Back in 1994 the UN had a major conference about the issue of global population, in Cairo. Unfortunately there was no international agreement reached about the need for countries to stabilise their populations, and we have seen since then global population, which for most of human history was less than one billion, increasing by a billion every 13 or so years. We are now at 7 billion and tracking for 9 or even 10 billion by mid-century.
Ironically one of the countries which has suffered most from the failure of the Cairo Conference was Egypt itself. In 1948 Egypt’s population was less than 20 million. It added a further 20 million by 1975, and another 20 million by 1994, the time of the Conference, and another 20 million to reach 80 million by 2011. The UN says that continuing high fertility rates would see Egypt reach 100 million by 2025 and 140 million by 2050.
In fact Egypt’s birth rate for the last three years exceeds the UN’s “high” projections. The number of births in the 1990s was 1.6 million on average. This increased to around 1.8 million births in the first decade of this century. There were 2.4 million births in 2011 and 2.6 million in 2012, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Back in 1950 Egypt had the same number of births as Italy. By 1977 it had the same number as Italy and France combined. By 2000 it matched the combined total of Italy, France and Spain, and by 2012 the combined total of Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The consequences of this rapid population growth are plain for all to see – violent, debilitating conflict over access to scarce resources. The world’s leaders need to tell Egypt’s leaders that they need to stop focussing on today’s battles for just long enough to draw attention to the underlying problem, and the need to reduce their birth rate to more traditional levels. If they do not, it is entirely predictable that there will be more conflict and misery in future, not less. It is entirely predictable that many people will seek to escape the conflict and misery, ending up in boats headed for islands in the Mediterranean and other destinations. It is also predictable that religious leaders will urge the world to be compassionate and welcoming – religious leaders from the same religious organisations that worked hard at the Cairo Conference in 1994 to scuttle and undermine attempts to stop rapid population growth.