General Characteristics of the
Nile River Basin

By Alison M. Jones, NWNL Project Director

THE Nile, the world’s longest river, exemplifies the challenges of trans-boundary watershed management. Half the estimated 160 million people in this arid basin, spanning one tenth of Africa, depend on the Nile for survival; yet river overuse threatens further desertification. The Blue Nile, supplying 86% of the Nile’s water, flows from Lake Tana (Ethiopia) to Khartoum (Sudan), where it joins the White Nile. The source of the White is Lake Victoria which is bounded by Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan shores.

Climate change is predicted to shorten wet seasons, increase precipitation and intensify dry periods in the Nile Basin, which already faces chronic drought and deforestation. High sediment loads from increased deforestation and agriculture have severe environmental consequences; and poor sanitation creates dangerous health issues.

The 1959 Nile Waters Treaty grants usage of 87% of the Nile’s fresh water to Egypt and 13% to Sudan — but no water rights are granted to Ethiopia, even though the Blue Nile’s first 1,529 miles are in that country. Lack of irrigation rights greatly reduces Ethiopia’s agricultural output, contributing to dependence on food aid by 2 million Ethiopians. Yet, downstream, the Nile sustains crops in Egypt’s deserts for export. Fortunately, the Nile Basin Institute has created a framework for agreement on riparian rights. Growing populations throughout all the basin’s nations are demanding access to more water. President Anwar Sadat said in 1979, “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”


  • Blue Nile, from Lake Tana
  • White Nile, from Lake Victoria

Other Tributaries

  • Atbara River
  • Bahr el Ghazal and Sobat River
  • Yellow Nile


  • Mediterranean Sea

Cities in the Nile Watershed

  • Jinja
  • Juba
  • Khartoum
  • Cairo

Countries in the Nile Watershed

  • Burundi
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Egypt
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Rwanda
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda