The Governorate of Minya, selected as target of this project in consultation with the Government, displays high levels of persistent poverty, as well as the second lowest HDI ranking amongst governorates. It is the most populated in Upper Egypt, with approximately 4.6 million inhabitants, 82% of which live in rural areas. The governorate includes more than 30% of poorest villages of the whole Upper Egypt. Several assessments recently conducted under UN programs show high unemployment and underemployment in Minya, especially in rural areas and among the youth and women. The post-revolution economic downturn has triggered a rise in crime rates, food insecurity, child labor and added pressure on existing infrastructure and services as well as on local natural resources. Inter-linkages and dynamics among human security threats observed in Minya are described below.
Agriculture and farming activities represent the main means of livelihood in Minya, providing food and work for many. However, land fragmentation, decreasing quality of agricultural inputs and inadequate agricultural practices have constrained market opportunities for local agricultural production, and placed undue pressure on natural resources. With the post-revolution economic downturn prices of inputs have risen, demand has contracted and private investment dramatically slowed down; in addition, an outbreak of Tuta Absoluta (a highly dangerous pest for horticultural products) has been discovered. Extensive losses were registered on tomatoes and other crops, with impacts on small farmers being most severe, as the latter are less resilient than larger producers in reacting to such shocks. The pest still constitutes a major threat. Improving agricultural practices and upgrading of basic infrastructure will help control the pest, support communities to better manage water and soil, and open up market opportunities, in turn reducing threats to the environmental and economic security.
The sudden post-revolution economic downturn triggered an abrupt rise in unemployment and underemployment not only in agriculture but also in other economic sectors. The Upper Egypt Investment Company, mandated to stimulate investment and employment in the region, reports that most investment decision are pending for several months or have been cancelled. In Minya, building of food processing facilities and construction of new hotels have been halted. In addition to an increase of commodity prices, fuel shortages have been experienced increasingly more severely in the last months, considerably slowing down transports and threatening many economic activities. The financial sector is also heavily affected by the post-revolution shock: after January 2011 the Central Bank has been issuing treasury bonds in large amounts with progressively higher interest rates, absorbing liquidity from commercial banks and investors. This hindered access to finance for the small and medium enterprises all over the country, including Minya, with negative effects on real investments and employment creation. Finally, food and energy subsidies, designed to alleviate needs of the most economically vulnerable strata of the population, are currently under revision: the quota of national budget going to safety nets will likely be reduced in the near future to balance national budget needs. This situation of high economic insecurity in Minya is recognized by the Government as the driving factor that aggravates a number of additional human security threats.
Crime rates increased in Upper Egypt as of 2011 with a higher percentage of murder, drug abuse and vandalism. Consultations held with civil society representatives as well as UN staff working in Minya confirm that criminal behavior has been on the rise since the 25th of January 2011 and 30th of June 2013 incidents, causing further marginalization of vulnerable groups and posing threats to the personal security of the elderly, women and children especially. Rising unemployment is driving more and more people to migrate to urban areas, resulting in a proliferation of slum areas (more than thirty in Minya currently), substandard housing, and degraded livelihoods, resulting in threats to both community and environmental security.
Images of violence against women have been widely disseminated by the media. UN agencies have evidence that Minya is one of the governorates in which honor killings still occur, and where violent acts perpetrated by men against girls and women are often observed. While no post-revolution information about the prevalence of violence against women in Minya is yet available, the tense social and economic situation affecting households and communities is putting the physical wellbeing of women and children at a higher risk both within the home and in public spaces, constituting an additional threat to personal and community security.
Exploitative child labor is also on the rise as a result of increased economic insecurity. A recent assessment conducted by the ILO indicates that in Upper Egypt in general and Minya specifically children working in agriculture start at 5 to 7 years of age and face a host of health hazards and life threatening diseases, as confirmed by the a recent World Food Programme (WFP) survey. Children working in agriculture often drop out of school because of work, which affects their level of attainment and the probability that they will ever return to school. Minya has the lowest literacy rates (57%) and lowest enrollment rates in basic education nationwide (79.8%).
Upper Egypt comprises the most severely malnourished communities nationwide. Representing more than half of total expenditure for the poorest deciles, in Minya the average per capita expenditure on food is less than half of the national average. WFP surveys show that between 2005 and 2008 Upper Egyptians have shifted from nutritious to less nutritious foods. The impact on children is of particular concern especially in Upper Egypt where stunting and anemia are on the rise. In Minya alone, it is estimated that 56,300 children, representing approximately 10% of the total population in that age bracket, are malnourished. Malnutrition among children has been shown to affect the health, development and well-being of children, their ability to learn and hence the probability that they will stay in school, and ultimately their productivity as adults.
The return of over 200,000 workers from Libya to Upper Egypt due to the unrest preceding the removal of Qaddafi is posing additional threats to human security. Minya is a major reservoir of low-wage, semi-skilled workers emigrating to Libya and the Gulf countries as well as to touristic regions in Egypt, presently undergoing a crisis due to a sudden drop of tourism in the country, which does not seem to be reversible in the short run, at least while political instability persists. While a certain proportion of the economically displaced individuals expected to go back to Libya as some measure of stability is restored in the country, many households have been deprived from income provided through remittances, thereby placing pressure on existing infrastructure and services as well as the environment. An IOM report (October 2011) shows that the governorate of Minya has been the recipient of 8.5% of returnees and that most would prefer to remain in Egypt. The economic and social integration of these returnees is critical to promote community security and to avoid the spiraling effects of poverty on the community.
As outlined above, the ramifications of human security (and especially economic security) threats affecting Minya are numerous and interconnected. This is why the proposed project has a strong focus on strengthening economic security and, by doing so, it is also expected to contribute to reducing the impact of environmental, personal, community and food security threats. Personal security and the community security will additionally be directly targeted with complementary measures (such as the institution of a Youth Volunteer Service, for instance) aiming at increasing communities’ social capital and enhance their cohesion and inclusiveness to favor the participation of vulnerable segments in economic and productive activities. The human security analysis consistently identified youth, children and women living in rural areas as the most vulnerable segments of their communities and therefore project activities will be primarily geared towards these groups.