. But now, since the dam was built the annual flood has been stopped. Causing all the farmers downstream to have to use fertilizers to grow their crops, which makes it more expensive.
The Merowe High Dam, also known as Merowe Multi-Purpose Hydro Project or Hamdab Dam, is a large construction project in Merowe Town in northern Sudan, about 350 km north of the capital Khartoum. It is situated on the river Nile, close to the 4th Cataract where the river divides into multiple smaller branches with large islands in between. Merowe is a city about 40 km downstream from the construction site at Hamdab. The main purpose of the dam will be the generation of electricity. Its dimensions make it the largest contemporary hydropower project in Africa.
The creation of the reservoir lake of Marawe will increase the surface area of the Nile by about 700 km². Under the climatic conditions at the site, additional evaporation losses of up to 1,500,000,000 m³ per year can be expected. This corresponds to about 8% of the total amount of water allocated to Sudan in the Nile Waters Treaty
The Wrong Climate for Big Dams
December 1, 2009
by Lori Pottinger
Why Africa Should Shun Hydropower Megaprojects
From World Rivers Review December 2009
Africa is the least electrified place in the world. An estimated 550 million Africans have no access to electricity. Nearly half of African countries have a power crisis. Solving this huge problem is made more difficult by widespread poverty, and because most Africans live far from the grid, greatly adding to the cost of bringing electricity to them.
In late October 2009, Africans joined a global day of protest to call attention to the need to keep carbon at 350 ppm. (350.org)
Under these challenging conditions, there are no second chances for electrifying Africa: it must be done right the first time. Yet many of the continent’s energy planners are pinning their hopes for African electrification on something as ephemeral as the rain, by pushing for a grid of large hydro dams across the continent. The World Bank has joined the fray, with its latest World Development Report calling for a major hydropower rollout for the continent. And dam-building nations like China and Brazil have descended, on the hunt for lucrative contracts.
The failure of this vision lies in the unpredictable nature of Africa’s rivers, a situation that will be made worse by a changing climate. New dams are being built with no examination of how climate change will impact them. Many existing dams are already suffering from drought-caused power shortages. Climate change is expected to dramatically alter the hydrology of African rivers, creating both worse droughts and more dangerous floods (the latter causing safety concerns for poorly maintained or operated dams). At the same time, many African nations face huge water-security problems. In this climate, the proposed frenzy of African dam building could be literally disastrous.
The oft-repeated sound-bite that only 5-8% of the continent’s hydro potential has been tapped is an incomplete message at best. The other side of the coin is that Africa is already dangerously hydro-dependent. Meanwhile, Africa has not developed even a tiny fraction of a percent of its available solar, wind, geothermal, or biomass power. While large dams have done little to bridge the “electricity divide” that has left so many Africans in the dark, renewable energy projects can be scaled to meet the needs of the average village (or, for that matter, urban area). At a time when global warming threatens to make the continent’s rivers even less reliable for large hydro projects, and their waters more precious for other uses, donors and governments should be looking to diversify the energy mix.
In late October 2009, Africans joined a global day of protest to call attention to the need to keep carbon at 350 ppm.
Past hydrological records, upon which dozens of new large dams are being planned, unfortunately has little bearing on future hydrology. The economic impacts of hydro-vulnerability will be felt both in the costs of power cuts upon industrial output, and the cost of wasted investments in non-performing dams. The economic risks of unviable dams will compound the risk already being taken by so many African nations: that of over-dependency on hydropower to supply electricity. Already, the majority of sub-Saharan states get most of their electricity from rivers. (At least two nations have begun to reverse this dependency: Tanzania, which is now developing its gas fields, and Kenya, which has become an African leader in geothermal power, and is looking to develop wind farms.) The other climate risk is that many large dams seriously harm downstream riverine communities and ecosystems, which will make climate adaptation that much harder for the many millions of Africans who depend directly on rivers and lakes for their livelihoods, food and water supply. Like the fairy tale that warns of “killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” African dam planners are putting at risk irreplaceable “golden egg” resources such as clean water supply, agriculturally important sediments that replenish floodplains, riverine forests and fisheries. Some dam planners agree that African hydroelectric schemes may be plagued by variable rainfall patterns, but believe that they can “play the odds” and just build more dams, across a wider region, and connect them all with transmission systems that would allow power to be traded to places where drought has crippled the power supply. Yet it’s hard to sell electricity from empty reservoirs.
Climate scientists predict truly alarming changes to various African waterways. UK government researcher Sir Nicholas Stern recently predicted that a 3-6 degree Celsius increase in temperature in the next few years will result in a 30% to 50% reduction in water availability in Southern Africa. Scientists have discovered evidence that droughts in West Africa lasted centuries in the past. Their 2009 study suggests global warming could create conditions that favor extreme droughts across much of Western Africa, home to Africa’s biggest reservoir (Akosombo’s Lake Volta), among others. East Africa has been drying since the mid-1980s, a trend that is already shaving percentage points off GDP for the region’s states. A new report, “Large Scale Hydropower, Renewable Energy and Adaptation to Climate Change” by AFREPREN states, “Kenya’s GDP is equivalent to US$29.5 billion; the estimated loss during the aforementioned drought-induced power crisis was about 1.45% of GDP. This translates to US$442 million lost which could have been used to install 295 MW of new renewable power capacity.”
Most of the Nile Basin states get more than 70% of their electricity from hydro. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that there has already been “a reduction in runoff of 20% between 1972 and 1987” in the Nile, and “significant interruptions in hydropower generation as a result of severe droughts.” Even though some parts of Africa are expected to receive more rain, that increase is expected to be overwhelmed by an increase in temperature across the continent, which will lead to higher evaporation rates.
A 2006 study by climate experts at the University of Cape Town revealed that even a small decrease in Africa’s rainfall could drastically reduce river flows, affecting a quarter of the continent. For example, a 10% reduction in rain over the Johannesburg area could lead to a 70% drop in the Orange River’s levels. In parts of northern Africa, river water levels would drop more than 50%. “It’s like erasing large sections of the rivers from the map,” said Maarten de Wit, who headed up the study.
African nations have many better alternatives to large-scale hydro. A few examples:
Geothermal: As the UN notes, Africa has an abundance of geothermal potential. Says Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director: “There are least 4,000MW of electricity ready for harvesting along the Rift. It is time to take this technology off the back burner in order to power livelihoods, fuel development and reduce dependence on polluting and unpredictable fossil fuels. From the place where human-kind took its first faltering steps is emerging one of the answers to its continued survival on this planet.” UN figures show that Africa has tapped less than 0.6 percent of its geothermal. Kenya is the exception, with 10% of its electricity now coming from geothermal.
Solar: Africa’s potential is nearly limitless. A new study co-sponsored by Justiça Ambiental and International Rivers shows that Mozambique’s huge and virtually unexploited solar potential is about 1.49 million GWh – thousands of times more than the country’s current annual energy demand. And this power is distributed evenly across the country. Exploiting this energy would benefit the more than 80% of Mozambique’s population that is now off-grid.
Wind: Wind potential is also high in many parts of Africa, and is finally beginning to be developed (new large projects are underway in Kenya and Egypt, for example). Co-gen: The production of electricity from steam, heat, or other energy sources as a by-product of another industrial process is well-suited to many African nations. AFRPREN estimates that Africa could get 20% of its electricity from co-gen. Mauritius now gets almost half of its electricity from co-gen plants using mostly sugar cane waste.
Efficiency: Energy efficiency is critical for all nations but – perhaps surprisingly – even more so for poor nations where energy use is just starting to grow. Setting efficiency standards early can help make every dollar invested in energy supply go that much farther, by reducing the cost of systems needed to power villages and towns, and freeing up existing power supply for other uses. The McKinsey Institute estimates that developing countries could save an estimated $600 billion a year by 2020 by investing $90 billion a year in energy efficient cars, appliances and production methods.
