It would seem like determining the length of a river -- even one touted as the longest in the world -- would be an easy task. The problem is that there are differing opinions about the true length of the Nile because of a lack of consensus regarding where the river really begins and ends. It also depends on who reports the measurements.
There is a longstanding feud of sorts between Brazilians claiming the Amazon River is the longest river in the world and Egyptian support of the Nile's status as the longest river. In 2006, a comprehensive expedition of the Nile with the aid of high-tech equipment for mapping determined that the river is 4,175 miles (6,719 kilometers) long, but many sources just record it as being "more than 4,000 miles" long. The explorers of this expedition also discovered that the true longest source of the Nile is not Lake Victoria, as was originally thought, but somewhere in the Nyungwe forest, which is located in Rwanda [source: Lovgren]. Efforts to identify the Nile's longest source meant traveling through dangerous and uncharted forests. Mapping the source of the Amazon proved challenging as well. The South American river's source is wide, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly where it begins [source: Roach].
Current figures from unbiased sources, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, place the Nile as the world's longest river at 4,132 miles (6,650 kilometers), the Amazon at 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) and China's Yangtze River in third place at 3,915 miles (6,301 kilometers). To put it in perspective, the longest U.S. river is the Missouri at 2,540 miles (4,088 kilometers) [source: USGS].
Regardless of the ongoing debate, these rivers all are important to their local ecosystems and economies. The Amazon River boasts the most biodiversity of any river system and the greatest size by volume. About 300 million people who are among the world's most impoverished people live in the countries through which the Nile flows. Waters from the Nile River support up to 40 percent of Kenya's population, even though the country doesn't lie within the river's basin [source: MSNBC]. Oddly enough, the Nile river flows from south to north, passing through nine countries in Africa, namely Egypt¸ Ethiopia, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Zaire.
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