Urbanization In Egypt

Egypt’s capital–Cairo–has been facing the problem of overpopulation since 1960s, the most recent data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics in Egypt stated that within the Cairo governate, the overall urban population density is 117,000 per square mile—1.5 times more than the population density of Manhattan and the ville de Paris.



Within Cairo, there are four different governates, and one that had the most significant gain is the one located in urban Cairo—Giza. It is located at the west bank of Nile river, and is considered the core of the urban area in Egypt. As a comparison, Kalyoubia is located to the north of Cairo and the majority of its population live in rural areas. Overall, from 1937-2012, the growth of the urban area is significantly bigger than that of rural areas.  Many people choose to move to Cairo because it symbolizes concentration of control, resources and countless opportunities in the minds of most people in Cairo, which established a centralized social order by which the whole population aspires the citizenship in Cairo. Therefore, this ambition to acquire citizenship of the metropolitan city generated a huge immigration from rural regions to urban areas.


As a result of Egypt’s rapid urbanization process, an increasing number of buildings and factories was built. Since the 1970s, the brick buildings were built on the farmland with Nile silt that provide rich topsoil for the foundation of agriculture in Egypt. There is a distinctive line between these 12-story, unpainted, brick buildings and the farmland near the capital. Due to the limited amount of lands available, the buildings and farmland are in direct competition.  Greater Cairo hosts about twenty percent of the country’s total population, over 18 million people. In doing so, a growing trend of informal and unsafe ares is generated by this huge presence of urban population. About 1,171 areas in Egypt are considered informal, and 60 percent of these areas are located in Cairo.


The Egyptian government banned building on agricultural land in order to push the expansion of big cities into desert, and to gain the massive new investment. Regardless of the ban on construction on agricultural land, most new construction in Egypt is located on farmland, which is a big problem for the country since only 2.75 percent of its land is suitable for farming. Each year, 16,000 acres of agricultural land are diminishing as a result of new construction projects. A growing trend of informal and unsafe ares is also generated by the huge presence of urban population. About 1,171 areas in Egypt are considered informal, and 60 percent of these areas are located in Cairo.  A contractor could pay a bribe of £230 for an illegal apartment to get power, and £900 for a building to be connected to the grid. The reason that more people are willing to live in these illegal apartments than government supported buildings is that there’s no “soft infrastructure”. Although the government has build roads, pipes, and power lines, there are not enough schools, hospitals, and cultural activities.


Due to the unprecedented rapid urban growth over the past four decades, the infrastructure and service delivery system have troubles keeping up with cities’ population burden. Impoverished people have to settle in unplanned or unsafe areas because there is no public land or workable housing policies. After a while, problems like infrastructure deterioration, insufficient public transportation, high air and noise pollution, and traffic congestion surfaced as the result of improper planning. Urbanization in Egypt affects not only the capital, but also regional capitals, such as the Alexandria, by increasing their population exponentially caused by both the rural population shift and the demographic explosion. Currently, the biggest threat to the natural resources in Egypt is urban expansion and population growth. Water pollution and poor sewage treatment is partly responsible for the high infant mortality throughout Egypt.

Commotion in Cairo

Despite past efforts to restrict the growth of urbanization throughout Egypt it is currently still rapidly increasing. This expansion of settlements began happening shortly after WW ll. The Egyptian officials at that time attempted to limit the amount of development that was taking place. At first, they tried to build housing outside of the city in more rural areas but the problem with this is that there wasn’t a high demand for people to buy houses or even rent apartments.

informal housing cairo

The annual growth of people in cities like Cairo is around 2.3% which is a lot of people per year. This can be seen as a good thing for the economy because the people living there and or moving would be bringing in money. In contrast, the increase in population also causes a downfall. The problem is with jobs being taken away from people who were originally there causing conflict amongst people.

Due to the amount of people living within Cairo, it has caused a major overpopulation of poor or homeless people who are living in the slums in the city. The people living in those conditions do not have the basic resources like water and sewage to use the bathroom. This situation of living is referred to as a ramshackle and over 850,000 people are experiencing this type of living inside of Egypt. Unfortunately, not many people have a choice whether or they live in this condition. One reason is because the people are poor they do not have enough money to move to another location and there is also more food in the city than in the surrounding area.

MDG : Egypt : Women buy bread from the window of a bakery in Cairo

Another reason is the fact that the Nile River, the main water source, experiences drought conditions periodically.

(shown above) The lightest purple color is the most dense area, which is where the capital of Egypt is that being Cairo, one of the biggest cities. Not very clear on this population map is one of the reasons for the significant growth. The Nile river that runs right through Cairo which is one of the main ways people get their water. In the past, parts of the 4,258 mile Nile have unfortunately dried up causing the problem of internal migration. The people who lived in some of the rural areas and countries cannot grow crops without some type of irrigation. This is part of surviving because water is so important considering some of the hot temperatures the country experiences.

Cairo, like many cities in developing countries, is struggling to deal with an increase in population. As people move into the city looking for job opportunities in order to make money, water shortages, food shortages, as well as standard housing shortages are all inevitable. Although, the government has attempted to alleviate these problems by building cheap housing outside of the city it has not been successful. But, there is a new idea to try and make “new towns” that are self-sufficient and far enough away from the big city of Cairo so people cannot commute with ease.


Environmental issues with Urbanization in Iran

In Iran, the recent increase in urban living, mostly due to higher wages and less physical jobs, has had environmental impacts, mostly the formation of a thick smog in major cities and a loss of water in aquifers, lakes, and rivers. Because it is so difficult to make any money through farming, more and more people have moved into the cities for jobs. Poverty and unemployment remain issues in rural areas.


However, other issues plague urban areas. In large cities such as Tehran, a dirty brown layer of smog envelopes the streets for much of the year. The people living in Iran’s capital city have over 260 smog filled days per year, and Iran’s health ministry links this with a rise in respiratory disease. The air pollution, surely in part caused by an increase in urban populations, has gotten so bad that cancer and respiratory illnesses, likely caused by this air pollution, have become the 2nd and 3rd highest causes of death in Iran. 


This image shows the smog and pollution in the now urbanized and highly populated city of Tehran. Air pollution in major cities in Iran has become a huge problem, both from environmental and health reasons.

Pollution has recently become so bad that last December, schools closed in Tehran when the airborne concentration of fine particles in the city was almost eight times the recommended maximum. Approximately 5 million tons of carbon dioxide are being put into Tehran’s atmosphere each year, and many other pollutants are added from low quality domestically-produced gasoline. To make matters worse, the weather phenomenon known as “Temperature Inversion” creates a bubble around the city, trapping pollutants and smog where people are forced to breath it in.


In fact, environmental issues in Iran are such a huge problem that  the World Health Organization named four of Iran’s cities part of the top ten most polluted cities in the world! The Irani government has placed restrictions on cars, banning even and odd license plated cars every other day, alternating. However, this is a short term solution, which doesn’t really solve the problem. Since the government doesn’t have a real plan to get rid of smog (just a way to make less of it) the only solution is to wait indoors until the rain or wind sweeps it away.

Rapid urbanization has hurt the environment in other ways as well. Rivers and lakes that were once important to the the area’s way of life are now drying up, leading to dust storms which hurt livestock and agriculture. Dam building and and increase in water needs in the population due to urbanization has directly affected water use and the desertification of Iran, as well as contributing to the drying out of many aquifers. Water is a much needed resource, and has high baseline water stress due to overuse. In fact, by 2040, Iran is expected to rank 13th-most water-stressed in the world.


There are good reasons to have a higher rural population too. Nomads and other people living in rural areas produce 5.7 million tons of goods per year, including almost 200,000 tons of red meat. Iran actually has over 1 million nomads, 1.25% of the total population. Having high employment rates on farms and in the agricultural sector helps with food security and prevents the difficulties tied to urbanization. In Iran, where the economy is still lagging compared to the rest of the world in terms of technology, rural communities are vital to their way of life. 

Unfortunately, much of Iran’s land is unsuitable for farming and the rest is poor quality. Urban culture and consumerism are also a cause of urbanization and the abandonment of the countryside. The urban lifestyle is just too appealing for young people.

The rapid urbanization in Iran has led to many environmental issues, both for those living in the cities and outside of them.

Extreme Urbanization in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E)

The UAE is naturally blessed with an abundance of natural oils.  This bountiful and profitable resource was not discovered until 1958.  Commercial drilling did not begin until 1962, which replaced the UAE’s previously lucrative and main industry of pearling.  This began the successful and monumental shift in the UAE’s economy and lead the country towards severe industrial changes.

The main features of new infrastructure and urbanization were not built until the late 80s and early 90s, but since then, the UAE’s skyline has developed exponentially.  This development does not only include the UAE’s buildings, but it is also their road system, clean water projects, irrigation, ports, as well as airlines. All construction was implemented under the notion that each project would help to diversify their economy by creating capital intensive businesses based on their oil and gas resources.  

The intricate highway road system and growing skyline of Dubai, UAE.

Within the UAE, there are seven Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah, Ajman, Emirate of Sharjah, and Ras al-Khaimah.  The UAE holds about 8% of the world’s natural gas reserves. When Abu Dhabi discovered oil back in 1958, the seven Emirates looked to shift government policy to focus on using their plentiful oil and gas supply to expand and shift their nation towards industrialization.  The manufacturing of oil has been highly sufficient and has driven the UAE’s economy through the late 20th century into the 21st.


The shift in Dubai, one of the UAE’s booming and wealthiest Emirates from 1973 to 2006.


Dubai from 2000 to 2011

The UAE, throughout all seven emirates, has a population density of 282 people per square mile as of 2014.  About 86% of citizens live within an urban settlement. There was not a significant transition or migration of naturalized citizens into the urban areas once the industrial process began.  Many of the people had already lived within the region where construction began.  However, many non-nationals and expatriates have moved and relocated within the urban settlements, most commonly Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.  Research conducted in 2015 found that only 1% of their some 9.5 million inhabitants, were over the age of 65. The same study found that the youth amassed up to nearly 21% of the population.  The UAE’s population has been primarily centralized within the urban areas.

On a comparative scale, the UAE has found unmatched success in the construction rates of buildings and projects.  Buildings go up in unheard time frames, all roads across the UAE are paved, while flamboyant and excessive projects are composed and constructed constantly.  There are a few questions that must be asked. How does the UAE manage to do this? Who does the work? Where are the supplies coming from? And how long can this last?  The workforce in the UAE is fundamentally made up of expatriates, as almost 90% of workers are not naturalized citizens.  Most of these are from Asian countries, like India and Pakistan, and make up 37% of the total population.  Almost all of these workers, roughly 73%, find work within the service sector. UAE citizens only make up about 20% of the country’s population and very few of them work.  Almost all others living within the country are immigrants.  The rate of infrastructure can partially be explained by the large workforce, but the UAE also implements relatively low and unrestricted building regulations.  

Expatriots walking in Dubai

A serious concern for the UAE and their constant construction is their use of water, supplies and labor.  Those living in rural areas all have access to clean water while only 99.6% of urban residents do.  The UAE uses a lot of water, totaling 1.0 cu mi per year. Almost all water used goes to agriculture, while only 2% is used for industrial purposes, which is low considering the large amount of infrastructure. The country uses many native supplies coming from its vast array of desert. The main imports of the UAE are machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, and food.  When it comes down to it, water and supplies are not a major concern for the future. What must change is the use of intensive labor within the workforce. There have been some comparisons to the treatment of expatriate workers to those of concentration camps during the Holocaust.  

Regardless of future concerns and relatively low current implications, the UAE continues to plan their expansion across all seven Emirates.  The UAE is a very popular tourist destination, and has become a world leader in many categories, such as luxury airlines, shopping outlets and malls, and many, many more.  It is crucial that the UAE revisits parts of its current plan to expand, but in the long-run, the UAE will serve the world in many ways within the future.