Threats To The Nile’s
Beyond the sheer adventure of MYSTERY OF THE NILE
lies an important mission for the film: to bring the world’s attention
not only to this spectacular river’s storied history but its uncertain
future. As the expedition’s rafts rush down the Blue Nile, the team
members collect water samples and note signs of environmental change to
better understand the threats facing the region. Witnessing the devastation
of earlier ecological disaster at Meroe in Sudan, the team is compelled
to ask the question: what can the past teach us about the future?
The message they take home is that there is much left to be done to assure
the Nile will remain accessible and healthy for the millions who rely
on the river as their sole source of fresh water. “I have never
seen a river that has been so fertile for both nature and human civilization
as the Nile,” notes MYSTERY OF THE NILE director Jordi Llompart.
“But today it is also being effected by pollution, population growth,
development and dams that pose new threats. We are proud to bring a portrait
of the river’s beauty and excitement to so many people so they will
get a more personal sense of what is at stake.”
The Nile has long been the mysterious source of life and livelihood for
the farmers who live along its banks. In addition to its vital role in
agriculture in Africa, its waterways also play a major role in transportation,
especially to those areas where road access is not possible. But in addition
to being worshiped and treated as a holy partner to humankind, the Nile
river has also inspired jealousy, greed and the desertification of lush
lands throughout its history. Throughout its path, the Nile is flanked
by the ruins of previous civilizations that over-used the river’s
Now, in the 21st Century, industrial contamination of the river, poor
resource management and the turbulent water politics that are played out
among all of the Nile’s nations have caused many to fear the Nile
region is headed for another bleak period of famine and conflict if pro-active
steps aren’t taken quickly. Indeed, many scientists believe that
the Nile region will act as a sort of litmus test to see how humankind
will be able to solve our most pressing environmental issues, and are
watching the area closely.
For mighty as the Nile is, the river’s flow is not enough to satisfy
the future water needs of the nations through which it courses. With the
population of the region expected to double in the next 25 years, the
battle over who controls the river’s water is only expected to intensify.
The Blue Nile is particularly troubled, especially because Ethiopia contributes
85% of the water that flows in Egypt – yet is unable to harness
enough water to irrigate its own crops and feed its own people.
Complicating the situation further are the large hydropower dams that
control the river. Egypt’s first Aswan Dam was built in 1899, flooding
entire swaths of what was then known as Lower Nubia, and causing more
than 100,000 people to lose their homes. Since then, the dam has proven
a mixed blessing for the Nile. The dam was reconstructed beginning in
1959 and is now considered one of the great architectural achievements
of the 20th century. It provides irrigation and electricity to power Cairo’s
modern metropolis. But Aswan Dam has also reduced sedimentation in the
fields downstream and caused the Nile Delta to rapidly shrink so that
fisheries and farms that once fed many communities are no longer viable.
The location of the dam turned out to be less than fortuitous as well.
Over 6 feet of water evaporate from the surface of Lake Nasser every year
because it is in the middle of the desert, causing significant water loss.
Plans to build further dams on the Blue Nile to distribute the river’s
power more equally are rife with controversy. The Merowe Dam, scheduled
to be built at the 4th Cataract in Sudan, may help the country’s
economic development – but will also cause thousands of Nubians
to become refugees once the flooding begins.
The problems facing the Nile countries are complex and serious, but fortunately
there are also Africans and people around the world starting to seriously
address them. In the late 1990s, the U.N. and the World Bank started the
Nile Basin Initiative, designed to foster greater cooperation among the
Nile countries. In addition, environmental awareness is growing –
particularly in Egypt – among the local populace, and government-based
environmental programs are starting to take root.
For the team members who floated down the river to capture the MYSTERY
OF THE NILE, that awareness is key to the hope that the wonders they encountered
on their journey will be sustained for generations to come. As Egyptian
Mohammed Megahed sums up at the end of the team’s breathtaking journey:
“This river is sacred to all of us.”