Overpopulation: Egypt’s Biggest Economic Threat
Egypt is struggling to confine the population boom that has surged in recent years which reached more than 100 million in October 2017.
The country is already the most populous in the Arab world with more than 100 million citizens. It is set to grow beyond 120 million by 2030 if fertility rates remain as almost four births per 1000 women, according to The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).
|“The population represents Egypt’s human capital, but also represents a potential burden on a state trying to improve its economy by reversing declines in the country’s economic growth,” said Head of General Federation of NGOs Talaat Abdel-Kawy.
According to Abdel-Kawy, the economic development is partially calculated by a country’s per capita income, plus the number of goods and services produced. However, Egypt experienced a sharp decline in these two factors in addition to an increasing population rate in the years 2012 and 2013.
Ayman Zohry, a population and migration studies expert based in Cairo, explained that Egypt’s rapid population growth encumbers the government from overcoming the economic crisis and threatens the supply of the educational and health services that ensure the population’s well being.
Consequently, the country’s per capita income is less than EGP 300 per month with a declining economic growth rate, which according to The World Bank, was around three percent in 2013.
“The government is very limited in providing good services because of the socioeconomic status of the country,” said Zohry.
The Evolution of Government Approaches
“Family planning started at the time of Nasr in the 1960s to tackle the population growth issue and till now we didn’t reach what we planned for,” Zohry added.
According to Warren Robinson’s book “The Global Family Planning Revolution: Three Decades of Population Policies and Programs”, Egypt deployed the Supreme Council for Family Planning in 1965 to serve as the top policy-making body for population and family planning.
This marked the initial point for family planning to have a line item in the national budget as an approach to rein the population growth, which stood at 30 million citizens at that time.
|Furthermore, Robinson stated that a nationwide system of more than 2,000 clinics, hospitals, and other service delivery points was developed to ensure that family planning would be fully integrated into regular health activities.
“The fertility rate in the 1960s was seven children per woman, and the government managed to reduce it to five births per woman in the 1980s … which was a big success at that time,” Zohry stressed.
This was due to the inauguration of the Information, Education, and Communication Center (IEC) in 1979 to promote family planning in Egypt by the State Information Service, according to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs issue in July 1992.
The IEC aired messages on television and radio to promote spacing births by at least two years through birth control methods, including the Intra Uterine Device (IUD), oral contraceptives and condoms.
“When the IEC was founded, only 24 percent of married Egyptian women were utilizing contraceptives. The number increased to 30 percent by 1984, to 38 percent by 1988, and to 48 percent by 1990,” the issue stated.
Moreover, the first National Population Policy statement was issued in 1975. It emphasized the importance of the socioeconomic development as a key factor in eliminating fertility and to providing family planning services.
“The policy was developed to pinpoint the relevance of three population dimensions: its growth and birth rates, its unbalanced spatial distribution and its unfavorable population characteristics,” Abdel-Kawy added.
In this regard, CAPMAS reports indicated that the government managed to gradually reduce the fertility rate to three births per 1000 women in the age of pregnancy, until 2011.
“Then population grew dramatically after the rise of the Islamic parties during the wake of the 2011 uprising… The fertility rate increased to 3.5 births per woman at that time,” Zohry said.
Few years before the 2011 uprising that unseated former president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, the growth rate ticked up to two percent in 2010. After the overthrow of the regime, the figure leaped to almost 2.2 percent in years 2011- 2012.
Contraception awareness programs decreased during former president Mohammed Morsi’s regime from 2012-2014, as his Muslim Brotherhood saw population control as disrupting traditional family life.
The Ministry of Health currently runs nearly 6,000 family planning clinics where women can buy heavily subsidized contraceptives ranging from condoms at less than one Egyptian pound to copper intrauterine devices (IUDs) at two Egyptian pounds, and also receive free check-ups.
The Impact of the Surge in Demand
Zohry acknowledged that the base of the youth, who will get married in the near future, is colossal to the extent that there were almost 950 thousand marriage contracts last year only.
There were nearly 920,000 and 910,000 marriage contracts in the years 2012 and 2013 respectively, pursuant to the CAPMAS reports for these years.
“This means that if the most strict family planning program was applied and commit everyone to have only one child, you’ll have at least one million births every year,” Zohry explained, highlighting that Egypt is suffering from the population momentum due to the ample base of fertile women among the population.
|“The number of females who are fertile and can reproduce represent 25 million of the overall population,” Zohry added.
The fertility rate is currently stationary, and the overpopulation problem in Egypt needs at least two decades to be untangled, he said.
According to CAPMAS, the total fertility rate, the average number of children born per woman, increased in 2014 to almost four births per a thousand women, compared to a total of three births six years ago.
“The rise in the birth rates means an increase in traffic, in the number of students enrolled in schools and universities, and an increase in the consumption of the country’s water and food supply,” said AbdelRaouf, manager of all the EFPA’s clinics in Monufeya.
AbdelRaouf highlighted that such increase negatively impacts the quality of educational, health, labour, and food services offered to the Egyptian citizens.
|“This population boom requires the construction of 2000 schools annually, and of course the government won’t be able to pursue this considering Egypt’s economic status… Thus, it won’t be able to provide the public with a decent educational system,” he explained.
Furthermore, Abdel-Kawy underlined that 95 percent of Egypt’s population is living on less than five percent of the total land area. This poor population distribution has a direct impact on the country’s water and food supply.
With the rapid population growth and the limited agricultural land, the United Nations (UN) declared that Egypt could face water scarcity by 2025. Meanwhile, the country is suffering from water shortage as the average per capita water use in Egypt is 700 cubic meters annually.
“The concentration of population growth in the poorest countries presents its own set of challenges, making it more difficult to eradicate poverty and inequality, to combat hunger and malnutrition, and to expand educational enrolment and health systems, all of which are crucial to the success of the new sustainable development agenda,” according to the UN News Center in 2015.
For more information about the necessity of family planning and the possible approaches to solve the overpopulation issue, listen to this audio