Let’s not ignore demography as potential driver to conflict & migrations – populations Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt more than quadrupled between 1950 and onset of Arab Spring

According to UN Population Division data, as charted below for Egypt, Syria and Yemen (Libya missing in chart) the population in various key countries doubled twice in little over 50 years.

Population growth in Syria, Yemen and Egypt
Dramatic (partly projected) population growth in Syria, Yemen and Egypt between 1950 and 2050. Data: UN Population Division, graph: bitsofscience.org.

In 1950 a total of 29.8 million people lived in the four countries. By 2010 this had increased to 132.6 million – a rise of 345 percent (or in other words increased by a factor 4.45).

Almost 8 times as many people, in one century..? 

According to UN forecasts (medium variant) the combined population of Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya might rise to 191.5 million people by 2030 and 243.6 million people by 2050. That represents an increase of the total combined population in these countries by a factor 8.17 (or +717 percent) in 100 years time.

Yemeni population almost tripled in 30 years before uprising(!)

Syria and Yemen have seen a faster population growth in recent years than Egypt and Yemen. In Syria the population grew by a factor 2.3 between 1980 and 2010, from an estimated 8,956,000 to 20,721,000 people. In Yemen the population increased with 193 percent, from an estimated 8,059,000 to 23,592,000.

Population growth table Syria Yemen Egypt Libya
Population growth table excerpt for various Arab Spring countries. In Yemen the population almost tripled in the 30 years (1980-2010) leading up to the Arab Spring (January 2011) – Syria showed a similar population increase. Source: UN Population Division.

Increasing droughts + continued population growth = ?

In most of the mentioned countries Arab spring uprisings started in January 2011. Other proclaimed drivers of this revolution (next to possible cultural and technological changes [turns out even we are on Twitter these days!]) have been fluctuations in food and energy prices and most notably prolonged drought in Syria. Climate change will likely exacerbate droughts in the area over decades to come – increasing the potential effects of the forecast demographic trends.

Clearly what the world needs is policy focusing on these large-scale driving trends. The COP21 UNFCCC climate conference of December 2015 in Paris is one the most essential arenas for international cooperation in this field.

For more information about demographic changes in the world, please take a look at our special series ‘comparing population growth’ – per set of countries.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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