Checked content


Related subjects: African Geography

Background to the schools Wikipedia

The articles in this Schools selection have been arranged by curriculum topic thanks to SOS Children volunteers. Click here for more information on SOS Children.

Coordinates: 30°10′N 031°06′E
The Nile's watershed
Countries Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan
Cities Jinja, Juba, Khartoum, Cairo
Primary source White Nile
 - elevation 2,700 m (8,858 ft)
 - coordinates 02°16′56″S 029°19′53″E
Secondary source Blue Nile
 - location Lake Tana, Ethiopia
 - coordinates 12°02′09″N 037°15′53″E
Source confluence near Khartoum
 - location Mediterranean Sea
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
 - coordinates 30°10′N 031°06′E 
Length 6,650 km (4,132 mi)
Width 2.8 km (2 mi)
Basin 3,400,000 km2 (1,312,747 sq mi)
 - average 2,830 m3/s (99,941 cu ft/s)

The Nile (Arabic: النيل, an-Nīl; Ancient Egyptian: Iteru & Ḥ'pī; Coptic Egyptian: ⲫⲓⲁⲣⲱ, P(h)iaro; Amharic: ዓባይ ?, ʿAbbai) is a major north-flowing river in northeastern Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is 6,650 km (4,130 miles) long. The Nile is an "international" river as its water resources are shared by eleven countries, namely, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. In particular, the Nile River provides the primary water resource and so it is the life artery for its downstream countries such as Egypt and Sudan.

The Nile has two major tributaries, the White Nile and Blue Nile. The White Nile is longer and rises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, with the most distant source still undetermined but located in either Rwanda or Burundi. It flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and South Sudan. The Blue Nile is the source of most of the water and fertile soil. It begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia at 12°02′09″N 037°15′53″E and flows into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country whose civilization has depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population and cities of Egypt lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan, and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along riverbanks. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.



In the ancient Egyptian language, the Nile is called Ḥ'pī or Iteru, meaning "great river", represented by the hieroglyphs shown on the left (literally itrw, and ' waters' determinative). In Coptic, the words piaro (Sahidic) or phiaro (Bohairic) meaning "the river" (lit. p(h).iar-o "the.canal-great") come from the same ancient name.

The etymology of the English name Nile (Latin: Nīlos; Greek: Νεῖλος) is disputed. Possible etymologies include the Semitic Nahal meaning "river".


The Nile at Dendera, as seen from the SPOT satellite
Map showing the courses of the White and Blue Nile
The Nile near Beni Suef
Composite satellite image of the White Nile.

Above Khartoum the Nile is also known as the White Nile, a term also used in a limited sense to describe the section between Lake No and Khartoum. At Khartoum the river is joined by the Blue Nile. The White Nile starts in equatorial East Africa, and the Blue Nile begins in Ethiopia. Both branches are on the western flanks of the East African Rift.

The drainage basin of the Nile covers 3,254,555 square kilometres (1,256,591 sq mi), about 10% of the area of Africa. The Nile basin is complex, and because of this, the discharge at any given point along the mainstem depends on many factors including weather, diversions, evaporation and evapotranspiration, and groundwater flow.

In Uganda

The Nile leaves Lake Victoria at Ripon Falls near Jinja, Uganda, as the Victoria Nile. It flows for approximately 500 kilometres (300 mi) farther, through Lake Kyoga, until it reaches Lake Albert. After leaving Lake Albert, the river is known as the Albert Nile.

In South Sudan

It then flows into South Sudan, where it is known as the Bahr al Jabal ("River of the Mountain"). The Bahr al Ghazal, itself 716 kilometres (445 mi) long, joins the Bahr al Jabal at a small lagoon called Lake No, after which the Nile becomes known as the Bahr al Abyad, or the White Nile, from the whitish clay suspended in its waters. When the Nile floods it leaves a rich silty deposit which fertilizes the soil. The Nile no longer floods in Egypt since the completion of the Aswan Dam in 1970. An anabranch river, the Bahr el Zeraf, flows out of the Nile's Bahr al Jabal section and rejoins the White Nile.

