Nile River
Nile River Egypt

The Nile River is the longest in the World, flowing for nearly 6700 kilometres from its source to its mouth. Collects water from a vast area of North Eastern Africa. The Nile has two arms or branches. The longer arm is called the White Nile, although its water is usually a muddy grey colour. The source of the White Nile is in the mountains to the west of Victoria Nyanza (Lake Victoria) in the small state of Burundi.
Here the river is known as the 'Luvironza'. It flows westwards through the mountains of Burundi until it joins another Nile tributary the Kagera. This is the largest and longest of the many rivers and streams that empty into Victoria Nyanza. The one river that flows out of Victoria Nyanza is the White Nile. The second branch of the Nile is the Blue Nile, Its source is above Lake Tana in the mountains of northern Ethiopia. The two Niles meet at Khartoum in Sudan. From there the Nile flows northwards on a winding course across the desert to the Mediterranean , Sea. Before it meets the sea, it splits into many creeks, forming a flat, marshy delta. The creeks join to make two channels. They are the Rosetta, on the west of the delta, and the Damietta on the east.

Nine Countries

The Nile and its tributaries flow through nine countries. The White Nile runs through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. The Blue Nile starts its journey in Ethiopia. Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have tributaries that flow directly into the Nile or into Victoria Nyanza. The people of all these countries depend on the Nile as a water supply for themselves and their crops, but none needs the river more than the 62 million people of Egypt. They live in a country that has almost no rainfall, and the Nile must provide all the water they need.

The Making of the Nile

The mountainous area where the White Nile begins is the highest part of Africa. Some rivers run westwards to join Africa' s second largest river, The Congo, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Others flow north to form the White Nile.


The Rift Valley

TheWhite Nile starts its journey through part of the African Rift Valley. There is a series of faults, or cracks, in the Earth's crust. These stretch from the Red Sea in the north to the Zambesi river in southern Africa. Between the fault lines, the land has sunk, forming deep valleys. One fault line runs to the east of Victoria Nyanza and the Nile. Another, marked by a series of long, narrow, deep lakes, lies to the west and north of Victoria Nyanza. When the White Nile leaves Victoria Nyanza, it flows swiftly between towering cliffs over falls and rapids, finding its way along this second fault line. Over millions of years, east and west Africa have been slowly pulling apart. One day, in millions of years' time, the break will be complete and the Red Sea will flow into the Rift Valley. This has already happened in the north, where the Red Sea divides Africa from Arabia. Meanwhile, the White Nile makes its way northwards along the western fault to join the faster flowing Blue Nile at Khartoum. After the two rivers meet, the Nile flows over a series of long rapids, or cataracts. Then, it meets marshland and desert. After it crosses the border between Sudan and Egypt, it reaches the last stage in its course.


Across the desert

As the White Nile and Blue Nile pound their way out of the mountains, they bring with them millions of tonnes of soil and fragments of rock. This material is carried along in the fast flowing water and is joined by more, which the river has washed away from its banks. Until 30 years ago, when the Aswan High Dam was built, this material, called sediment, dropped to the river bed or was washed up along the banks. Some of the lighter sediment remained in the water and was carried along until the Nile met the sea. Then this sediment too was deposited. This process, carried on over millions of years, had two effects. It laid a narrow strip of fertile soil no more than about 20 kilometres wide across the Egyptian desert. Then, at the mouth of the Nile, sediments built up a broad delta of flat land jutting out into the Mediterranean. Over 5000 years ago, the fertile strip across the desert and the delta itself became the centre of one of the world's first great civilisations - Ancient Egypt.

Extract from “Great Rivers: The Nile”. Written by Michael Pollard, London, Evans Brothers Limited, 1997.


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The Nile

Total length (White Nile from source to mouth): 6695 km

From sources to Khartoum: White Nile, 3700 km;
Blue Nile, 1610 km

Sources: White Nile: Luvironza River, Burundi;
Blue Nile: near Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Main tributaries of the Nile

Kagera, 691 km; flows into Victoria Nyanza

Sobat, 740 km; joins White Nile at Tawfigiyah, Sudan

Atbarah, 1287 km; joins Nile at Atbarah, Sudan