A group of Egyptian ministers and experts gathered for a media event in Cairo on Monday to highlight the unfolding "catastrophe" of uncontrolled population growth in Egypt and review official efforts to tackle the problem.
The event at a five-star hotel in Cairo was based around the latest annual report from the United Nations Population Fund, summarizing population data from 2016, including details of fertility and birth-control use.
According to the report, named Egypt's Population Status 2016, the country is on course for a population of 151 million by 2050, a massive increase on the current official figure of 93 million.
Those attending the event – including three government ministers – presented a range of efforts, both current and proposed, to tackle the problem, in line with the sustainable development strategy Egypt Vision 2030.
Promoting birth control
Egypt's Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali described population growth in Egypt as an "actual catastrophe" that deserves to be fought against, just like the country's war against terrorism.
The minister highlighted the importance of controlling the birth rate through birth control, and said the state has now created a database of 13.5 million citizens, mostly fertile women who may add to population growth.
Wali stressed that the most significant factor driving Egypt's population-growth crisis is the lack of awareness of birth-control methods and the unavailability of the methods themselves, especially in the governorates of Upper Egypt.
She said that the ministry has trained 32,000 young Egyptians to take part in a "door knocking campaign" designed by the National Council for Women with the aim of increasing awareness of birth-control issues and methods.
"In this context, the ministry has allocated EGP 100 million for 50 of the country's civil society organizations to increase awareness in schools, universities and hospitals, involving cooperation with all the state institutions as part of a comprehensive plan to tackle the population-growth crisis in the country," Wali said.
Need for a clear vision
Agreeing with Wali, Minister of Local Development Hesham El-Sherif described the current rates of population growth in the country as "disastrous", adding that Egypt will face a dangerous social dilema unless there is a clear vision and actual programs to control the phenomenon.
The importance of clear vision was echoed by Abu-Bakr El-Gendy, the head of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt's official statistical agency.
He said that the state has in the past approached this "gravely dangerous" problem with an attituded combining "relaxation and embarrassment".
"The country has adopted a lot of strategies in recent years to tackle the problem, but none of them has worked," El-Gendy said.
However, he said that the state's current decision makers are very much aware of the "virus" of population growth and the best means of dealing with it.
He said he hoped that the Egypt Vision 2030 strategy would help to bring the phenomenon under control.
El-Gendy stressed the necessity of raising awareness in the country's poorest areas, while the involvement of health services and the provision of birth-control methods will be a decisive factor in dealing with the problem.
"The most populated country in the world, which is China, has a population growth rate of 1.5, in comparison to Egypt's 2.1," said El-Gendy.
Pressure on resources
Minister of Planning Hala El-Saeed said that population growth is generally considered a resource, but one that must be controlled, or else it becomes a burden on the state, especially when combined with a lack of resources.
"Forty percent of the country's population are children who are in need of health and education services, which constitutes a greater burden on the state than the current economic situation," El-Saed said.
He stressed that investing in birth control is a very expensive process, but the investment is very fruitful for any country in the long term.
Also present at the forum on Monday was Maya Morsi, head of Egypt's National Council for Women.
She said that a key factor in the nation's population growth is the phenomoenon of early marriage.
She called for the national system of identification to be enforced for all citizens, helping to ensure that all marriages are registered, thereby reducing the number of people marrying young. This would in turn reduce the number of children being born, she said.
Egyptian law prohibits the marriage of girls younger than 16 years, which is the official age of issuance of national identification card in the country. However, in remote areas and southern Egypt, nearly 36 per cent of marriages occur before that age, according to studies by the National Council For Women.
Morsi also stressed the significance of media in raising awareness regarding the dangers of early marriage, as well as the direct relationship between poverty and population growth.
The Sustainable Development Strategy "Egypt Vision 2030" is an extensive social, economic development plan, taking into account the visions of civil society, the private sector, ministries, and government agencies.
Egypt aims to limit population growth to 118 million by 2030.
The plan also aims at eliminating extreme poverty, reducing it from the current rate of 4.4 per cent to zero per cent.