The sad fate of the River Nile – this is a must read!

In this fascinating article, made possible by funding from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, Peter Schwartzstein, who describes himself as a ‘Brit-Yank freelance journalist roving around the Middle East. Currently writing about regional geopolitics for National Geographic and others’, travels the length of the Nile describing its sad plight – starting with the flash floods at its source in Ethiopia – mitigated by climate change – and the problems these cause:

‘When it does rain, the storms are often fiercer, washing over a billion tons of Ethiopian sediment into the Nile each year, which clogs dams and deprives farmers of much-needed soil nutrients.

Population growth has fuelled this phenomenon, as expanding families fell trees to free up more space and provide construction materials. Monster floods have also become much more common.

As crops wither and food prices soar, many rural communities, who have historically relied on steady rains rather than rivers to irrigate their land, have been pitched even deeper into desperate poverty.’

Another ‘hot-button issue’ is the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Causing great excitement and expectation in Ethiopia as a symbol of its economic renaissance, it is looked on very differently by the Egyptians:

‘…to downstream Egypt, which is mostly desert, receives little rain, and consequently relies on the river for more than 95% of its water, the possibility that GERD might cut the Nile’s flow is perceived as an existential crisis.’

The next issue is the problem with pollution that really starts when the river reaches Khartoum in Sudan. Basically in most cities along the Nile water and sewage infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth and so a pollution crisis has occurred, In Sudan,

‘With inadequate rubbish disposal facilities, factories and businesses have taken matters into their own hands, dumping everything from toxic run-off from nearby munitions plants, to unwanted exotic animal parts from the downtown ivory market, into the muddy, chemical-tainted shallows.’

Another problem is increasing desertification – the desert is steadily encroaching upon the fertile soils lining the banks of the Nile and farmers are struggling to hold this back. As the article describes it,

‘A lot of this appears to be due to climate change, and it is happening up and down the Nile valley.

The desert has marched 120km into the scrubland to the south of Khartoum over the past 30 years, the UN Environment Programme says. Temperatures, too, are hitting outrageous new highs, increasing evaporation from the river.

But in northern Sudan, the situation has reached breaking point in large part because many young farmers, whose labour is needed to keep the desert at bay, have been lured away by the promise of easy riches at nearby gold mines.’

The article finishes the ‘the Poisoned Sea’, describing the devastation impact on the waters of the Nile as they flow through Cairo and onwards to the Mediterranean:

‘The banks are laced with rubbish, and the water is gloopy and often gleaming with toxins. Already, farmers are complaining of water shortages in the northern Delta, as the Nile’s increasingly meagre flow struggles to filter through clogged-up irrigation canals.’

Fishermen that once plied its waters are now struggling to scrape a living and what they do catch is almost inedible:

‘For the fishermen who ply their trade around Rosetta, where the western branch seeps into the Mediterranean, the Nile’s shabby state has proven particularly disastrous.

Much of their river catch has died off, and what they do hook looks so unpalatable that they usually won’t eat it. The Nile’s final stretch is so poisonous that even out on the open sea, around the river mouth, few species can survive, fishermen say.’

For the full length article:


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