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Rivers form the backbone of many continents and nations, sustaining fertile valleys that are ideal for farming and growing crops. This is especially true in otherwise dry desert areas where rivers are sometimes the only way of keeping alive. Sometimes irrigation systems are needed because the rain that falls in the area is too little to sustain a decent society. Along longer and wider rivers, it's also possible to have a navigable part where large ships provide goods and ports and cities develop along its shores. Apart from being a much needed supply of water for living, rivers can also play a much larger part in a society's culture or religion, like the Ganges in India. Rivers also host a wide variety of flora and fauna, not only in or immediately around the river, but sometimes stretching for hundreds of kilometres from the main river. A good example is the Amazon River where, after the wet season, almost half of the South American continent is flooded.
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The Niger is the principal river of western Africa, extending about 4,180 kilometres. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands in the south east of Guinea. It runs through Mali, Niger, Benin and Nigeria, and into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Before the river reaches the Atlantic Ocean, it spreads out into a massive delta, that makes up about 7.5% of Nigeria's land mass. The delta is also known as the oil rivers, due to the production of palm oil in the region in the past. The Niger is the third-longest river in Africa, exceeded only by the Nile (see below) and the Congo River.
The Nile river is one of the biggest rivers in the world, flowing from central Africa in a northern direction and ending in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea. With a total length of 6,650 kilometres, it was generally thought to be the largest river in the world, but recently this has been questioned because of new measuring methods which ended up having the Amazon as the longest river in the world.
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The Nile has two major tributaries: the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The source of the White Nile is Lake Victoria on the border of Uganda and Tanzania, but many rivers actually feed the lake itself, so the actual source might be more to the south in the mountains of Rwanda. The Blue Nile, which is shorter than the White Nile, springs from Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands. It's the source of most of the Nile's water and fertile soil. Both rivers meet in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
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The Ganges is well known for being the holy river in Hinduism. The water of the Ganges comes from many smaller and bigger streams from the western Himalayas in the Uttarakhand state. These smaller streams converge into the Ganges. The river is not only a holy river but it also supports many Indian cities located on the banks of the river. Because of this the Ganges is one of the most contaminated rivers in the world. In Bangladesh the river is joined by branches of the Brahmaputra river creating a huge delta. Melting snow in the Himalaya can cause severe flooding in spring.
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third longest in the world. It flows for 6,418 kilometres from the glaciers in the Tibetan Himalayan Mountains to the east into the East China Sea near Shanghai. The river together with the Yellow River has been important in the history of China by means of irrigation, transportation and sanitation. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world. The stretch of the Yangtze flowing through deep gorges in western Yunnan is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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The Danube has it origins in Germany near Donaueschingen. Here two small rivers unite to form the Danube. During its way to the Black Sea it passes through many countries, and no less than 4 capitals: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. The river is also famous for the piece of music that Johann Strauss jr wrote in 1867: "An der Schöne Blaue Donau". The Danube is connected to the Rhine by means of the 171 kilometres long Rhine–Main–Danube Canal which was completed in 1992 and which makes it possible for ships to get from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Sulina in Romania.
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The Rhine river starts as two smaller rivers, the Vorderrhein and the Hinterrhein in the mountains of Switzerland. They join each other just south of Liechtenstein. After passing the Rhinefalls near Schaffhausen, it flows into Lake Constance. Until Basel the river continues to flow to the west, but here it changes its direction to the north. Here it passes through the wide Rhine Valley between France and Germany, the Eiffel mountains, where it is joined by the Mosel, and the Ruhrgebied, Germany's industrial area. After that it bends to the west again, and into the Netherlands, where is divides itself into 3 rivers: The Nederrijn, the Waal that flow to the west, and the IJssel that heads north. For many kilometres the Rhine is the border between several countries, and even in the past it was the border of the Roman Empire. Today it is an important transport route within the west of Europe, connecting the harbour of Rotterdam, one of the biggest in the world, with the Ruhrgebiet and beyond.
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The Mississippi river is the longest river in North America with a total length of 3,734 kilometres. Together with the Missouri and Jefferson River systems it is regarded as the 4th longest river in the world, with over 6,300 kilometres. The Mississippi river itself originates at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and flows through 10 states before ending in the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Along with the Missouri River it draines all or parts of no less than 31 of the US states.
The Amazon is the largest river in the world. Although it competes with the Nile regarding the length of the river, it is definitely the largest when it comes down to the total amount of water. The total river flow is bigger than the next 10 largest rivers combined! The Amazon Basin is the largest drainage basin anywhere on this planet and just after the wet season the total land area covered by water is over 3 times larger than during the dry season, influencing life in almost all South American countries, except Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
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The Amazon Rainforest is the world's most precious ecosystem with a high biodiversity and an important place for both animals and Indian tribes. The Amazon river has its source high in the Peruvian Andes and flows for almost 7,000 kilometres before ending in the world's largest delta which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
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