Egypt’s overpopulation problem is no secret. The country’s population increases annually by 2.5 per cent and is expected to reach 151 million people by 2050.
The population reached 96.3 million in early 2018, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has described overpopulation as one of the biggest threats facing Egypt, alongside terrorism.
Various steps have been taken to address the problem.
A national strategy for population and development (2015-2030) was launched in 2014, and an article was introduced into the new Egyptian constitution that stipulates the state’s commitment to implementing a population programme for the first time in constitutional history.
Yet, despite these efforts little has been achieved on the ground, largely because of the absence of an appropriate and effective institutional framework to address the problem.
Former deputy minister of health and population Maisa Shawki said that responsibility for the National Population Council (NPC) had been transferred from one agency to another, resulting in delays in the implementation of population plans.
It had also caused mistrust domestically and externally because of failures to commit to various pledges, she said in comments made during a seminar organised by the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES), a think tank, in Cairo last week.
Maged Osman, CEO of the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera), said that Egypt’s population had increased rapidly during the last six years.
He said that the number of births in Egypt in 2027 would be equivalent to that of nine European countries combined on current projections and that this would put a huge burden on education, healthcare and other services.
He added that Egypt’s population was expected to reach some 151 million people in 2050.
Solving the population problem, he said, would require collective responsibility that involved civil society, the private sector, and government.
He added that political will was also needed. Though President Al-Sisi has regularly spoken of the need to tackle the population problem, too little has been achieved on the ground.
Effective follow-up and accountability, sufficient funds, media awareness and women’s empowerment were also needed to solve the problem, Osman said.
He added that an action plan should prioritise defining an efficient institutional framework and database.
Executive Director of the ECES Abla Abdel-Latif shed light on some of the actions that should be taken to address the overpopulation problem in Egypt.
She said the country needed an efficient institutional framework that could formulate and implement population objectives and follow up on them.
She said that a lead agency should take the helm, represented by the NPC.
However, this should not only be affiliated to one ministry, namely the Health Ministry, but should work with other ministries in carrying out population plans.
She stressed the importance of the NPC’s having a technical committee that would study proposals and translate them into concrete programmes to which executive agencies would abide.
These executive agencies should include the relevant ministries, including the ministries of education, religious endowments, manpower, youth, social solidarity, international cooperation and communication, among others, Abdel-Latif said.
She added that civil society should also play a role in implementing population programmes.
Besides implementation, there should be effective follow-up and measurement of the key objectives of the programmes implemented by the NPC, a role that could be given to CAPMAS, Abdel-Latif said.
This could follow up on key objectives and report back to the NPC. Reports should also be sent to parliament in order to guarantee accountability. The president should also be responsible for accountability as head of state, Abdel-Latif said.
Other steps she recommended included exempting family planning instruments from taxes, allocating funds exclusively for the population issue in the Health Ministry budget, resuming the activities of mobile clinics, building an accurate database, and formulating media campaigns that take into account cultural, educational and geographical differences.
Abdel-Latif said that greater awareness could help achieve up to 50 per cent of targets. But for these steps to be effective, an efficient institutional system would need to be in place, she added.
Launched in 2014, the national population strategy aims to achieve a balance between Egypt’s population and its natural resources.
It seeks to improve the quality of life of all Egyptians by focusing on family planning and reproductive health, fostering young people’s health and civic engagement, advancing women’s economic empowerment and strengthening girls’ education.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 January, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Addressing overpopulation