The ultimate water journeys

The two award-winning TV documentaries The History of Water and The Future of Water present for the first time a broad, comprehensive story of how human battles with water have shaped our past and will shape our future. They contain moving and detailed accounts from a global journey to almost 40 countries on five continents.

The third instalment in this series is the Nile Quest (2014) which tells the fascinating story of the longest, most mythical and politically intriguing river in the world. It shows the peoples and animals that live in its basin and analyses the power struggle that currently takes place regarding control of the river.

The Nile Quest

In his new TV documentary series, ‘The Nile Quest’, UiB Professor Terje Tvedt takes us on a spectacular journey through the history of the fabled river to today’s looming conflict over the control of the Nile’s precious but limited resource.

Longer than any other river, the River Nile crosses three climatic zones from a trickle in the rain forests of the heart of Africa through gigantic lakes, the world’s largest swamp and through a ruthless desert. The Nile supports the lives of 350 million people as it winds its way through 11 countries on its way to the Mediterranean.

The Nile Quest
Watch all three episodes of the Nile Quest (in Norwegian) at

But its water is also a source of conflict and power struggles, at the same time as parts of the Nile Basin have been the very symbols of African misery: drought, genocide, state failure and aid dependency.

River of life and death
Professor Tvedt takes the viewers on a journey through the giant river system’s history up to the present. In meetings with ordinary people and heads of states he seeks answers to how a potential conflict can be averted.

Population growth, new technology and environmental changes all make the scramble for its water increasingly urgent. Developments, as the Arab Spring and subsequent instability in Egypt, the creation of a new state in Southern Sudan, and Ethiopia’s decision to build one of Africa’s biggest dam on Egypt’s lifeline, have exacerbated the struggle.

“The population of the countries in the Nile Basin has grown from about 86 million in 1950 to around 500 million now while it is expected to be close 900 million by 2050. Combined with their economic aspirations, the stage is set for a regional power struggle over this scarce and extremely valuable resource. Let us hope that the stage is not set for another ‘water war’ in the Nile basin”, says professor Tvedt.

Terje Tvedt is one of the world’s foremost experts on the role of water in societies around the world. His previous documentaries include ‘A Journey in the History of Water’ (1997), an award-winning TV series broadcasted in more than one hundred countries. The sequel ‘The Future of Water’ was awarded “Gullruten” for best documentary in 2008 at the annual award for Norwegian TV. Dr Tvedt is also author of numerous books. Last year he published the book collection ‘Nile – river of history’ which received rave reviews.

Shifting balance of power
The Nile has been central to some of the most grandiose projects the world has seen: it brought the building blocks to the pyramids and provided the economic basis for the first, powerful Egyptian civilization. The Aswan High Dam of the 1970s was a potent symbol of the awakening of the non-Western world.

“Tutankhamun, Caesar, Churchill, Nasser, Clinton and Bin Laden all made ​​world history on its shores. Now, at the end of the post-colonial era, Africa is really moving forward economically, socially and politically. This will radically change the struggle for power over the Nile – and this will have global consequences,” says Professor Tvedt.

The balance of power in the region is shifting. Egypt, which has always existed on the grace of the Nile, is weakened and Ethiopia has teamed up with states further upriver, pushing to rewrite the old colonial Nile treaties and the 1959-treaty, which give Egypt the right to most of the Nile waters.

“We have tried to make a film about these power struggles that does not take side for one or the other protagonist, but that seeks to understand the position of each country and the unique role the river once more plays in world history”, says Tvedt.

Help – Five TV documentaries

“Help” is a collection of five TV documentaries dealing with what Tvedt calls “the goodness regime”.  The series approaches the Norwegian self-image and world-view in a time when this small country (0.01 per cent of the global population) aimed to become world champion in development aid and a global humanitarian power.

Tvedt made the films together with Anne Marie Groth, Per Christian Magnus and Robert Reinlund.

A drop of luxury
(En dråpe luksus) TV2, 2010

Watch it on Vimeo
A critical investigation of the bottled water company Voss Water. The documentary is a critique of the culture of Charitainment and power, as Voss Water and its charity business involves one of the most influential families in Norway.

The white do-gooders
(De hvite hjelperne) TV2, 2007

Watch it on Vimeo
This documentary displays the fraud behind the “white lorries” depicted as one of the largest and most successful aid projects in Norwegian history. The project was stopped soon after this documentary was aired.

The Norwegian State Missionaries
(De norske statsmisjonærene) TV2, 2004

Watch it on Vimeo
This documentary reveals a national schizophrenia. On one hand Norway considers itself a neutral humanitarian power. But on the other hand the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs engages people, who proclaim themselves Christian fundamentalists, as political envoys abroad.

The Hired Norwegian Diplomats
(De norske leiediplomatene) TV 2, 2004

Watch it on Vimeo
Documents the failed mobilization by the Norwegian state in water diplomacy in the Middle East.