The flow rate of the Bahr al Jabal at Mongalla, South Sudan is almost constant throughout the year and averages 1,048 m3/s (37,000 cu ft/s). After Mongalla, the Bahr Al Jabal enters the enormous swamps of the Sudd region of South Sudan. More than half of the Nile's water is lost in this swamp to evaporation and transpiration. The average flow rate of the White Nile at the tails of the swamps is about 510 m3/s (18,000 cu ft/s). From here it soon meets with the Sobat River at Malakal. On an annual basis, the White Nile upstream of Malakal contributes about fifteen percent of the total outflow of the Nile River.

The average flow of the White Nile at Malakal, just below the Sobat River, is 924 m3/s (32,600 cu ft/s); the peak flow is approximately 1,218 m3/s (43,000 cu ft/s) in October and minimum flow is about 609 m3/s (21,500 cu ft/s) in April. This fluctuation is due the substantial variation in the flow of the Sobat, which has a minimum flow of about 99 m3/s (3,500 cu ft/s) in March and a peak flow of over 680 m3/s (24,000 cu ft/s) in October. During the dry season (January to June) the White Nile contributes between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total discharge from the Nile.

In Sudan

Below Renk the White Nile enters Sudan, it flows north to Khartoum and meets the Blue Nile.

The course of the Nile in Sudan is distinctive. It flows over six groups of cataracts, from the first at Aswan to the sixth at Sabaloka (just north of Khartoum) and then turns to flow southward before again returning to flow north. This is called the Great Bend of the Nile.

In the north of Sudan the river enters Lake Nasser (known in Sudan as Lake Nubia), the larger part of which is in Egypt.

In Egypt

Below the Aswan High Dam, at the northern limit of Lake Nasser, the Nile resumes its historic course.

North of Cairo, the Nile splits into two branches (or distributaries) that feed the Mediterranean: the Rosetta Branch to the west and the Damietta to the east, forming the Nile Delta.


Atbara River

Below the confluence with the Blue Nile the only major tributary is the Atbara River, roughly halfway to the sea, which originates in Ethiopia north of Lake Tana, and is around 800 kilometres (500 mi) long. The Atbara flows only while there is rain in Ethiopia and dries very rapidly. During the dry period of January to June, it typically dries up. It joins the Nile approximately 300 kilometres (200 mi) north of Khartoum.

Blue Nile

The Blue Nile Falls fed by Lake Tana near the city of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
Nile Delta from space

The Blue Nile ( Ge'ez ጥቁር ዓባይ Ṭiqūr ʿĀbbāy (Black Abay) to Ethiopians; Arabic: النيل الأزرق‎; transliterated: an-Nīl al-Azraq) springs from Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands. The Blue Nile flows about 1,400 kilometres to Khartoum, where the Blue Nile and White Nile join to form the Nile. Ninety percent of the water and ninety-six percent of the transported sediment carried by the Nile originates in Ethiopia, with fifty-nine percent of the water from the Blue Nile (the rest being from the Tekezé, Atbarah, Sobat, and small tributaries). The erosion and transportation of silt only occurs during the Ethiopian rainy season in the summer, however, when rainfall is especially high on the Ethiopian Plateau; the rest of the year, the great rivers draining Ethiopia into the Nile (Sobat, Blue Nile, Tekezé, and Atbarah) have a weaker flow.

The flow of the Blue Nile varies considerably over its yearly cycle and is the main contribution to the large natural variation of the Nile flow. During the dry season the natural discharge of the Blue Nile can be as low as 113 m3/s (4,000 cu ft/s), although upstream dams regulate the flow of the river. During the wet season the peak flow of the Blue Nile often exceeds 5,663 m3/s (200,000 cu ft/s) in late August (a difference of a factor of 50).

Before the placement of dams on the river the yearly discharge varied by a factor of 15 at Aswan. Peak flows of over 8,212 m3/s (290,000 cu ft/s) occurred during late August and early September, and minimum flows of about 552 m3/s (19,500 cu ft/s) occurred during late April and early May.

Bahr el Ghazal and Sobat River

The Bahr al Ghazal and the Sobat River are the two most important tributaries of the White Nile in terms of discharge.

The Bahr al Ghazal's drainage basin is the largest of any of the Nile's sub-basins, measuring 520,000 square kilometres (200,000 sq mi) in size, but it contributes a relatively small amount of water, about 2 m3/s (71 cu ft/s) annually, due to tremendous volumes of water being lost in the Sudd wetlands.

The Sobat River, which joins the Nile a short distance below Lake No, drains about half as much land, 225,000 km2 (86,900 sq mi), but contributes 412 cubic metres per second (14,500 cu ft/s) annually to the Nile. When in flood the Sobat carries a large amount of sediment, adding greatly to the White Nile's colour.

