Threats To The Nile’s Future

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 generous resources.
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.”