In late October 2009, Africans joined a global day of protest to call attention to the need to keep carbon at 350 ppm. (350.org)
Diversifying Africa’s energy sector would help its climate-adaptation efforts in key ways: it would de-emphasize reliance on erratic rainfall for electricity, reduce conflict over water resources, and protect river-based ecosystems and the many benefits they bring. And it would share the energy wealth with the half a billion Africans now living in the dark.
The world’s richest, highest-carbon-emitting nations owe it to Africa to help it develop its clean energy resources – projects that will help in climate-change adaptation efforts, rather than hinder them. Healthy rivers are priceless. Let’s not let Africa learn that the hard way.
New Report Confirms Dams are Draining Lake Victoria
International Rivers Network
A new report by a Kenya-based hydrologic engineer confirms that over-releases from two dams on the Nile in Uganda are a primary cause of the severe drops in Lake Victoria in recent years. The report, Connections Between Recent Water Level Drops in Lake Victoria, Dam Operations and Drought (1), finds that about 55% of the lake’s drop during 2004-05 is due to the Owen Falls dams (now known as Nalubaale and Kiira dams) releasing excessive amounts of water from the lake. The natural rock formation controlling Lake Victoria’s outflow was replaced by the first Owen Falls dam in the 1950s. The second dam was built with World Bank funding in the 1990s.
The lake, which has dropped 1.2 meters since 2003, was, at the end of 2005, at its lowest level since 1951. The receding shoreline has caused serious harm to water supply systems, boat operators and farmers. It is estimated that the lake catchment supports about one-third of the total population of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. (2)
The new study, which analyzed recent reports produced for the Government of Uganda and other publicly available information, comes to the following conclusions: The Owen Falls dams have been releasing more water than allowed by the operating rule agreed by Uganda and Egypt. This “Agreed Curve” is intended to ensure that the releases through the dams correspond to the natural flow of the river before damming. The dam operators’ permits dictate allowable flows based on this agreement. Based on the current Lake Victoria hydrology, as well as observations from the past 100+ years, the Owen Falls dams are likely over-sized. The lack of public information on dam releases, dam operations and river flows makes it difficult for independent experts to soundly judge the performance of existing and proposed hydroelectric projects on the Victoria Nile. With experts concluding that the future climate will likely involve drier conditions, lower lake levels, and lower downstream river flows, the lack of adequate stream flows will be exacerbated, making it increasingly more difficult for Victoria Nile dams to produce their projected power. This calls into question Uganda’s reliance on hydropower on the Victoria Nile as its primary source of electricity.
Possible climate change must be a major consideration in the development of more dams on the Nile. As the report states, “It is unknown if Lake Victoria will recharge to the high levels and outflow experienced during 1961-2000, and if such a recharge could occur, whether it would be in the next years or only in 100 years. Viable non-hydro, or at least hydro not on the Victoria Nile, power generating alternatives must therefore be considered for Uganda.” Until the recent addition of emergency fossil-fuel plants, Uganda has been almost entirely dependent upon hydropower for its electricity needs.
The World Bank insisted in the 1980s that a second dam at Owen Falls, called the Owen Falls Extension Project, was Uganda’s “least-cost option,” and provided funding for the second dam and repair of the original dam (3). The extension project was engineered by the Canadian firm Acres International, which based its design on hydrological analysis that was considered too optimistic by many other experts at the time. The project did not undergo an environmental impact assessment; indeed, World Bank documents stated: “Extension of the existing plant at Owen Falls will have minimal environmental impact because the project will not affect downstream hydrology or fisheries.” (4)
Frank Muramuzi, of the Ugandan NGO National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), said: “This dam complex is now pulling the plug on Lake Victoria, with implications for millions. The blame is on three parties: The government for refusing to listen to any views about problems with these dams; Acres International, for suspect technical advice, and the World Bank for backing the project in the first place.”
Lori Pottinger of the US group International Rivers Network said: “The amazing incompetence of the World Bank and Acres reveals the kind of hubris that fuels so many large dam projects. Africa cannot afford the Bank’s brand of high-risk projects any longer.” For more information: