Egypt: Dependent on the Nile

On March 26th, Earth Snapshot captured this great view of the Nile River valley in Egypt. Though a dust storm obscures the Nile River delta in the north (bits of the delta are visible as the dark green almost triangular area), I really wanted to focus on the valley.

The Nile River Valley, 26 Mar 2013 (via

As ES notes, except for the areas associated with the Nile, most of Egypt’s land area is a “vast desert plateau”, the domain of the Sahara. Further we learn that less than 3% of the country’s land is suitable for agriculture, a combination of the delta, the valley, and whatever groundwater and oases are available. Less than 1% of the land area is able to support permanent crops.

Of course, this begs for context – what does this mean for people? One method to express the interaction between cropland and population is similar to population density, the physiological population density. Whereas population density relates the number of people residing in an area per unit of area (such as square mile or square kilometer), the physiological population density relates the number of people per unit of agricultural area. The idea is not to capture the number of people actually living ON farmland but rather the amount of that state’s farmlands support. Obviously, this doesn’t account for out-of-state transfers (food imports, food exports, and international aid). But it does provide a general sense of relative food insecurity since countries with higher physiological population densities are more likely to be at-risk (all other things considered equal).

According to the CIA’s World Factbook there will be an estimated 85 million Egyptians (by July 2013). Its land area is approximately 995 thousand sq. km. giving an average population density of 85 persons per sq. km. Of course, that’s assuming a normally distributed population across the entire geographic space. As we see from the ES image and its text, agriculture and human activity is concentrated close to the Nile River. Applying the 3% to the 995 thousand sq. km. yields about 30 thousand sq. km. of agricultural land. They physiological population density than is over 2,800 persons per sq. km. of agricultural land. As an aside, the CIA reports an arable land area of 2.92% of total land area and 0.5% for permanent crops. This number means that, on average, every sq. km. of agricultural land in Egypt supports over 2,800 Egyptians (again not counting food imports, exports, and aid).

For comparative purposes, the United States will have an expected population of about 316 million by July 2013. With a land area of 9.1 million sq. km. the U.S. population density would be 34 persons per sq. km. With 18% of this land area arable (according to the World Factbook), resulting in 1.6 million sq. km. of arable land, the physiological population density of the United States is 197 persons per sq. km. of arable land.

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