The Too Fertile Crescent: Egypt’s Fertility Rate Starts Growing Again

June 8, 2015 • Daily Email Recap

The too fertile crescent

The challenge of Egypt’s rising fecundity

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MOTORISTS stuck in the traffic on Cairo’s Salah Salam highway need only look up for a clue to one cause of their misery. Looming above the road, a red digital ticker on the wall of the statistics agency displays Egypt’s population in real time: over 88m people, and counting. During one ten-minute jam in April the number went up by 21, tweets an aghast driver.


Population growth in the Middle East, though higher than everywhere but sub-Saharan Africa, has been slowing thanks to falling fertility rates, the measure used by demographers for the number of children a woman is likely to have. But after 50 years of decline, the fertility rate in Egypt, the region’s most populous nation, is now back up to 3.5. That is lower than in Iraq and Yemen where it is over four, but above Saudi Arabia and Iran, which with 77m has the second-largest number of people in the region. Since infant mortality is falling and life expectancy increasing, the population will surely start growing faster.


That would be “catastrophic”, says one researcher in Cairo. By 2050 the UN thinks Egypt could be home to up to 140m people; and they live on just over 5% of its land, along the Nile and coast, since the rest is desert. Only with fewer than 55m people would the country escape being classed as “water poor” (with less than 1,000 cubic metres of water per person a year), says Atef al-Shitany, head of family planning at the health ministry. Shabby schools and hospitals are increasingly overburdened.


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