Nile facts for kids

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Dhows on the Nile
A dhow crossing the Nile near Aswan
River Nile map
Map of the Nile

The Nile (Arabic: النيل an-nīl) is a river in Africa. It is the longest river on Earth (about 6,650 km or 4,132 miles), and flows into the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria. It gets its name from the Greek word Νεῖλος Neilos.

The White Nile flows from Lake Victoria in Uganda, and through Sudan to Khartoum, where it is joined by the Blue Nile to form the Nile, then through Egypt. The Blue Nile flows through Ethiopia. About 300 million cubic metres of water flow down the Nile each day.

The Nile is very important to the countries where it flows. Many cities in Egypt are built next to the river. Also, the pyramids are close to the Nile. The Nile has always provided most of the water used to grow crops in Egypt and for anything else, since much of the rest of the country is in a desert. The Nile was very important to Ancient Egyptians. In ancient times the Nile flooded every year and the people would starve if there was not enough water for the crops. The Ancient Egyptians got papyrus from the Nile.

Many different types of animals live in or near the waters of the Nile, including crocodiles, birds, fish and many others. Not only do animals depend on the Nile for survival, but also people who live there need it for everyday use like washing, as a water supply, keeping crops watered and other jobs.

Pyramids were built close to the Nile because they needed the granite stones from Aswan to be transported by barges down the Nile.

History of the word Nile


The word "Nile" comes from Greek Neilos (ὁ Νεῖλος). Neilos came from the word "river valley". In the ancient Egyptian language, the Nile is called Ḥ'pī or iteru, meaning "great river", represented by the hieroglyphs shown above (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.


See also: White Nile
Nile SPOT 1173
The Nile at Dendera, as seen from the SPOT satellite
Nile basin map
The Nile's watershed
The Nile near Beni Suef
Nile composite NASA
Composite satellite image of the White Nile

With a total length of about 6,650 km (4,130 mi) between the region of Lake Victoria and the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile is the longest river on the African continent. The drainage basin of the Nile covers 3,254,555 square kilometers (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.

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 source of the Nile is sometimes considered to be Lake Victoria, but the lake has feeder rivers of considerable size. The Kagera River, which flows into Lake Victoria near the Tanzanian town of Bukoba, is the longest feeder, although sources do not agree on which is the longest tributary of the Kagera and hence the most distant source of the Nile itself. It is either the Ruvyironza, which emerges in Bururi Province, Burundi, or the Nyabarongo, which flows from Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda. The two feeder rivers meet near Rusumo Falls on the Rwanda-Tanzania border.

Source of Nile, Spring at Jinja, Lake Victoria
The source of the Nile from an underwater spring at the neck of Lake Victoria, Jinja

In 2010, an exploration party went to a place described as the source of the Rukarara tributary, and by hacking a path up steep jungle-choked mountain slopes in the Nyungwe forest found (in the dry season) an appreciable incoming surface flow for many kilometres upstream, and found a new source, giving the Nile a length of 6,758 km (4,199 mi).

Gish Abay is reportedly the place where the "holy water" of the first drops of the Blue Nile develop.

In Uganda's Nile

The Nile leaves Lake Nyanza (Victoria) at Ripon Falls near Jinja, Uganda, as the Victoria Nile. It flows north for some 130 kilometers (81 mi), to Lake Kyoga. The last part of the approximately 200 kilometers (120 mi) river section starts from the western shores of the lake and flows at first to the west until just south of Masindi Port, where the river turns north, then makes a great half circle to the east and north until Karuma Falls. For the remaining part it flows merely westerly through the Murchison Falls until it reaches the very northern shores of Lake Albert where it forms a significant river delta. The lake itself is on the border of DR Congo, but the Nile is not a border river at this point. After leaving Lake Albert, the river continues north through Uganda and is known as the Albert Nile.

In South Sudan's Nile

The Nile river flows into South Sudan just south of Nimule, where it is known as the Bahr al Jabal ("Mountain River"). Just south of the town it has the confluence with the Achwa River. The Bahr al Ghazal, itself 716 kilometers (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.

The average flow of the White Nile at Lake Kawaki 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 to 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 sixth at Sabaloka just north of Khartoum northward to Abu Hamed. Due to the tectonic uplift of the Nubian Swell, the river is then diverted to flow for over 300 km south-west following the structure of the Central African Shear Zone embracing the Bayuda Desert. At Al Dabbah it resumes its northward course towards the first Cataract at Aswan forming the 'S'-shaped Great Bend of the Nile already mentioned by Eratosthenes.

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.

Tributaries of Nile

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 kilometers (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 north of Khartoum.

Blue Nile

ET Bahir Dar asv2018-02 img17 Tis Issat
The Blue Nile Falls fed by Lake Tana near the city of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Nile River and delta from orbit
Nile Delta from space
Annotated view of the Nile and Red Sea, with a dust storm

The Blue Nile (Amharic: ዓባይ, ʿĀbay) 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. In harsh and arid seasons and droughts the blue Nile dries out completely.

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 kilometers (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 meters 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 color.

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 BCE. 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.

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