Posts Tagged ‘Lake Victoria’

Seeking Nile River Origins via its Tributaries

November 21, 2017

By Joannah Otis for No Water No Life

This is the third blog on the Nile River in Egypt by NWNL Researcher Joannah Otis, sophomore at Georgetown University. This essay addresses the sources of the Nile  – lakes, tributaries, and a great swamp. [NWNL has completed documentary expeditions to the White and Blue Nile Rivers, but due to current challenges for photojournalists in Egypt and Sudan, NWNL is using literary and online resources to investigate the main stem of the Nile.]

For centuries, the debate over the source of the Nile River incited explorations and evoked endless questions. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile originated from an underground sea or spring, but never ventured upriver to confirm their theory.  Instead they put their faith in Hapi, god of the Nile River.1 [See NWNL Blog “Finding Hapi-ness on the Nile,” .]

1000px-River_Nile_map.svgMap of the Nile River and its sources. (Attribution: Hel-Hama)

Interest in the elusive source arose again c. 440 BCE when Herodotus wrote in The Histories of the “fountains of the Nile.”  He asserted that melting snow from upstream mountains flooded the headwaters to create the seasonal inundation.2  It was not until 1768 when James Bruce began searching for and ultimately found the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands that some light was shed on the issue.  

In 1874, Henry Morton Stanley confirmed an earlier theory by John Hanning Speke that Lake Victoria was the source of the White Nile. These explorers and many others were often sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society in England and driven by their own hopes for fame.3 Today’s satellite technology and advanced resources have enabled us to positively identify Lake Tana as the source of the Blue Nile and Lake Victoria as the source of the White Nile. These two main rivers meet in Khartoum, Egypt to form the great Nile River.

ET Bar 0125D.JPGTissiat Falls, from L. Tana, source  of the Blue Nile.  (© Alison M. Jones)

The Blue Nile is the source of about 85% of the Nile’s water.4 Beginning in the Ethiopian Highlands where a plateau of basalt lava receives rain from seasonal monsoons from May to October, the Blue Nile stretches over 900 miles into Sudan. This origin point lies 2,500 meters above sea level.  Beginning its northbound route, this river flows through Lake Tana, as well as the Blue Nile Gorge.5 Lake Tana is a shallow body of water measuring 1,400 square miles, surrounded by the Amhara tribe’s ancestral lands.6 The Blue Nile Gorge, lying on the edge of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, guides the Blue Nile for 370 miles into the middle of the Ethiopian Highlands.7

While the White Nile contributes only 15% of the Nile River’s water, it is still an important ecological and hydrological presence.8 Originating in Lake Victoria and fed by the Ruvubu, Nyabarongo, Mara and other rivers, the White Nile flows through Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert, and the Sudd.9 The White Nile flows through much of the Albertine Rift Region.  It spans from the northernmost point of Uganda’s Lake Albert to the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika.10  This rift is home to a plethora of diverse wildlife, including 5,793 plant species, which brings profitable tourism to Uganda. Between Juba, Ethiopia and Khartoum, the river in Sudan drops just 75 meters. To the east and west of the river, the floodplains become savannah and then desert as lush growth that adorns the Nile’s banks disappears.11

White_Nile_Bridge,_Omdurman_to_Khartoum,_SudanThe White Nile Bridge in Sudan. (Attribution: David Stanley)

Just south of Khartoum, lies the vast Sudd, covering most of  South Sudan. Meaning ‘obstacle’ in Arabic. the Sudd is one of the world’s largest wetlands and the Nile Basin’s largest freshwater wetland.  The Sudd is a 12,355 square-mile practically impenetrable swamp of complex channels and lagoons –  an explorer’s challenge.  Fed by heavy rainfall from April to October,12 it provides floodwater storage and water habitat for 350 plant species, 470 migratory bird species, and 100 fish species.  Antelope migrations from the surrounding arid Sahel retreat annually to the Sudd in astonishing numbers.  Around 1.2 million white-eared kob, Nile Lechwe, and tiang, as well as wild dogs, crocodiles and hippos in the Sudd are best viewed by air.   The Sudd is also the home to pastoralist Nuer, Dinka and Shilluk tribes, Nilotic peoples who practice subsistence semi-nomadic cattle breeding and some grain farming.

Jones_040826_ET_0160Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s source of the Blue Nile. (© Alison M. Jones)

Ecosystems within the swamp include open waters with submerged vegetation, floodplain shrubland, surface-floating fringe vegetation, seasonally flooded grassland and woodland.13 Since most of the water that enters the Sudd evaporates due to high temperatures in Sudan, the White Nile leaves this swamp with half the power with which it enters.14  Since the 1930’s, there’ve been proposals to build a canal, today referred to as the Jonglei Canal Project, east out of the Sudd directly to the main stem of the Nile River.  It is said such a canal could increase Egypt’s water supply by five to seven percent. While Sudan and Egypt would benefit, South Sudan would see its fisheries die, grazing lands dry out and groundwater lowered.

