The Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) announced that Egypt’s population surpassed 100 million this week. Ten million Egyptians who reside abroad are not included in this figure.
Egypt ranks 13th globally in terms of population size. A baby is born every 15 seconds. According to CAPMAS, 29 per cent of the population is younger than 29. Of the total population 50.2 per cent are male and 49.8 per cent female. Since 1 January 320,000 infants have been born.
The government has embarked on a number of family planning campaigns in recent years in an attempt to stem population growth. The Two is Enough campaign, part of the National Population Strategy announced by the cabinet in 2015 and implemented in cooperation with Ministry of Social Solidarity, targeted 1.1 million women in 10 of Egypt’s most populous, and poorest, governorates.
Randa Fares, general coordinator of the campaign, says Upper Egypt governorates account for 40 per cent of newborns.
High birth rates in Upper Egypt are a result of the region’s social and religious legacy, she says. In 2019 the campaign coordinated 2.5 million home visits with 100 non-governmental organisations to raise awareness of contraceptives and the importance of family planning. Fares told Al-Ahram Weekly that during the visits more than 400,000 women asked to be referred to family planning clinics.
According to Fares, many rural residents believe family planning is religiously forbidden. “We had to correct many misconceptions. Due to the campaign fertility rates decreased to 3.1 in 2018 from 3.5 in 2014,” she said.
A statement published on the cabinet website revealed 2,500 volunteers and rural guides work alongside 140 doctors and nurses on the campaign. The cost of the Two is Enough campaign, which aims to cover 2,257 villages in the governorates of Aswan, Luxor, Qena, Sohag, Assiut, Minya, Beni Sweif, Fayoum, Giza and Beheira, is LE100 million, of which LE90 million is provided by the Social Solidarity Aid Fund and the remaining LE10 million by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).
Egypt’s population in 2052 is expected to be around 153 million. Had fertility rates remained at 3.5 it would have hit 191 million.
“Ultimately we are seeking to reach a fertility rate of 2.5,” Fares says.
“Egypt’s population increases annually by 2.5 million people, and 1,400 people are squeezed into one square kilometre of inhabitable land,” says Aleksandar Bodiroza, UNPF’s Egypt representative.
UNPF, in cooperation with the ministries of health and social solidarity, organises family planning convoys alongside a comprehensive media campaign that plasters pro-family family planning messages on billboards and even on tuk-tuks.
Maged Othman, head of the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion (Baseera), points out that Egypt’s population quadrupled between 1950 and 2011, increasing from 20 million to 80 million by 2011. According to Othman the number of births in Egypt is equal to those in Italy, Spain, France, the UK and Sweden combined.
Othman believes overpopulation in Egypt is due to a lack of awareness about the dangers of overpopulation and of the negative impact of frequent childbirth on women’s health. According to a recent study conducted by Baseera, 41 per cent of married women do not use contraceptives, including 2.4 million women who already have three or four children, and 600,000 women with five children or more.
Among the challenges facing the campaign in Upper Egypt is the belief among 66 per cent of women that contraceptives are religiously forbidden, Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed has been quoted as saying. “The ministry has to work closely with Al-Azhar and the Church in order to correct these wrong beliefs,” said Zayed. She added that there has already been a 20 per cent increase in the use of contraceptives among women and a similar increase in the rate of women going to family planning clinics.
Zayed says the Ministry of Health, in cooperation with other concerned ministries and authorities, is working on empowering women and eradicating illiteracy, which will feed into solving the problem of overpopulation.
“There will be incentives for governorates which abide by the country’s family planning strategy. These incentives have been approved by Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli,” said Zayed.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.