How the Nile Can Provide Life and Divide Nations | Part I

In this 2-part episode we want to take a look at the Nile River in Africa.

The river plays a central role for all nations trough which it flows and it forces them to


At the same time, the sharing of water can also lead to conflicts.

We want to focus on these two aspects by looking at two construction projects along the Nile.

For one, the Aswan High Dam, one of the first and to date the largest Dam along the Nile,

and the Grand Ethiopian Rennaisance Dam, which is still under construction but is already

sparking a dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia.

- Intro music -

For some of this video we will rotate the map by 90 degrees, so that we can better display

the course of the Nile.

The Nile river has a length of about 6,650 km or 4,130 miles and is therefore, together

with the Amazon river regarded as one of the two biggest rivers in the world.

The Nile has two main tributaries, the Blue and the White Nile.

The white Nile is hereby considered as the source river.

It is longer and rises in Central Africa and therefore determines the total length of the


Lake Victoria is often referred to as the origin, but this lake itself has many tributaries

of considerable size.

The Blue Nile, on the other hand, has its origins in Lake Tana in Ethiopia.

Although it is not considered to be the source river, it contributes to a much greater amount

of the water flow in the Nile.

Of all water that reaches downriver Egypt, about 60 percent annually comes from the Blue Nile

And during the rainy months between June and September, 80 percent of the water originates

from here.

The two rivers meet north of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

Here the reason for both names becomes clear.

The white Nile is named after it’s lighter grey color, which is a result of clay sediments

in the water.

For the countries along the nile, the river is of significant importance.

However, dependency on the Nile also creates conflicts between nations.

Let's take a look at the water situation in these countries.

Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania suffer water stress, which means, that there are fewer

than 1700 cubic meters of water per person annually available.

In Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt it is even less than 1,000 cubic meters

of water, an amount at which it is considered water scarcity.

Securing water supply in these countries is also a major challenge because of fast growing


Taken together, about 390 million people live in these countries.

And In 2030, the population in this region is forecast to rise to 504 million.

An increase of 114 million people.

This graph shows the population growth in percent per year.

In 2016, the world population grew by 1.18 percent.

The populations of the countries along the Nile however, all grow well above this value.

This illustrates the difficulty for these nations to provide enough water infrastructure

in time.

Nevertheless, it is important to say, that there are very different reasons for the difficult

water supply.

For example, in Egypt there is a physical water scarcity.

This means that there simply isn’t enough water available in the region.

About 90 percent of the country is desert and the Nile is the only large source of fresh


Since 97% of Egypt's water supply comes from the Nile, the country is much more dependent

on the river than the countries from which the river originates.

Just how significantly the river determines life in Egypt can be seen on this map, which

shows the country’s population density.

A whopping 98 percent of Egypt's population lives on just 3 percent of the country's territory.

There are other reasons for problems of water supply in other countries.

This is illustrated by this map, which shows the annual rainfall in different regions.

In regions where geographically there is enough

water available, but can not sufficiently be used due to inadequate infrastructure,

we speak of economic water scarcity.

Often, the necessary monetary means for funding water infrastructure aren’t available.

This is the case in Ethiopia, where most of the water in the Nile comes from.

However, this Nile water is mostly from the rainy summer months, so it is seasonal.

And more importantly, the amount of precipitation during that time is variable, resulting in

a number of problems.

The main use of fresh water in all countries we are talking about is agriculture, which

is complicated by unpredictable rainfalls.

Due to climate change, it can be assumed that the number of extreme weather events will


For countries like Ethiopia, a flood that makes large areas of agricultural land unusable

is just as much a problem as increasing droughts.

Nevertheless, there is also a lack of drinking water.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and especially in rural areas,

it lacks in sanitation infrastructure, which in turn leads to water pollution.

In Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, a disturbing pollution of Lake Victoria has been apparent

for some years.

The lake is the main source of clean drinking water in the area, but increasing pollution

is driving up the cost of treating the water to be usable drinking water.

In 2011, South Sudan gained it’s independence from Sudan.

Yet in 2013, a civil war broke out, with several forces fighting for political leadership in

the newborn country.

Since 2018, there is a fragile peace agreement in place.

The South Sudanese civil war killed almost 400,000 people and millions of people are

displaced from their homes, which makes access to water all the more challenging.

While the white Nile runs through the country, the water supply is challenging in areas not

located on the river.

The war has also led to a loss of infrastructure, with many boreholes deliberately destroyed.

So issues of water supply in countries affected by economic water scarcity, have an impact

on the Nile, but at the same time, the water situation is affected by very different factors

depending on the country and is a much bigger topic in itself.

So let's focus on the Nile and the many ways in which countries seek to benefit from it.

Historically, the water flow in Egypt was subject to an annual cycle resulting from

the summer monsoon rains in the Ethiopian Highlands.

In Egypt, after months of drought, in late summer the Nile flood arrived.

The Egyptians divided the agricultural land into flood basins.

These basins were surrounded by dams and equipped with inflow and outflow channels.

During the Nile flood they were filled and then closed for about six weeks, so that the

sludge could settle and the soil could be moistened.

The Nile brings more than just water to Egypt.

the Nile water carries mineral-containing silt, which transforms the shore land into

fertile farmland.

After the water was drained from the basins, the sowing took place.

And it took only three to four months to harvest.

In the subsequent drought agriculture was hardly possible.

Thus, only plants that fit into this schedule could be grown.

The original Egyptian calendar, which subdivided the year into three seasons, flooding, sowing

and harvesting, originates from this natural yearly cycle.

In the 19th century, in order to increase the agricultural yield and grow a greater

variety of plants, there was a desire to dam the Nile water and thus be able to irrigate

fields even in dry months.

Under the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha, Barrages were built on both the Rosetta and Damietta

Arms in the Nile Delta to control the distribution of the water.

After Egypt came under British rule, further plans were created to allow year-round irrigation

of more fields.

The construction of the Aswan Low Dam began, which opened in 1902.

At the time, this dam was the largest of its kind in the world and it’s height was increased

twice in 1912 and 1934.

Due to the success of this dam, which was able to store enough water for the annual

low water period, the plan to build an even bigger one arose.

Construction started on what up until today is the largest dam along the nile, the Aswan

High Dam.

This Dam, completed in 1970, created Lake Nasser, named after the second Egyptian president,

who commissioned the dam.

The lake extends for a length of 550km, or 340 miles, reaching into Sudan.

From here on, it is called Lake Nubia.

This is the sixth largest man-made lake in the world.

One problem when creating the dam, was that historic remnants were located at the now

flooded site.

Such as the Abu Simbel temples, which originated during the reign of the Pharaoh Ramesses II.

In one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering, the temples were dismantled and

reassembled at a new location that is safe from the flooding.

However Buhen, an ancient Egyptian fortress and settlement, could only partially be rescued.

The Horus temple of Buhen is now located in the Sudan National Museum, the rest of the

fortress was flooded by the lake.

And more importantly, the Lake flooded an area which was home to the Nubian people.

For the construction of the dam, They were displaced from their homes, resettled and

hundreds of villages were obliterated.

Ever since, there are Nubian efforts to be able to go back to what is left of the land

and to receive compensation from the Egyptian government.

Creating a man-made lake like this is fascinating in how it speaks for our relationship with

the status quo of nature and human history.

With the lake, the annual flooding cycle of the nile in Egypt, which has shaped civilisation

here since ancient times, came to an end.

At the same time, the artificial lake is absolutely essential for agriculture in today's populous Egypt

With this, we conclude the first part of our two-part series on the Nile.

In the second part, we look at a couple of different dam projects on the river, especially

a project in Ethiopia which is currently causing a dispute.