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Issues Middle East: Western

Egypt in Brief

by Jennifer Young

Egypt is a middle-income Arab nation situated in Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. Although Egypt ranks higher on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI), with a value of 0.644, than the national average for the majority of other Arab states, 0.641, it still falls in place 113 out of the 187 countries ranked on the HDI. Egypt’s population numbers around 83,700,000 people and its large population serves as the main hindrance in remedying its development issues.

Social issues include poverty, increasing unemployment for youth and women, food shortages, high rates of illiteracy, housing inadequacies, gender gaps in education, and a continued lack of adequate family health and planning services. Environmental issues include salinity of the soil, waterlogging,, and water pollution. The social issues and the environmental issues are inextricably tied because people affect their environment and the environment affects how people live.

The country had made progress in reducing poverty since the early 1990s, when 24.3% of the population lived below the poverty line; by 2000, it managed to reduce the impoverished population to 16.7% but this trend slowly began reversing as the twenty-first century proceeded and by 2008, 20% of Egypt’s population were back under the poverty line. Discrimination is the main cause of unemployment for youth and women and leads to an exacerbation of the problem of poverty. Food shortages, illiteracy, and lack of access to housing and family planning services are all symptoms of poverty.

One of the main reasons so many Egyptians are destitute is because of the lack of cultivatable land in Egypt. The majority of Egypt’s climate is infertile, arid desert. The Nile River and Nile River Delta serve as the main sources of water and arable land. Rainfall is generally little and unpredictable throughout the year, with an annual average at around 51 mm. Thus, around 97% of the Egyptian population lives in or around the Nile River region. This puts an immense strain on the little water resources that the country has. A variety of environmental health problems have occurred as a result.

Salinization, or the transformation of nonsaline soil to saline soil has occurred from land degradation due to over farming and improper irrigation, using brackish water in the north of the Delta. Salinization and “waterlogging” or the saturation of soil with water due to flooding, have hindered farming, exacerbating the already troublesome social issues in Egypt. The more saline the soil becomes, the less fertile it is, leading eventually to desertification. Unsustainable farming, salinization, and desertification are factors in a vicious circle. Thankfully, Egypt has implemented drainage systems in 80% of the affected areas in an attempt to mitigate the effects of salinization and waterlogging. It is still to be determined as to the success of these efforts.

A very deep-seated issue in Egypt’s infrastructure is water pollution. This is not something that is an effect of the environment on the people; people are purely responsible for trashing their surroundings. Egypt’s Ministry of Environment recently implemented new legislation to enforce the proper treatment of industrial and municipal wastewater. There is also a movement to increase organic farming and reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to improve water quality and thus, environmental health. Certain water-transmitted diseases, like bilharzia and schistosomiasis, are still present, especially in rural areas of Egypt. This is another incentive for the Egyptian government to improve water potability, particularly since the most severely affected cohort of the Egyptian population is school-age children.

While Egypt has a substantial burden of social and environmental issues, it is clear that its government is making a concerted effort to remedy both of these areas, in comprehensive ways that recognize that water health and social health are dependent upon one another.

Water Scarcity in the Middle East

by Jennifer Young

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