Water issues in egypt

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Water has always been a subject of great concern for mankind, as the very survival of our species depends on it. Thus since remote time, men have had to sort out the issue of the water supply by carrying out hydraulic works whenever natural resources were not sufficient or constant enough. Therefore, “hydraulic civilizations” were born very early in the antiquity, as was Egypt’sfor instance.

For nearly three thousand years, the fertile waters of the Nile River have been exploited and have provided some elements that led to the formation and development of this great civilization. Even today, the Nile River is a fundamental source of water for the Egyptian people.

However, even such a civilization is not immune from current water scarcity. For several years, Egypthas rejected to let its share of Nile waters decrease, as several countries upstream from the Nile expanded. Cairo assures that with its current share of Nile’s flow, the needs of the country will overtake the supply by 2017. Hence Egypt, this “gift of the Nile” as Herodotus said, might one day be dried up.

In such an alarming context, we may wonder how important the Nile River is as a survivalfactor for the Egyptian people.


I. Presentation of the Nile River

In this first part, we will present the Nile River by highlighting its unique geographical location, its hydrological cycle and finally its omnipresence throughout the centuries.

1) Geographical and hydrological situations

The Nile River is the major north-flowingriver in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is 6,650 kilo-meters long. It results from two major tributaries taking their source outside Egypt’s international borders, the White Nile and Blue Nile, as we can see on the picture 1 below. The latter is the source of most of the water and fertile soil, the former is the longer.

Picture 1: Mapshowing the Nile River Picture 2: Map showing the courses of the White and Blue Nile
Source: Wikipedia Source: Wikipedia

The map on the picture 2 shows that the White Nile originates from the area of the great lakes of central Africa, with its most distant source lying in central Burundi. Regarding the Blue Nile, it starts at Lake Tana in Ethiopia.The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum to end up in the North of Egypt, in a large delta that pours into the Mediterranean Sea.

Taking the two rivers into consideration, the Nile as a whole flows through Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt which represents a drainage basin of 3,254,555 square kilo-meters, nearly 10% of Africa's total area. However,this does not mean that it is a river with an abundant average flow. In fact, with 2,830 cubic meters per second at Aswan, the Nile has hardly more superior flow rate to that of the Rhone, which is very modest compared to the river Congo or the Niger River.

Furthermore, making the Nile River also interesting from a hydrological point of view is its annual flood. Indeed, the discharge of the NileRiver is subject to wide variation. The graph on the picture 3 above shows the average monthly variation of the Nile flows at different tributaries as well as at Aswan. We can see that the natural flow of the river can be divided into two periods: a short three month long high muddy flow season from July to September corresponding to the period of the flood and a longer nine month long flow clearseason from October to June.

Picture 3: Average monthly flow at the main Nile tributaries and at Aswan
Source: Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt (MWRI)

The Nile River has therefore several characteristics that make it quite remarkable. Nevertheless, these aspects of the Nile River have been exploited for centuries by Egyptian people as we are going to see now....
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