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The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Jul 31, 2010

Population Growth and Shortages of Housing

Population growth and the lack of an economic development strategy have contributed to high unemployment rates and an increase in the number of people who are living in poverty in the Arab world. The negative impact of this is also reflected in a shortage of housing in most Arab states. The cost of buying homes or an apartment in any Arab state is beyond the financial abilities of the majority of people due to low income or unemployment. In some Arab states such as Egypt, the majority of people have been living mainly in rented apartments where the cost of the lease has been frozen for many decades. Usually, upon the death of parents, their offspring will inherit the lease. The owners of the property can't evict them, nor can they increase the rent. Therefore, property owners are subsidized dwellers. This situation is a major factor that over the years discourages investors from building residential homes to rent. There is a way to escape the law when the owner leases a furnished apartment or a house. Then the owner will set the rent scale and have the power to evict the tenant based on a written contract. There are other factors that contributed to the scarcity of housing and living accommodations, such as the influx of people from rural to urban centers in search of a job in all populated states. Most of the recent migrants from rural areas are concentrated in what is referred to in Egypt as "al-ashwaiat" or squatters settlements. These settlements have been increasing due to the increase in population. The squatters' settlements were built in violation of building codes and with no basic amenities, such as sewage systems, water or electrical power. Recently, the Egyptian government announced the allocation of 600 million Egyptian pounds in the current budget to develop "al-ashwaiat" in Egypt. Reference was made to build 212,000 housing units from 2010-2017 to replace the unhealthy type of living accommodations for millions of people. Also, to construct basic infrastructure, such as sewers, water and electrical power. The report revealed that there are 404 squatter settlements that are unsafe to live in, in various governorates in Egypt (www.ahram.org, 7/19/2010). There are other official studies that revealed that the squatter settlements in Egypt exceed 1,034 in 32 governorates.

Since the unemployment is high among people residing in squatter settlements, this situation encourages some women to work in homes as domestic servants. This situation sometimes leads to young women being raped by some male member of the household. IN some cases, due to the extreme poverty conditions, some females also resort to prostitution to support their families. This situation is now recognized as a universal phenomenon, which is also attributed to poverty (www.almasry-alyoum, 7/25/10).

Another factor that is attributed to the influx of people from rural to urban areas in the Arab world is that urban areas attract young men when they finish high school and they move to seek employment Some young men join higher academic institutions and after they graduate, the majority do not go back home.

The population increase in Cairo, as a result of natural birth and influx from rural to urban areas, led many people who were unable to pay rent to resort to the city of the dead a burial area, seeking shelter.

The Egyptian census reported that the number of people living in the city of the dead exceeds one million and a half people (www.almasry-alyoum.com, 12/10/2009). According to the World Bank, there are around 16 million people who inhabit informal and squatter settlements in Egypt. This is equal to one fifth of Egypt’s population. Furthermore, the Egyptian census reveals that four in five people inhabit tiny flats rather than houses, and there are fewer rooms than people living in such types of accommodations.

One of the shared common problems in the Arab world is the fact that electrical power shortages and water scarcity are getting to be common phenomenon. Population growth increases the demands for such basic needs. The higher the population density, the more difficulties the public will face, even in commuting from place to place through heavy traffic and overcrowded transportation systems. During my latest trip to Cairo, the metropolitan urban center resembled an urban jungle. Cairo was built to accommodate 3-4 million people, but its latest size exceeds 17 million people. Every morning, 2-3 million people enter Cairo and leave in the late afternoon. As a result of the crowded streets and neighborhoods of Cairo, a new suburban expansion began to develop during the past two decades on the outskirts of Cairo. The new communities are gated and secured for the benefits of those who live in such suburbs. I have visited some friends who are living in gated communities and they have all they need close to the area in which they live. These new communities even adopted Western names such as Dreamland, Mayfair, Beverly Hills and others. Residential flats are available only to people who have the capability to buy. The cost fluctuates from 500,000 to 2 million Egyptian pounds for a flat and as high as 5-10 million Egyptian pounds for a villa. Such accommodations are built to accommodate no more than members of the upper 15% of the population.

Keep in mind that the majority of Arab population lives in states where the GDP (PPP) is below $6,000. If this new urban trend continues, it will lead to a spatial separation between the rich and poor in urban cities in Egypt.

1 comment:

  1. For those interested in population issues, please visit the Global Population Speak Out and take a Pledge: