Rivers of the World the Nile River

About the Egyptian Nile River, history, length, animal life, and tributaries of the African river, the longest in the world.



The Nile shares the distinction with the Amazon of maybe being the world's longest river. It flows north through the upper half of Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. Its length, according to the survey of M. Devroey of Belgium, was 4,145 mi. before the Aswan High Dam covered several miles with Lake Nasser. Other sources give the length as 3,500 mi., the distance from the sea to Lake Victoria, but Devroey (whose survey is now the accepted authority) contends that the Nile begins at the head of the Kagera River in Rwanda, which feeds Lake Victoria.

The Nile drains an area of more than 1 million sq. mi. Leaving Lake Victoria in Uganda, the Victoria Nile enters Lake Albert 50 mi. down-river and exits as the Albert Nile. In Sudan the river, an important transportation route, earns the name White Nile. At Khartoum, Sudan's capital, the White Nile joins the Blue Nile from Ethiopia, and the river becomes the Nile for its final 1,900 mi. to the sea. Its huge delta below Cairo, Egypt, has such an outflow during the annual flood season that it discolors many miles of the blue Mediterranean.

Uganda and Sudan depend on the Nile for electric power, but Egypt needs the river for its very existence; the Greek historian Herodotus (5th century B.C.) called Egypt "the gift of the Nile." The present Nile is only 30,000 years old or so, superseding four previous Nile rivers, and 6,000 years of Egyptian civilization have developed along its fertile floodplain. The river's peculiarities and annual levels have been fully documented since 711 A.D. The major geographic mystery of where it came from was solved in 1862, when British explores John Speke and James Grant determined that Lake Victoria was the Nile's head reservoir.

The recently built Aswan High Dam created Lake Nasser and provided Egypt with 2 million acres of irrigated land. But scientists now complain that the dam is holding back the silt which has always fertilized the valley. Furthermore, the water flows faster without silt and erodes away its bed, which may lead to a collapse of the banks and a washing away of the delta.

In 1958 radioisotopes tracked a crypto-river flowing under the Nile with a mean annual flow of 20 million million, or 20 trillion, cu. ft.--six times greater than the Nile itself.

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