Poverty, water and stability

Sent On: 
Tue, 2019-08-06
Newsletter Number: 

The CAPMAS, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, published the Income, Spending and Consumption survey of 2017/2018 which shows that the percentage of Egyptians that is living under the poverty line increased from 27.8% in 2015 to 32.5% in the last survey. The increase is related to the sudden devaluation of the Egyptian pound with 48% on November 3, 2016 and the gradual dropping of fuel subsidies which resulted in increased inflation. Both were demands of the IMF to obtain a 12 US$ billion loan which was a necessity after years of instability following the Egyptian revolution of 2011. I could feel this in the streets with people frequently complaining about the increase of their costs of living.

Logo is taken from CAMPAS official website


The CAPMAS used a poverty line of 8,827 EgP annually, or 735.5 EgP monthly (about US$ 44.40) compared to 5,700LE in 2015. The poverty line is the minimum income that is believed to be adequate for an individual to meet their basic needs.  The cost of living differs from region to region in Egypt and for this reason the poverty line is not everywhere the same. Assiut, the Egypt Business Directory reported, is the poorest Egyptian governorate with only more than 66% of its population living in poverty, followed by Sohag, Minya and Qena. It is often believed that poverty and violence are related and to a certain extent they are, but Assiut is better capable of reducing violence than Minya. We had the honor of receiving Ḥussayn Abū Ghadīr at our summer school in Zamalek in July this year. He is heading the reconciliation committee of the Governorate of Assiut that is working hard to avoid disputes becoming firebrands. ʿImād ʿAwnī, a local Christian businessman in Assiut, is very happy with the work of this committee.  Port Said is Egypt's richest governorate, followed by Gharbiya and Damietta (Egypt Business Directory, 04.08.2019).


The increased percentage is deeply worrisome. Add to this the half a million refugees Egypt is hosting, many of whom also live in dire poverty. This is the official number provided but real numbers are probably higher. Egypt is hosting these refugees but has no funds to provide for any education or other support. This is a major reason why the Center for Arab-West Understanding (CAWU) is starting its Learning Center. These communities need their own leaders who can help others with education and leadership towards a more hopeful future.


Also worrying is that the population growth increased from 1.8% in 2008 to 1.9% today. The population growth among the poor is substantially higher than that among the middle and higher classes. The population now stands at 101 million while the fertile land in the Delta and the Nile valley is decreasing. Efforts for large scale desert developments are not successful (David Sims, Egypt’s Desert Dreams; Development or Disaster? AUC Press, 2014).


Such a large population on a small surface makes Egypt extremely vulnerable to climate change which results in a gradual increase in the see water level worldwide, including the Mediterranean Sea. An increase of one meter will destroy parts of Egypt’s protective offshore sand belt which has already been weakened because the Aswan Dam resulted in reduced sediment flows to the Mediterranean. “Without this sand belt, water quality in coastal freshwater lagoons will be altered (threatening one-third of Egypt’s fisheries), groundwater will be salinated, and recreational tourism and beach facilities will be inundated. It is predicted that 6.1 million people will be displaced and 4,500 square kilometers of cropland will be lost. Estimated impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) exceeds six percent for a one-meter rise and 16 percent for five-meters (World Bank, 2007)” Ayman F. Batisha writes (Adaptation of Sea Level Rise in Nile Delta Due to Climate Change). 


The International Crisis Group warned in March 2019 that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, under construction since 2011 and due to be completed in 2022 is promising economic benefits for Ethiopia and Sudan, but is expected to reduce Egyptian freshwater supply for its growing population.  


Egypt prior to the 2011 revolution was making (slow) improvements in economy. The population growth had been halted. The Ethiopians had been talking for a long time about constructing a dam but feared an Egyptian response, since Egypt had threatened Ethiopia with a military response if they would indeed build a dam since this would reduce the water supply for Egypt. Yet, with the 2011 revolution, Ethiopia knew that Egypt would not be able to carry out their threats.


The challenges for the Egyptian government to address the increasing percentage of Egyptians living under the poverty line, hosting refugees, the population increase, the effects of global warming and reducing freshwater supplies are huge. Helping Egypt to remain stable is important to the entire region and Europe.



August 6, 2019


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report


A late correction of our May 31 newsletter about the iftar in St. John the Baptist Church. We then wrote "The event, the first of its kind in St. John’s nearly 90 year history, sought to underscore the shared values underpinning both Christian and Muslim religious morality through the lens of the Common Word...." Rev. Paul Gordon Chandler wrote on June 1 that when he was serving the church as pastor “we held three such events. The Iftar events were held on the roof top area of the education building which we renovated with money designated exclusively to create a space for Christian-Muslim dialogue.  We had 60-80 attendants at the Iftar dinner events, and even an imam from Al Azhar came. So it isn't in anyway a "first of its kind."  This correction was not earlier placed due to all attention that has been given in June and July to the organization of our two summer schools for which we offer Rev. Chandler our apologies.