Yellow Nile

The Yellow Nile is a former tributary that connected the Ouaddaï Highlands of eastern Chad to the Nile River Valley c. 8000 to c. 1000 BC. Its remains are known as the Wadi Howar. The wadi passes through Gharb Darfur near the northern border with Chad and meets up with the Nile near the southern point of the Great Bend.


Reconstruction of the Oikoumene (inhabited world), an ancient map based on Herodotus' description of the world, circa 450 BC.
Historic map of the River Nile by Piri Reis

The Nile (iteru in Ancient Egyptian) has been the lifeline of civilization in Egypt since the Stone Age, with most of the population and all of the cities of Egypt resting along those parts of the Nile valley lying north of Aswan. Climate change at the end of the most recent ice age led to the formation of the Sahara desert, possibly as long ago as 3400 BC.

The Eonile

The present Nile is at least the fifth river that has flowed north from the Ethiopian Highlands. Satellite imagery was used to identify dry watercourses in the desert to the west of the Nile. An Eonile canyon, now filled by surface drift, represents an ancestral Nile called the Eonile that flowed during the later Miocene (23–5.3 million years before present). The Eonile transported clastic sediments to the Mediterranean; several natural gas fields have been discovered within these sediments.

During the late-Miocene Messinian salinity crisis, when the Mediterranean Sea was a closed basin and evaporated to the point of being empty or nearly so, the Nile cut its course down to the new base level until it was several hundred feet below world ocean level at Aswan and 8,000 feet (2,400 m) below Cairo. This created a very long and deep canyon which was filled with sediment when the Mediterranean was recreated. At some point the sediments raised the riverbed sufficiently for the river to overflow westward into a depression to create Lake Moeris.

Lake Tanganyika drained northwards into the Nile until the Virunga Volcanoes blocked its course in Rwanda. The Nile was much longer at that time, with its furthest headwaters in northern Zambia.

The integrated Nile

There are two theories about the age of the integrated Nile. One is that the integrated drainage of the Nile is of young age, and that the Nile basin was formerly broken into series of separate basins, only the most northerly of which fed a river following the present course of the Nile in Egypt and Sudan. Said postulated that Egypt itself supplied most of the waters of the Nile during the early part of its history.

The other theory is that the drainage from Ethiopia via rivers equivalent to the Blue Nile and the Atbara and Takazze flowed to the Mediterranean via the Egyptian Nile since well back into Tertiary times.

Salama suggested that during the Tertiary (65 million to 2.588 million years ago) a series of separate closed continental basins each occupied one of the major parts of the Sudanese Rift System: Mellut rift, White Nile rift, Blue Nile rift, Atbara rift and Sag El Naam rift. The Mellut Rift Basin is nearly 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) deep at its central part. This rift is possibly still active, with reported tectonic activity in its northern and southern boundaries. The Sudd swamps which form the central part of the basin may still be subsiding. The White Nile Rift System, although shallower than the Bahr el Arab rift, is about 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) deep. Geophysical exploration of the Blue Nile Rift System estimated the depth of the sediments to be 5–9 kilometres (3.1–5.6 mi). These basins were not interconnected until their subsidence ceased, and the rate of sediment deposition was enough to fill and connect them. The Egyptian Nile connected to the Sudanese Nile, which captures the Ethiopian and Equatorial headwaters during the current stages of tectonic activity in the Eastern, Central and Sudanese Rift Systems. The connection of the different Niles occurred during cyclic wet periods. The River Atbara overflowed its closed basin during the wet periods that occurred about 100,000 to 120,000 years ago. The Blue Nile connected to the main Nile during the 70,000–80,000 years B.P. wet period. The White Nile system in Bahr El Arab and White Nile Rifts remained a closed lake until the connection of the Victoria Nile to the main system some 12,500 years ago.

