x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

UN warns that Egypt's population is set to triple to 290m

Report says Egypt and Yemen, two countries struck by unrest linked to high youth unemployment, food prices and a desire for more political freedoms, face potential huge population increases.

Employees of the public health sector shout slogans as they rally in Cairo yesterday to demand better wages and working conditions.
Employees of the public health sector shout slogans as they rally in Cairo yesterday to demand better wages and working conditions.

NEW YORK // Egypt's population will more than triple to 291 million by the end of this century if fertility rates remain at their current elevated levels, according to a UN report on demographic trends.

The United Nations says the world population is expected to hit seven billion later this year and could become unsustainably high at 14 billion by 2100 unless developing countries bring birth rates under control.

It warns of big potential population increases in Egypt and Yemen, two countries struck by unrest linked to high youth unemployment, food prices and a desire for more political freedoms.

If the average Egyptian woman continues having 2.9 children, the population will grow from 84.5m last year to 291m in 2100. If Yemen's fertility rate remains stable at 5.3, a resource-poor nation could witness 18-fold growth from 24.3 million last year to 434 million people at the end of the century.

"Egypt has seen a decline in fertility but still has a moderately high fertility rate," said Hania Zlotnik, the director of the UN Population Division, which compiled the 30-page report.

"If Egypt does not continue to reduce fertility rates, they will have a huge problem because it is the most populous country in that region, with economic problems and questions about feeding, educating and finding jobs for its population."

Uncontrolled population growth is not a problem across the whole region. The UAE, for example, will only see a little over a doubling of its population from 4.7m last year to 10.3m at the end of the century if fertility rates remain stable.

Ms Zlotnik's UN division produced six projections of potential future population trends based on different changes to fertility rates and other factors. In the medium scenario, world population peaks at 9.4 billion in 2070 and then starts to decline.

But she says there are no guarantees that the world population will stabilise, because not all countries with medium and high fertility rates are doing enough to bring population growth under control.

While governments would be wise to track their population trends, they are not the direct cause of political upheavals of the kind that have recently rocked Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, Ms Zlotnik said. Latin American countries have comparably high fertility rates and young populations but are not having similar turmoil.

"What's happening in the Middle East is a political and a social problem," she said. "Of course, you have to have people to have social and political problems, but it's not a question of numbers alone."

Tunisia, where demonstrations led to the ousting of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month, was the "poster child" of North African population analysts, a low-income country with low fertility rates, she said.

Tunisia's population of 10.4m last year will grow to only 11.3m by the end of the century if it maintains its current fertility rate, and could even see a drop in total numbers.

jreinl@thenational.ae