Uganda:Lake Victoria, Uganda’s source of the White Nile. (© Alison M. Jones)

After years of searching, the sources of the Blue and White Nile River are no longer mysteries. The number of plant and animal species who depend on them are staggering, but they also serve as important lifelines for the humans living on their banks. From water for irrigation to water for domestic use, the Nile River tributaries are vital to North African survival of all species, including humans. It would be a human and environmental tragedy if these Nile tributaries or the great Sudd were drained and disappeared, as has Africa’s Lake Chad. Thus, these waterways deserve the respect and care owed to such treasured and vital resources.

Sources

1 Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
2Bangs, Richard; Scaturro, Pasquale. Mystery of the Nile. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, New York. 2005.
3 Turnbull, March. “The Great Race for the Rivers of Africa.” Africa Geographic. May 2004.
4 “Nile River Facts.” Africa Facts. Web.
5“History of the Nile.” Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Web.
6Bangs, Richard; Scaturro, Pasquale. Mystery of the Nile. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, New York. 2005.
7Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
8“Nile River Facts.” Africa Facts. Web. September 27, 2017.
9Caputo, Robert. “Journey up the Nile.” National Geographic. May 1985.
10“The Environmental Resources of the Nile Basin.” p 57-98. Web.
11Pavan, Aldo. The Nile From the Mountains to the Mediterranean. Thames and Hudson Ltd. 2006.
12 Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
13“The Environmental Resources of the Nile Basin.” p 57-98. Web.
14Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.

White Nile River Basin Expedition – Entebbe 3/26

March 26, 2010

Welcome to #2 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

Map of Uganda

Date: Friday, 26 March 2010 /Entry 2
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Entebbe

I arrive today in Entebbe to begin documenting Uganda’s White Nile River Basin. I plan to spend the afternoon in Jinga, the source of the White Nile on Lake Victoria. Here this western arm of the Nile begins its 2300-mile (3700-km) journey to meet the Blue Nile at Khartoum, Sudan. But before reaching that confluence, two arms of the White Nile come together in southern Uganda. The eastern Victoria Nile tumbles in a northwest direction from L. Victoria through the chasm of Murchison Falls into Lake Albert. The more westerly Albert Nile forms at a higher elevation from early trickles in the Rwenzori Mountains, known as the Mountains of the Moon. These mountains are rapidly losing their glaciers due to climate change which will likely produce a reduced flow to the Nile in upcoming years.

From the field: Welcome to the Pearl of Africa! Entebbe is directly on Lake Victoria. Our flight in from Kenya under heavy clouds revealed lush green vegetation and red clay roads. Settlement in Entebbe environs is on hilltops because surrounding each one are rivers of papyrus swamps, some of which have bridges crossing over these “swamp-ways.”

This afternoon NWNL will meet its White Nile River Basin expedition partner who will facilitate our documentation, photography and in-situ research. NAPE is the National Assoc. of Professional Environmentalists. It covers Uganda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa working to promote sustainable and equitable management of natural resources.

Funding the Mara River Expedition

August 17, 2009
Hippos 

For No Water No Life’s first blog, I am diving in with our project’s current challenge: EXPEDITION FUNDING! NWNL’s research, documentation and publications are based on its expeditions to North American and African case-study watersheds. By comparing approaches to freshwater issues and solutions in developed versus developing nations, NWNL distinguishes itself from most other organizations.

Mau Forest 

THE MARA RIVER EXPEDITION: In mid-September, a “lean and mean” NWNL team will head to Kenya and Tanzania to follow the length of the Mara River for one month. An award-winning video photographer and I, as leader and still photographer, will film the devastatingly-low, polluted Mara River. We will document issues from its headwaters in Kenya’s deforested Mau Forest – a critical key to the famine now facing 10 million Kenyans – to its outlet on the polluted Tanzanian shores of Lake Victoria creating “dead zones.” (For details: Mara River Expedition ’09.)

Wildebeest 

WHY $$ NEEDED: NWNL is seeking the final funding needed for travel and production expenses . The expedition products to be covered by $4,000 we still need (can be tax-deductible) and the $15,000 we’ve already received will alert Kenyans, students and conservationists world-wide of the perils facing the Mara River today. The loss of the watershed’s wildlife due to low water will impact fiscal and political stability in the Horn of Africa, a “hot spot” for terrorism. Email me at alison at nowater-nolife.org to discuss donation details.

PROJECT SUCCESSES! With images from 3 expeditions to Ethiopia’s Omo River, NWNL has joined in an international effort to halt upstream dams threatening .5 million stakeholders downstream. After 2 expeditions to the Columbia River Basin, NWNL has promoted US-Canadian trans-boundary research and partnerships. NWNL’s successes are being covered in magazines, its imagery is receiving awards, the project is receiving high praise for its lectures and exhibits.

MARA EXPEDITION SUPPORT: This will be NWNL’s 10th watershed expedition. This expedition has received:

  1. Expedition flags from The Explorers Club and WINGS WorldQuest
  2. Endorsements from International Rivers, Global Information Network, et al
  3. Several generous grants
  4. Hefty in-kind contributions, worth six times the cash raised.

Kenyan conservationists are anxious for NWNL to publicize the degradation of the Mara River, saying international awareness is essential to create an East African political will to protect this critical watershed.

NEXT!!  This expedition WILL happen. Tickets are booked for myself and the videographer – another Alison!   Stay tuned to read upcoming blogs about the Mara that illustrate global fresh-water values, threats and solutions being explored today!

%d bloggers like this: