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Some facts about the Middle-East

By Steven Meyer - posted Thursday, 5 May 2011


Maps can be deceptive. On an atlas Australia looks enormous, an island-continent of 7.7 million square kilometers.

But this is not a true picture of Australia. A better way to think of Australia is as an archipelago about the size of France surrounding a desert sea. Much of Australia is barely habitable.


Similarly, anyone who really wants to understand Egypt needs to look at this remarkable satellite image.

Egypt is not a large rectangular country with a surface area greater than New South Wales. It is a small Y-shaped country that exists mostly along the banks of the Nile and its delta. The effective area of Egypt is roughly half the size of Tasmania.

The rest is largely uninhabitable desert. It may be labeled “Egypt” on the map but most of it is not really part of Egypt.

Egypt has a population slightly greater than Germany’s, around 82 million to be (relatively) precise. In round numbers that’s three and a half times the population of Australia.

Imagine cramming 3.5 Australias into half of Tasmania and you get the picture.

The population of Egypt is still growing. Even the most conservative projections forecast a population increase of 10-12 million over the next decade. (The current growth population growth rate is 1.96% per annum so this forecast assumes a sharp drop in fertility.)


Assuming the conservative forecast pans out, add another half an Australia to the 3.5 Australias already living in half of Tasmania.

You now have a four Australias living in half of Tasmania.

Despite heroic efforts Egypt is unable to feed itself. Wheat production rose from 1.5 million tons in 1960 to 8.5 million tons in 2010 but this is well short of demand. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Egypt will need to import 10.2 million tons in 2011. This makes Egypt the world’s largest wheat importer.

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About the Author

Steven Meyer graduated as a physicist from the University of Cape Town and has spent most of his life in banking, insurance and utilities, with two stints into academe.

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