Nile River Water Threatened by Climate Change

Nile River Water Threatened by Climate Change

Although ancient and legendary it’s future is in peril — Nile River water threatened by climate change. A north-flowing river in Africa, the Nile is one of the world’s longest waterways with ancient archaeological sites along its path. The Nile is also an essential source of water, providing water for hundreds of millions of people in 11 countries. For many Africans, the Nile is their only source of water. The Nile provides Egypt, for example, with 85% of its water, and a shortage may be coming as soon as 2025.

The entire Nile region is facing double threats of population growth and climate change. The growing population in the upper Nile basin, which includes Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda, is projected to double by the year 2040, from 200 million to 400 million. Climate scientists predict hotter and dryer years to come. Record-setting years may increase by a factor of 1.5 to 3, according to researchers, even if global warming is limited to an average of 2 degrees C.

Researchers from Dartmouth College, using climate models, population projections, and the history of crop failures, created a projected model for the next fifty years of the Nile. The study, published in the August 25th issue of the scientific journal Earth’s Future, notes both the upper Nile basin and the lower basin, fed by rainfall from the upper, will be impacted acutely by water shortages.

Further complicating the issue, a massive hydroelectric dam is being built on the Nile in Ethiopia. Named the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the project will cost between $4 and $6.4 billion. It is projected to project approximately 15 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. The Hoover Dam in the US produces only a third of that amount. In Ethiopia, where over half the population does not have access to electricity, this project will create significant change.

However, this massive reservoir will require anywhere from 5 to 15 years to become completely filled. Prior studies have indicated that climate change could alter the flow of the river up to 50%, with alternating years of drought and flooding. In the fifteen years, it will take to fill the reservoir; water flowing from the Nile into Egypt could decrease by 25%.

With these kinds of numbers in place, the dam has created political tension, and this tension will increase as water becomes more scarce. Researchers predict that by 2030, Nile waters will not be adequate, and between 20-40% of those dependent on the river for water will struggle with scarcity even when precipitation is normal.

Political discussions between Ethiopia and Egypt over the impact of the dam are currently at a standstill. Mohamed Abdel Aty, Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, called the situation “a national security issue” when speaking with the BBC last year.

By 2080, approximately 170 million people are projected to be impacted by water scarcity even during “normal” years. Further reductions of up to 20% during years that are excessively warm and dry will create what researched have termed “negative shocks.” In times of negative shock, between 30 to 55% of the population (an estimated 200 million) will experience water scarcity. These adverse shocks will continue to increase in length and frequency.

Rainfall is projected to increase over the same period; however, it’s not the decisive factor that might be expected. Heavy rainfall could create a destructive cycle of floods and droughts termed “precipitation whiplash.”

Temperature increases are relatively easy to model; however, precipitation is one of the most challenging changes to predict. The reality is that rainfall might not increase. If precipitation declines or remains constant, hot, dry years will become more frequent than projected, according to researchers. In that future, water scarcity for the countries that rely on the Nile could become even grimmer.

SOURCE: 250 million people rely on the Nile for water that may not exist by 2080