Role in the founding of Egyptian civilization

The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that "Egypt was the gift of the Nile". An unending source of sustenance, it provided a crucial role in the development of Egyptian civilization. Silt deposits from the Nile made the surrounding land fertile because the river overflowed its banks annually. The Ancient Egyptians cultivated and traded wheat, flax, papyrus and other crops around the Nile. Wheat was a crucial crop in the famine-plagued Middle East. This trading system secured Egypt's diplomatic relationships with other countries, and contributed to economic stability. Far-reaching trade has been carried on along the Nile since ancient times. The Ishango bone is probably an early tally stick. It has been suggested that this shows prime numbers and multiplication, but this is disputed. In the book How Mathematics Happened: The First 50,000 Years, Peter Rudman argues that the development of the concept of prime numbers could only have come about after the concept of division, which he dates to after 10,000 BC, with prime numbers probably not being understood until about 500 BC. He also writes that "no attempt has been made to explain why a tally of something should exhibit multiples of two, prime numbers between 10 and 20, and some numbers that are almost multiples of 10." It was discovered along the headwaters of the Nile (near Lake Edward, in northeastern Congo) and was carbon-dated to 20,000 BC.

Water buffalo were introduced from Asia, and Assyrians introduced camels in the 7th century BC. These animals were killed for meat, and were domesticated and used for ploughing—or in the camels' case, carriage. Water was vital to both people and livestock. The Nile was also a convenient and efficient means of transportation for people and goods. The Nile was an important part of ancient Egyptian spiritual life. Hapy was the god of the annual floods, and both he and the pharaoh were thought to control the flooding. The Nile was considered to be a causeway from life to death and the afterlife. The east was thought of as a place of birth and growth, and the west was considered the place of death, as the god Ra, the Sun, underwent birth, death, and resurrection each day as he crossed the sky. Thus, all tombs were west of the Nile, because the Egyptians believed that in order to enter the afterlife, they had to be buried on the side that symbolized death.

As the Nile was such an important factor in Egyptian life, the ancient calendar was even based on the 3 cycles of the Nile. These seasons, each consisting of four months of thirty days each, were called Akhet, Peret, and Shemu. Akhet, which means inundation, was the time of the year when the Nile flooded, leaving several layers of fertile soil behind, aiding in agricultural growth.

Peret was the growing season, and Shemu, the last season, was the harvest season when there were no rains.

The modern era

The confluence of the Kagera and Ruvubu rivers near Rusumo Falls, part of the Nile's upper reaches.
Dhows on the Nile
The Nile passes through Cairo, Egypt's, capital city

The Nile has long been used to transport goods along its length. Winter winds blow south, up river, so ships could sail up river, and down river using the flow of the river. While most Egyptians still live in the Nile valley, the 1970 completion of the Aswan High Dam ended the summer floods and their renewal of the fertile soil, fundamentally changing farming practices. The Nile supports much of the population living along its banks, enabling Egyptians to live in otherwise inhospitable regions of the Sahara. The rivers's flow is disturbed at several points by the Cataracts of the Nile, which are sections of faster-flowing water with many small islands, shallow water, and rocks, which form an obstacle to navigation by boats. The Sudd wetlands in Sudan also forms a formidable navigation obstacle and impede water flow, to the extent that Sudan had once attempted to canalize (the Jonglei Canal) to bypass the swamps.

Nile cities include Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor ( Thebes), and the Giza – Cairo conurbation. The first cataract, the closest to the mouth of the river, is at Aswan, north of the Aswan Dam. This part of the river is a regular tourist route, with cruise ships and traditional wooden sailing boats known as feluccas. Many cruise ships ply the route between Luxor and Aswan, stopping at Edfu and Kom Ombo along the way. Security concerns have limited cruising on the northernmost portion for many years.

A computer simulation study to plan the economic development of the Nile was directed by H.A.W. Morrice and W.N. Allan, for the Ministry of Hydro-power of the Republic of the Sudan, during 1955–1957 Morrice was their Hydrological Adviser, and Allan his predecessor. M.P. Barnett directed the software development and computer operations. The calculations were enabled by accurate monthly inflow data collected for 50 years. The underlying principle was the use of over-year storage, to conserve water from rainy years for use in dry years. Irrigation, navigation and other needs were considered. Each computer run postulated a set of reservoirs and operating equations for the release of water as a function of the month and the levels upstream. The behaviour that would have resulted given the inflow data was modeled. Over 600 models were run. Recommendations were made to the Sudanese authorities. The calculations were run on an IBM 650 computer. Simulation studies to design water resources are discussed further in the article on Hydrology transport models, that have been used since the 1980s to analyze water quality.

Despite the development of many reservoirs, drought during the 1980s led to widespread starvation in Ethiopia and Sudan, but Egypt was nourished by water impounded in Lake Nasser.

Water sharing dispute

The Nile's water has affected the politics of East Africa and the Horn of Africa for many decades. Countries including Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya have complained about Egyptian domination of its water resources. The Nile Basin Initiative promotes a peaceful cooperation among those states.

Several attempts have been made to establish agreements between the countries sharing the Nile waters. It is very difficult to have all these countries agree with each other given the self interest of each country and their political, strategic, and social differences. On 14 May 2010 at Entebbe, Uganda), Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed a new agreement on sharing the Nile water even though this agreement raised strong opposition from Egypt and Sudan. Ideally, such international agreements should promote equitable and efficient usage of the Nile basin's water resources. Without a better understanding about the availability of the future water resources of the Nile River, we could expect more conflicts between these countries relying on the Nile for their water supply, economic and social developments.

Modern achievements and exploration

The White Nile Expedition, led by South African national Hendrik Coetzee, became the first to navigate the Nile's entire length. The expedition began at the source of the Nile in Uganda on January 17, 2004 and arrived safely at the Mediterranean in Rosetta, four and a half months later.

On April 28, 2004, geologist Pasquale Scaturro and his partner, kayaker and documentary filmmaker Gordon Brown became the first people to navigate the Blue Nile, from Lake Tana in Ethiopia to the beaches of Alexandria on the Mediterranean. Though their expedition included others, Brown and Scaturro were the only ones to complete the entire journey. The team used outboard motors for most of their journey. On January 29, 2005 Canadian Les Jickling and New Zealander Mark Tanner completed the first human powered transit.

A team led by South Africans Peter Meredith and Hendrik Coetzee on April 30, 2005, became the first to navigate the major remote source of the Nile, the Akagera river, which starts as the Ruvyironza in Bururi Province, Burundi.


Crossings from Khartoum to the Mediterranean Sea

The following bridges cross the Blue Nile and connect Khartoum to Khartoum North:

  • Mac Nimir Bridge
  • Green Purple Black Red Yellow Nile Road & Railway Bridge
  • Burri Bridge
  • Elmansheya Bridge
  • Soda bridge

The following bridges cross the White Nile and connect Khartoum to Omdurman:

  • Black Nile Bridge
  • Fitayhab Bridge
  • Al Dabbaseen Bridge (under construction)
  • Omhuraz Bridge (proposed)

the following bridges cross from Omdurman: to Khartoum North:

  • Shambat Bridge
  • Halfia Bridge

The following bridges cross to Tuti from Khartoum states three cities

  • Khartoum-tuti Bridge
  • Omdurman-Tuti Suspension Bridge (proposed)
  • Khartoum North-tuti Bridge (proposed)

Other bridges

  • Shandi Bridge, Shendi
  • Atbarah Bridge, Atbarah
  • Merowe Dam, Merowe
  • Merowe Bridge, Merowe
  • Aswan Bridge, Aswan
  • Luxor Bridge, Luxor
  • Suhag Bridge, Suhag
  • Assiut Bridge, Assiut
  • Al Minya Bridge, Minya
  • Al Marazeek Bridge, Helwan
  • First Ring Road Bridge (Moneeb Crossing), Cairo
  • Abbas Bridge, Cairo
  • University Bridge, Cairo
  • Qasr al-Nil Bridge, Cairo
  • 6th October Bridge, Cairo
  • Abu El Ela Bridge, Cairo (removed in 1998)
  • New Abu El Ela Bridge, Cairo
  • Imbaba Bridge, Cairo
  • Rod Elfarag Bridge, Cairo
  • Second Ring Road Bridge, Cairo
  • Banha Bridge, Banha
  • Samanoud Bridge, Samanoud
  • Mansoura 2 Bridges, Mansoura
  • Talkha Bridge, Talkha
  • Shirbine high Bridge
  • Shirbine Bridge
  • Kafr Sad - Farscor Bridge
  • International Coastal Road Bridge
  • Damietta high Bridge, Damietta
  • Damietta Bridge, Damietta
  • Kafr El Zayat Bridges, Kafr El Zayat
  • Zefta Bridge, Zefta

Crossings from Rwanda to Khartoum

  • Nalubaale Bridge, Jinja, Uganda (Formerly Owen Falls Bridge)
  • Karuma Bridge, Karuma, Uganda
  • Pakwach Bridge, Uganda
Retrieved from ""