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What happens when economic development can't keep up with population

growth? Economists agree that social and economic development requires a


national income growth rate three times more than the population growth rate.
Hence, it is difficult to overemphasize the importance of controlling
population growth in Egypt.
The most obvious feature of Egypt's population problem is the continued
increase in the population growth rate. Our numbers have doubled from 2.5
million in 1800 to 5 million in 1850, then to 10 million in 1900, and again to
20 million in 1947. This means that the Egyptian population has doubled once
every fifty years over one and half centuries (1800-1950). It took a mere 30
years for the number to double the fourth time around: from 20 million in
1950 to 40 million in 1978. The increase resumed again until the population
reached nearly sixty million, according to the 1996 census. Finally by January,
2006, Egypt`s population had reached nearly 71.348 million inhabitants and is
expected to continue rising throughout the 21st century.
Accordingly, the main challenge currently facing the government is how to
control this population growth rate. The growth rate reached 2.52 per cent
during the period 1960-1966. From 1966-1976 it dropped to 1.92 per cent,
only to rise again to its highest level of 2.75 per cent during 1976-1986.
Subsequently, from 1986-1996, the growth rate dropped to 2.08 per cent, and
it continued to decrease gradually over the last five years to 2.01per cent in
2002, and 1.91 per cent in January 2006.
This population explosion has, furthermore, been accompanied by
uncontrolled internal migration, negatively impacting economic and industrial
development and resulting in increased population density and excess labour,
not to mention the inevitable creation of new slums.
There was a notable absence throughout of any real urbanisation management.
Regrettably, urban development policy in Egypt is characterised by
favouritism, a fact that is obvious considering that most development projects
have been set up in a few select urban and capital centers.
Then there is also a problem of geographical distribution. A characteristic of
Egypt's population growth is that it is coupled by high population density.
Egyptians continue to inhabit a narrow piece of land which constitutes less
than 5.5 per cent of the total area of Egypt. This fact has resulted in a
population density that had reached 70.7 inhabitants/km2 by January 2006.

During the time when population growth rates were characterized by


instability in the second half of the last century, population density continued
to increase, recording 36.28 inhabitants/km2 in 1976, 47.8 inhabitants /km2 in
1986, and increasing once again to 58.76 inhabitants/ km2 in 1996. By 2000
population density had reached 64.05 inhabitants/km2, increasing to 70.7
inhabitants /km2 today.
Despite the overall increase in population density, it is notable that some
governorates suffer from low population density as a result of the
concentration of most of the population in the Nile valley. According to
population estimates in January 2006, population density was highest in lower
Egypt governorates which recorded 914.9 inhabitants/km2, followed by the
urban governorates which recorded 815.1 inhabitants/km2. It is lower in upper
Egypt's governorates, where it reached 151.8 inhabitants/ km2. The lowest
population density is in the frontier governorates which recorded 1.3
inhabitants/ km2.
The high levels of population density naturally led to fierce competition over
the usage of land for agriculture and for housing. These facts highlight the
danger posed by population density to Egypt's ongoing development efforts.
Other negative consequences caused by the population problem and the rising
population growth rates are the decreasing per capita shares of public utilities,
such as the per capita share of potable water, electricity, health, education and
transportation. Furthermore, it obviously affects unemployment and illiteracy
rates, and food shortages as well.
If population growth continues at the same current rates, Egypt's population is
projected to reach 79.4 million by 2011, and 86.6 million by 2016. If the same
growth rates continue further, the population is expected to reach 93.5 million
by 2021.
High population density along the Nile valley, especially in lower Egypt and
the urban governorates, will constitute a huge threat to the per capita share of
public utilities, infrastructure, health, education and public services. For
example, in the case of potable water, assuming an annual population growth
rate of 1.6 per cent by 2016, and 1.5 per cent by 2015, we must also assume
that investments in the water sector would keep up with the increasing
population numbers if we are to maintain a constant level for the per capita
share of potable water during the coming 15 years. If investments in water
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utilities infrastructure did not meet the requirements of the predicted


population growth, it will clearly negatively affect the individual needs of
water sources. This is particularly worrying considering the fact Egypt's share
of Nile river waters is fixed at 55 billion m3. Based on that, the per capita
share of water sources will decrease as the population grows. Per capita water
share amounted to 927 m3 in 1995, then decreased to 850 m3 in 2000,
decreased again in 2005 to 771 m3. It is expected to decrease to 590 m3 by
2026.
Per capita share of sanitation services will also be affected by population
growth and high population density. In 1981/82, the per capita share of
sanitation services amounted to 25 litre/ day. It increased more than fourfold
to reach 110 litre/ day by 2000/2001, only to increase again to 150 litre/day in
2005/2006. It is expected to increase to 225 liter/ day by 2017.
As for the per capita share of electricity, it doubled during the period
1981/1982 -- 1991/1992, increasing from 414 kwh in 1981/1982 to 850 kwh
in 1991/1992. It increased by six per cent annually over the period from
1992/1993 -- 1999/2000, and remained unchanged at the level of 1350 kwh
during the four following years. It resumed its increase again to reach 1450
kwh in 2004/2005. This highlights the importance of increasing investments in
basic infrastructure, including in public utilities.
In conclusion, a three-pronged approach is necessary to address the population
problem in Egypt: decreasing population growth rate, enhancing population
properties, and, finally, seeking a better geographic distribution of our
population.
To solve the population density and the overpopulation problem in Egypt, we
need a carefully planned strategy for new urban communities that would
provide different housing alternatives outside the valley and Delta. The
prerequisite for success is a realization by the Egyptian government that it will
be impossible to attain and sustain higher economic growth within the
confines of the narrow Nile valley while leaving about 95.5 per cent of
Egypt's total land area neglected and unused.

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Population charts