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Water Security
8 things you didn’t know about the Nile

Esther Muwombi
Our correspondent Esther Muwombi compiled a few things you probably never knew about the Nile.
28.02.2018  |  Kampala, Uganda
The ⁨Victoria Nile⁩ near Karuma, ⁨Uganda⁩, 17. December 2012. (photo: The Niles | Nik Lehnert)
The ⁨Victoria Nile⁩ near Karuma, ⁨Uganda⁩, 17. December 2012. (photo: The Niles | Nik Lehnert)

The Nile is the world’s longest river. But you probably knew that already. And you also probably know that the Nile river basin contains over 10 percent of Africa’s landmass, across 11 countries. But did you know that this great river’s basin is occupied by more than 257 million people whose lives greatly depend on economic activities generated in and around the river? 

1. What is the exact origin and length of the Nile?

While there has long been speculation about the water’s exact origin, there’s never been solid proof of the precise source of the river. The White Nile expedition that began in 2004 came closest to a definitive answer, concluding that the origin was in either Rwanda or Burundi. However, there are other possibilities. For example, in Uganda, at a point in the river closest to Lake Victoria, there is a force of water gushing up from underground, which suggests the source could be there. Since the origin remains a mystery, it’s hard to tell the exact length of the river. According to the Nile Basin Initiative, the river is 6.695 kilometres long.

2. How many Nubians were displaced by the construction of the Aswan High Dam?

According to the organisation International Rivers, 90,000 Nubians who once occupied the area surrounding the Aswan Dam had to be relocated due to the flooding caused by the construction of the dam in the 1960s. The farmers who live in the area today have to purchase costly artificial fertilisers because the nutrient-rich silt that used to be naturally deposited on the farming lands there is now trapped behind the Aswan Dam.

3. Is the Nile known by any other name?

Although “River Nile” is the most famous name, known around the world, the river actually has a different name in almost every region it flows through. In Sudan, the river is known as Bahr al Ghazal, but the southern tributary of the river is called Bahr el Abyad. In other parts of Sudan and South Sudan, it is known as the White Nile and the Blue Nile. In Ethiopia, it is referred to as Bahr el Jabal. But as it flows deeper into the country, it becomes Sobat. Other tributaries of this mighty water have several names, including the Yellow Nile, Atbara, and Aur.

4. Is the Nile just a long, meandering river?

The Nile is not just the slow river flowing through deserts of the popular imagination. It is a series of rapids, dramatic waterfalls, canyons, and scenic sandbars, lined with green bushy jungles full of abundant wildlife. In 2004, explorers Pasquale Scaturro and Gordon Brown became the first to travel the entire length of the river. In his book about the adventure, “Mystery of the Nile,” Scaturro described how they moved through beautiful landscapes and nature, including the Bujagali Falls in Uganda and the Blue Nile Falls in Ethiopia.

5. What does the name ‘Nile’ mean?

Nile originates from the Greek word “neilos” which means valley. Although the river has several other names, the second most common name it bears is “Ar” in Egypt, which means the black river. The name developed because of the black sediment the river would deposit in the fields during its annual floods.

6. Why does the Nile flow slowly?

The rate at which the water of a river flows is determined by natural factors such as the shape and the gradient of the riverbed, and the volume of water. Another factor contributing to the Nile’s slow flow is the existence of powerful dams, including the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, the Owen Falls Dam in Uganda, and the Sennar and Rosieres Dams in Sudan.

7. How did the Nile contribute to the building of the pyramids?

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only surviving wonder of the seven ancient wonders of the world. The pyramid took 20 years to build, and for 3,800 years it was the tallest structure in the world, standing at 481 feet (146.7 meters). The pyramid was built for the fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu. The vast wealth needed to build and furnish these pyramids was generated by farming the fertile land along the banks of the River Nile.

8. How many people are killed by Nile crocodiles every year?

A study by the Crocodile Specialist Group estimated the number of attacks by Nile crocodiles per year was 275 to 745, of which 63 percent are fatal, while the Florida Museum of Natural History estimated that Nile crocodiles attacked 480 people with 123 fatalities in Africa between 2010 and 2014. The Nile crocodile is the most dangerous crocodile on the African continent, yet millions of people are forced to risk their lives because they rely on the Nile to survive. Simon Pooley, a researcher at the Imperial College London, told the BBC that crocodiles do not necessarily want to eat humans, they are just predators who will attack any prey that is within their reach. Pooley advised those living near the Nile to stay out of the water when it’s warm and try to keep 3 meters away from the river.

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