Water in the Nile RiverThe Nile, stretching 4,132 miles, is Africa’s longest river, running through 11 countries, including Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. It is an important water source for millions of people in Africa. Unfortunately, the river is subject to pollution, which poses a significant threat to those living in the countries that depend on it for water. The poor state of water in the Nile River is an issue that threatens the health and well-being of those living near its basin.

The Economic Significance of the Nile River

The Nile River is a vital source of economic activity in many African countries, particularly those in the Nile Basin region. The river supports various economic sectors, including agriculture, fishing, transportation and tourism. Agriculture remains a crucial sector for many African countries, particularly Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and water in the Nile River serves as a dependable source for irrigation. Farmers are able to cultivate crops year-round and, as a result, agriculture employs a significant percentage of the population.

In Egypt, the agriculture sector provides 28% of jobs and in Sudan, it employs 43% of the population. As of 2020, 75% of employed Ethiopians worked in the agriculture sector. Even though the Nile contains harmful pathogens and pollutants, it provides water and a means of livelihood for more than 200 million people. Inhabitants of the Nile region use the water for drinking, washing and cooking. People also engage in farming in the Nile Basin, growing crops like wheat, corn, banana and sweet potato.

Fishing in the Nile River provides employment for thousands of people. In addition, the industry contributes to the local economy through fish exportation. The river is also a major transportation route in many parts of Africa, and it also supports tourism in some African countries, including Egypt and Uganda.

The Nile River and its Impact on Poverty

Access to clean water in the Nile River remains a significant challenge, with agricultural activities involving pesticides and fertilizers contributing to the pollution problem. These chemicals can enter the river through runoff and irrigation, which can harm aquatic life and affect water quality. Alongside farming activities, the raw sewage and other waste products from industries and manufacturers go directly into the river. The harmful bacteria, viruses and other contaminants in the water can cause cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis, poliovirus and other waterborne disease. In turn, this can result in the endangerment of agricultural productivity and contribute to poverty.

Moreover, in recent years, water scarcity has become an increasing concern in the region. In 2020, Ethan D. Coffee and Justin S. Mankin reported that more than 30% of the people in the region could face water scarcity by 2040. This translates into more than 80 million people who may not be able to access water. This could also limit agricultural and fishing industries while decreasing labor employment.

Minimizing the Nile’s Impact on Poverty

The year 2021 marked a significant milestone in Egypt as the Bahr al-Baqar wastewater treatment plant commenced operations in the northern city of Sinai. Renowned as one of the most expansive wastewater treatment facilities globally, this plant possesses an impressive capacity to treat 5 million cubic meters of wastewater daily—equivalent to the water consumed in 140 million showers.

Aiming to tackle the multifaceted challenges affecting the Nile Basin, Egypt-based social enterprise Bassita launched the VeryNile project in 2018. This initiative focuses on enhancing water management practices. Its primary objective is to reduce poverty and foster economic growth within the Nile River Basin. The VeryNile project progresses in four key directions: cleaning, recycling, prevention and social impact.

Looking Ahead

While the issue of clean water in the Nile River remains unresolved, the ongoing initiatives could help avert more crises. Ultimately, initiatives like the VeryNile project that prioritizes promoting sustainable development practices and empowering local communities to participate in water management processes can potentially bring the tides of progress and lasting change.

– Anna Konovalenko
Photo: Flickr

Ethiopia's Hydroelectric Expansion
Ethiopia is a young, developing country that is currently investing in hydroelectricity to meet the energy demands of a growing population. Currently, only 44% of Ethiopians have access to electricity. As the population continues to grow within the country, citizens’ access to electricity will be a cause for great concern. Ethiopia’s hydroelectric expansion is addressing the energy crisis and powering the country’s economic growth, at the same time.

Naturally Sourced

Ethiopia is well situated to harness the natural, kinetic energy of water because the Nile River runs through the northern part of the country. However, hydroelectricity does require the construction of costly dams. In this same vein, Ethiopia recently built one costing $1.8 billion. While expensive, once built, these dams provide an abundance of energy for many generations. Currently, Ethiopia’s hydroelectric expansion has achieved a 3,813-MW capacity for a population of roughly 108 million people.

As the Blue Nile begins in Ethiopia, the country does not have to worry about other nations damming the river upstream and thus, (hypothetically) cutting off its supply of water. Ethiopia’s geographic advantage thereby increases its energy autonomy. Additionally, hydroelectric energy is renewable and reliable because it is not dependent on variable weather conditions as is the case with other renewable, energy resources.

Growing Demand

Ethiopia’s population is growing at a staggering rate of 2.56% per year. Notably, less than 50% of the population has access to hydroelectricity. To help people escape poverty in the modern age, they must have access to an electrical grid. Access to electricity does not guarantee prosperity, but the lack of electricity almost ensures poverty.

Ethiopia is one of the leading African nations in hydroelectric energy and is continuing to invest in more dams. In 2016, Ethiopia embarked on a joint venture with China and built one of the largest roller-compacted dams in the world. Although dams are vulnerable to droughts — they provide clean, renewable energy that is not dependent on highly variable weather patterns, such as wind and sunlight. Ethiopia cannot solely depend on hydroelectricity and instead, must continue to increase its energy supply to meet an ever-growing demand. Nearly 40% of Ethiopia’s population is younger than 14-years-old. As this population matures, it will further increase the demand for energy within the country. The booming population will continue to slip into poverty if it does not invest in a hydroelectric infrastructure that can support such a population growth rate.

Positive Growth

Hydroelectricity provides abundant energy. Yet, it requires an electrical grid to transport that energy across the country and perhaps equally as important, from an economic standpoint — into neighboring countries. Not only has Ethiopia built more hydroelectric dams, but it has also expanded its entire energy infrastructure. Ethiopia strives to become an energy hub for Africa as it exports electricity to Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya. Although 29.6% of Ethiopia’s population lives below the poverty line, there is a great reason to hope that this number will decrease as the economy further develops. Ethiopia currently has the 13th highest industrial growth rate at 10.5%, annually. The economy is rapidly growing, largely supported by Ethiopia’s hydroelectric expansion.

Noah Kleinert
Photo: Wikimedia Commons