A traditional boat carries a cargo of hay on the Nile River as it sails past the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)

A traditional boat carries a cargo of hay on the Nile River as it sails past the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)

The Nile flows south to north through 11 African countries before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile flows south to north through 11 African countries before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.

Brick makers rely on silt from the Nile River. (AP)

Brick makers rely on silt from the Nile River. (AP)

Sudanese fishermen sail through river algae while fishing on the Nile River. (AP)

Sudanese fishermen sail through river algae while fishing on the Nile River. (AP)

Nile Ride

Posted: July 1, 2020

Pharaohs, pyramids, tombs, oh my!

Those things might come to mind first when you think of the Nile River. But the Nile touches many places. Egypt is only one of them. And the Nile isn’t just about ancient history. It affects millions of people right now.

Take a Nile ride. Start at the bottom in the Nile Delta—a large area where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Raise the sail as you head upstream for Cairo, Egypt. Here the Nile becomes wide and tranquil. The river creates a swath of green through the dry, tan Sahara Desert. Now STOP. You’ve reached Aswan Dam. This barrier was built to control the mighty river. Next, bump through the Nile’s Great Bend and rocky spots called the Cataracts. After the bend in central Sudan, choose a path. The river splits. The Blue Nile rages through Ethiopia. In flat South Sudan, the White Nile spreads out into a flood plain. It goes slowly here, becoming the world’s largest freshwater swamp.

What would it be like to take this cruise? You’ll have to imagine it. The Nile is not navigable. Explorers and even armies have tried, but you can’t take a boat all the way up it like you could on, say, the Mississippi River. The Nile’s problems are definitely not imaginary. People living near it rely on the snaking river in ways you may not think of.

For example, in Sudan, hundreds of brick makers need the Nile’s silt. They use small kilns (ovens) along the river to bake bricks from wet river clay. The new dam will mean less clay and fewer bricks. Silt and soil—needed by brick makers and farmers—will build up behind the dam instead of washing downstream. Big trouble!

People in crowded Cairo, Egypt, use speedboats and water taxis on the Nile so they don’t have to travel busy streets. Will Ethiopia’s dam leave enough water for river traffic? Or will more people have to drive cars and trucks in already stuffed cities?

God built rivers to flood. Healthy water is moving water. (Maybe that’s why Jesus talks about “rivers of living water” flowing from believers’ hearts. (John 7:38)) Floodwaters rush rich soil to farmers downstream every year. They also clean out waste that builds up. Will a new dam mean a dirtier Nile surrounded by hungrier, thirstier people?