The Nile River is one of the most geopolitically significant waterways in the world. It's the lifeblood of Egypt and runs through 10 African countries, providing a regular source for conflict over water rights and distribution.
Egypt could not survive without the Nile. The river is the desert country's primary source of fresh water and irrigation for agriculture. About 99 percent of Egypt's 83 million inhabitants live along the narrow sliver of greenbelt on each bank of the Nile river, covering an area about 22,000 square miles from the Aswan High Dam to the Mediterranean shore. Cairo has historically dominated usage of the Nile waters, but upstream countries are challenging distribution.
Flowing from two main tributaries — the White Nile and the Blue Nile — the river is also a major source of geopolitical contention through much of Central and East Africa. The larger of the two tributaries, the Blue Nile, originates in Ethiopia and the White Nile originates in the Great Lakes region, making it the world's longest river. Cooperation among the Nile river states varies widely and each seeks water usage for agriculture, domestic and industrial uses, as well as the right to build dams for hydroelectric power. Cairo's historic claim to the river is no longer guaranteed, and among the upstream countries, Ethiopia is most active in pursuing self-development projects, like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that could impact Cairo's water usage.