Population and Development

The total population of the Mediterranean countries grew from 281 million in 1970 to 419 million in 2000 and to 472 million in 2010. The population is predicted to reach 572 million by 2030. Four countries account for about 60 % of the total population: Egypt (82 million), Turkey (72 million), France (63 million), and Italy (60 million). The Mediterranean region’s population is concentrated near the coasts. More than a third live in coastal administrative entities totalling less than 12 % of the surface area of the Mediterranean countries. The population of the coastal regions grew from about 100 million in 1980 to 150 million in 2005. It could reach 200 million by 2030. (Plan Bleu, based on UN World Population Prospect 2015 and on national population censuses). The concentration of population in coastal zones is the heaviest in the western Mediterranean, the western shore of the Adriatic Sea, the eastern shore of the Aegean Levantine region, and the Nile Delta (Figures 3.2 and 3.3). Overall, the population density in the coastal zone is higher in the southern Mediterranean countries. This is also where the variability of the population density in the coastal zone is highest, ranging from more than 1000 people/km2 in the Nile Delta to fewer than 20 people/ km2 along parts of coastal Libya (UNEP/MAP, 2012).

While population development in the north is almost stagnant, strong population growth in the southeast results in overexploitation of water, land, and other resources, driven by land clearing, cultivation of marginal land, overgrazing, and firewood harvesting. Land productivity is decreasing accordingly. In contrast, many rural areas in the northern countries experience abandonment of agricultural land, with subsequent encroachment of shrubs and trees and a greening of the land. The southern and eastern countries of the Mediterranean are rapidly urbanizing – with almost all of the future population growth projected to be in the cities – while urbanization rates in the north are more or less stable. Coastal areas are usually rich in their natural resources that provide great opportunities for economic activities, especially resource-based economic activities such as agriculture, fisheries, tourism, oil and gas extraction, and maritime transport that tend to locate in these areas.

Figure 2.2
Population: trends and projections in Mediterranean countries from 1970 to 2030 (in thousands of inhabitants) (Source: UN World Population Prospect 2015)
Figure 2.3
Population: Density of the coastal regions and major coastal cities (more than 500 000 inhabitants) (Source: Plan Bleu from various sources)

Approximately one third of the Mediterranean population is concentrated along its coastal regions, whereas more than half of the population resides in the coastal hydrological basins. Around 40% of the total coastal zone estimated to be under some form of artificial land cover. Close to 100% of the population in the coastal region reside in urban localities. Moreover, about 1,600 cities (more than 10,000 inhabitants) with around 100 million inhabitants are located in the Mediterranean coastal regions. Mediterranean coastal areas are threatened by coastal development that modifies the coastline through the construction of buildings and infrastructure needed to sustain residential, tourism, commercial, and transport activities. Coastal manmade infrastructures cause irreversible damage to landscapes; habitats and biodiversity; and shoreline configuration by disrupting the sediment transport. The population density is different between the countries of the north of the Mediterranean and the countries of the south and the east. The density is more homogeneous in the European Mediterranean countries.

In 2015, the average income per capita in the South and East Mediterranean countries is 2.5 times lower than the average income in the EU Mediterranean countries. The GDP growth rate in the south and east Mediterranean countries are much higher than those of the EU Mediterranean countries. However, they are considered low when compared to the population growth rates, as the demographic growth is still high in the southern Mediterranean countries. The share of the Mediterranean GDP in the world GDP is decreasing: from more than 13.5% in 1990 to 11.5% in 2010 and 9.7% in 2015. Meanwhile, the share of the Mediterranean population remains constant in the world population (about 7%).

Figure 2.4
Gross Domestic Product, 2015 (World Bank)