Afghan Refugees, Iran
Odei Saddam Hussain
The news that 100 couples were married in a mass wedding ceremony at the Shahid Afassiyaabi hall in Teheran late last year was picked up by television broadcasting networks around the world. No doubt many members of the international audience smiled to hear the event was arranged by a number of charity organisations wich provided each of the brides -- aged between 13 and 36 years old -- with furnitures -- home loans -- and a groom! However, the news is unlikely to have brought much amusement to those in neighbouring Iraq, especially not to President Saddam Hussain who must regard Iran as a potential timebomb in terms of its population growth.
A population of 130 million Iranians by 2.010?
Like the mathematicians, Saddam Hussain is aware that Iran’s population is projected to leap to 130 million by the year 2.010 and with a current population of 57 million and a birth rate of 3,9% by 2.080 there could well be as many as 900 million Iranians.From a relatively small city of 50.000 at the turn of the century, Teheran’s population had reached half a million by 1940 and 4,5 m by 1976. Ten years later it was up to 6 m and could reach 8,3 million by the end of 1993.
Obviously this trend could be altered if Iranians give birth to less children. Dr Habibollah Zanjani, director of demographical studies at the Iranian urban planning research centre, points out that 30 years ago Iran and Poland had identical populations of 32 m. Today, Poland’s population stands at 37 million while over the same period the number of Iranians has soared by 25 million.
There are all kinds of problems to be anticipated should the statisticians’ projections come to fruition. For example, there are currently already some 124 m Japanese in the world. By the year 2.010 both Iran and Japan are expected to have 130 million people. In essence this means that while Japan has to make room for a further six million citizens in the next 20 years, Iran will have to accomodate an additional 65 million over the same period of time. Although this news may please Iran’s military commanders who might interpret it as a sign they can spend another million lives on the battlefield, it presents the Iranian leadership with a massive headache which President Rafsanjani and his ministers of health, education, science, housing and islamic guidance are trying to find a way to cope with.
An acute urbanisation trend
Iran’s demographic crisis is coupled with an acute urbanisation trend. While elsewhere in the Third World about 35% of the population lives in the cities, in Iran this percentage reaches 60%. If the rate of urbanisation continues at its present rate of about 5,4% a year, by 2.010, 100 million Iranians will be living in cities.
Of special concern to Iran’s urban planners is the capital city, Teheran which currently has 20 districts, spread over 600 square kilometres. The Iranian capital does not rank among the world’s most congested cities because on average there are 106 people per hectare, putting it well behind Tokyo with 140, Cairo (280) and Madras (300). However, the official figure belies the true state of affairs in Teheran, for while some districts in the north of the city have only 30 inhabitants per hectare, others -- in the south -- have as many as 400 to 500, considerably worse than some of the most densely populated areas in India. The constraints on housing, traffic and public facilities are tremendous and pose a dilemma for the urban planners.
The long war against Iraq and the resulting lack of funds stopped all major urban development projects years ago. Now, after many years delay, work has resumed on the construction of the Teheran metro which, initially, will have two lines criss-crossing the city. There are also plans to construct two new ring roads to help ease traffic congestion in the busy capital. Meanwhile inner city travellers cope as best they can. It takes hours to drive from the heigths of Shemiran to the bazaar area, downtown and back. And the struggle to force oneself into a bus during the rush-hour is an experience few people would ever wish to repeat unless fate has put you on the list of Teherani daily commuters.
In 1956 there were only eight cities of 100.000 inhabitants and more in the country, today there are 41. Urban planners believe the creation of 20 “new cities” will prevent further population explosions in Teheran, Shiraz, Tabriz and Isfahan. Some of the new cities will be industrial, these will be around Isfahan, Bandar Abbas and Kerman, while others, near Meshed, Tabriz and Shiraz will be mere “dormitories”. There will also be 25 or so new university cities.
The Iranian leadership is not unaware of the problems looming on the horizon. President Rafsanjani and his advisers, no doubt perplexed by the prospect of providing healthcare, housing and education for millions of Iranians not yet born, are agreed there must be decisive action on birth control. The issues are being discussed at all levels, even in the mosques, and religious leaders seem to accept that the problem must be adressed. Iran is hard pressed to meet the needs of its people now. The prospect of extending services to millions more is a daunting one.
Education, particularly of women will prove a crucial factor in determining the success of the population control inititiative. Already there are lectures on demography in all the universities but organising the subject as part of the secondary school curriculum is proving tricky. Five different ministers are involved in coming up with a scheme for the best way of teaching the subject. Contraception pills are distributed freely in family planning centres and sold cheaply in pharmacies but all the research undertaken stresses the importance of improving women’s education as a major contributory factor to the programme success. At present for every Iranian woman with a secondary education there are two who remain illiterate.
“The emancipation of Iranian women is an all important factor”, an official explained. “It is abundantly clear to the experts that restricting the number of children born into a family benefits the mother, the existing children, and the society in which they live but it is not the experts, in this case, who will have the final say. If women were able to read, to understand the instructions on a packet of contraceptive pills, the prospects for advancement in this area would be dramatically increased. We are talking about very basic education here, not university degrees”.
Without the cooperation of Iranian women the leadership is doomed to stretching already inadequate services to insufferable limits for generations to come. But whether the leadership is prepared to approach the issue in the forceful, dynamic way it must to remove ignorance and achieve any real measure of success, remains to be seen. While politicians ponder their decision Iran’s neighbours shiver at the prospect of sharing theirr corner of the globe with a colossus in the making.
(The Middle East magazine, August 1992)
Droits de Reproduction strictement réservés © Chris Kutschera 2002
French Woman NCO, France
Quranic school, Germany