Could mega-dams kill the mighty River Nile? (an interactive report)
Organisation: Al Jazeera
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 23 Jan 2020
Credit: Dr. Essam Heggy, Mohammed Haddad, Zouhaier Hamdani, Mohamed ElAli, Moawia Al Zubair, Carla Bower, Hala Saadani
280 million people from 11 countries live along the banks of the Nile. For Ethiopia, a new mega-dam known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) holds the promise of much-needed electricity. For Egypt, this translates into the fear of a devastating water crisis. “Saving the Nile” is a science-led data visualization explainer measuring the impact Africa’s largest hydro-dam could have on the precious water and agricultural resources of downstream countries. Working in partnership with NASA scientists this story helps Al Jazeera’s global audience – in English and Arabic – understand the normally complex scientific concepts affecting an entire region.
The Renaissance Dam dispute remains one of the African continent’s biggest stories.
As a result, the project was the most viewed and shared content explainer on the subject in 2020 with more than half a million page views and an average time on page of 5 minutes.
The web-based scientific report and models have been cited by various academic papers and research institutes and the sharable social media graphics continue to be shared across various digital platforms today.
The core experience was built using Mapbox Scrollytelling built in React.js
Data models, based on peer reviewed research, were calculated and interpreted using the R programming language. Designs were then rendered as artists’ impressions using the Adobe Suite of tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate and Premiere).
What was the hardest part of this project?
Academic papers are often complex and difficult to understand. “Saving the Nile”, interprets and visualizes complex earth and space concepts without compromising scientific accuracy.
This was particularly important given the polarizing political positions on the GERD project.
Throughout the interactive experience we present readers with animations, quizzes, data visualizations, maps and infographics. Each visualization was carefully crafted to improve readers’ understanding of the sensitive biodiversity along the world’s oldest and longest river. To reach the largest possible audience the story was produced in English and Arabic across digital platforms including Mobile, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. This, to our knowledge, makes “Saving the Nile” one of the most comprehensive resources on the River Nile by a news organization.
What can others learn from this project?
At the time of this writing, Egypt and Ethiopia have still not reached an agreement on the filling of the GERD reservoir.
While this topic will likely remain heavily debated, the environmental data and models provided (and subsequently published) in this story provides readers and policy makers with a scientific perspective on a real-world issue that could impact over 280 million people.