“A drop of luxury” nominated

The documentary “En dråpe luksus” (A drop of luxury) was nominated to the national TV-award programme “Gullruten”. The documentary interrogates the idea and praxis of corporate responsability displayed through the company Voss Water.

View the film (in Norwegian only)

A drop of luxury was broadcast on Norwegian TV2 in October 2010.

Read feature and interview at the UiB news magazine På Høyden

The Future of Water

This award-winning series takes as a starting point that water and the fight to control it have shaped human societies from the dawn of civilization to the present, and that it also will shape our future.  

The series (3 progr. à 52 min) tells the story of how the struggle to control and use water will have great impact on political power relations world wide and influence war and peace and the destinies of countries and entire continents. This is especially the case in a period when fear of climatic changes has become a dominant worry worldwide, and when all societies have to prepare for changes in the water landscape.

Youtube trailer of A journey in the future of Water

A Journey in the History of Water

A Journey in the History of Water tells the dramatic story of how the struggle for fresh water has shaped human society to a remarkable extent. The series brings the viewer to about 20 countries all over the world and shows in fascinating variety how people have coped with what is societies’ lifeblood – water.

This video is based on the television series “History of Water” which won the Grand Prix on 17th International Environment Film Festival and has been shown in more than 150 countries and sold to about 50 TV-stations, including the National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel and Al Aribya Network.

The white do-gooders

The White Do-Gooders (De hvite hjelperene ). Documentary, broadcast on Norwegian TV2, 2007.

By Anne Marie Groth, Per Magnus, Robert Reinlund and Terje Tvedt

Watch it on Vimeo

Jan Egeland, Jonas Gahr Støre og Norges Røde Kors har med 100 millioner kroner i støtte fra Utenriksdepartementet sendt 367 militære, førti år gamle lastebiler til Afrika som norsk nødhjelp. Bilene fungerte ikke som det ble sagt og lovet, var dobbelt så dyre som transport med moderne biler, og viste seg å være miljøbomber som etter kort tid endte på bilkirkegård.

I “Pesten” skrev Albert Camus: “Ondskapen som forekommer i verden skyldes nesten alltid uvitenhet, og den gode viljen kan forårsake nesten like mange ulykker som ondskapen, om den ikke er bestemt av kunnskaper.” Slik oppsummerte den franske forfatteren verdenshistorien i 1947.

Et nasjonalt godhetsregime
I løpet av de siste tiårene er det utviklet et helt nytt politikkfelt hvis posisjon nettopp hviler på forestillingen om at det iverksetter Den gode vilje . I en bok for Makt- og demokratiutredningen beskrev jeg systemets norske utgave som et nasjonalt godhetsregime . Dette regimet forvalter et stadig mer sentralt politikkområde, forsterket av at Norge har profilert seg som en verdensmester i bistand og som en humanitær stormakt.Det har produsert dominerende norske verdensbilder og selvbilder og beskrivelser av verdens utviklings- og fattigdomsproblem, og gir dets ledere politisk makt og en særegen moralsk autoritet. Politikkfeltets formål er å skape utvikling i andre land, men “omdømmehåndtering” eller “image management” i Norge er blitt stadig viktigere, siden det bestemmer innflytelse og ressurser.
Nødhjelpernes egne fortellinger

Mediene har i høy grad fortalt nødhjelpens egne fortellinger, og har, når de har forsøkt å finne ut hva som faktisk har skjedd, ofte støtt på godhetsregimets hersketeknikk: Dere ødelegger for den gode sak. I TV2s dokumentar “De hvite hjelperne” i kveld fortelles historien om hvordan 367, omtrent førti år gamle, militære lastebiler er blitt sendt av Norge og Røde Kors for å redde nødlidende i Afrika. Etter tiår med humanitær bistand er dette en av svært få uavhengige beretninger om en nødhjelpsoperasjon – og den største i Røde Kors’ historie.

Ubehagelig historie
Det er en ubehagelig historie å fortelle fordi den handler om nasjonens fremste idealer, men nettopp derfor kan den bidra til offentlig diskusjon om norsk nødhjelps- og utenrikspolitikk. Aksjonen startet som en demonstrasjon av norsk givervilje: Flere hundre frivillige brukte en sommerhelg i 2002 på å hvitmale over 200 lastebiler gitt av Forsvaret, næringslivet ga maling og diesel, og Utenriksdepartementet ga 21 millioner kroner. I Drammen ble bilene kjørt inn på et Leif Høegh-skip, som fraktet dem gratis til Durban, Sør-Afrika. Der, i det sørlige Afrika, sto 12 millioner mennesker i fare for å dø, sa Røde Kors.

Les resten av kronikken, publisert i Aftenposten 5. mars 2007