Population alert

Niveen Wahish , Saturday 16 Sep 2023

Egypt must make every effort to contain population growth.

Egypt s population will be146 million by 2042
Egypt s population will be146 million by 2042

 

Over the last six years Egypt’s population grew by almost 10 million to reach 104.5 million in January 2023, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS). If current birthrates continue, Egypt’s population will near 124 million by 2032 and 146 million by 2042. It is a rate of growth that speaker after speaker at the three-day Global Congress on Population, Health and Development (PHDC’23) which ended Friday in the New Administrative Capital said is undermining development, poverty reduction, and economic growth.

If current birthrates persist, Egypt will count among the eight countries which will be responsible for more than half the projected increase in global population to 2050, according to UN projections, Amr Hassan, adviser to the minister of health and population for population affairs and family development, told Al-Ahram Weekly. The other seven are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Addressing the congress, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said that while having children is a freedom, without regulation it could prove disastrous for the country. He said Egypt needs to keep annual population growth at 400,000 a year over the next 20 years simply to maintain services at their current level.

Population growth is straining Egypt’s resources and hindering development, Minister of Planning Hala Al-Said said during the congress. She pointed out that despite efforts to expand agricultural production, the demand for food outstrips supply. The same goes for water: the per capita share is decreasing because of population growth despite desalination projects and efforts to improve water efficiency.

Population and migration studies expert Ayman Zohry welcomed the focus on reducing population growth but warned that tackling the problem is a long-term goal. Nothing can be resolved overnight.

Hasssan agreed. Government action to reduce birthrates will have little impact on population growth between now and mid-century because of the age structure of today’s population, he said.

According to Hassan, government efforts to control rapid population growth include increasing the uptake of family planning and encouraging a shift from short-term family planning methods to longer acting ones. The government is looking to deploy more physicians in family planning units and mobile clinics and is facilitating procedures for importing and manufacturing contraceptives. The National Strategy for Population and Development, which covers the period 2015 to 2030, has been updated, with the new version launched at the congress.

Zohry estimates that existing efforts will not start providing relief from overpopulation pressure before 15 to 20 years. Because of the age structure of Egypt’s population even if births are limited to one child per family, as happened in China, there will still be one million births each year because there are almost one million marriages every year, and that figure does not take into account families having a second or third child.

While there have been successes in reducing the population growth rate they have yet to achieve a balance between the number of people and the resources available, says Hassan. The fertility rate in Egypt fell from 3.5 children per woman in 2014 to 2.85 in 2021 according to the results of the last family health survey. The survey also showed an increase in the contraceptive prevalence rate to 66.4 per cent in 2021, compared to 58.5 per cent in 2014.  

“The cumulative effect of lower fertility rates, if maintained over several decades, could see a substantial deceleration of global population growth in the second half of the century,” Hassan added.

That birthrates are falling is due in part to economic factors, says Zohry. As day-to-day expenses become higher, there are fewer marriages and people are thinking twice about the number of children they want. But again, because of demographics, the overall impact is only going to be felt in the long term. To give an example, he pointed to the 2.2 million babies born last year who will be 20 years of age in 2042. It will then be their turn to get married, and there will be one million births, he said.

The only solution is a change of mindset, argued Zohry, and empowering women is part of the solution. The fertility rate will drop when women increase their use of birth control methods. They will want smaller families only if they have other interests, and this will only happen with better education. When women are in education, Zohry explained, it reduces the number of childbearing years. They will marry later, and likely enter the job market.

Hassan points out that between 2014 and 2021 the fertility rate fell to 2.6 for women who completed secondary or higher education and rose to 3.6 for woman who did not complete primary education. Educational levels also affects the use of family planning, with uptake higher among women who have completed secondary school or higher education.

Zohry believes the population problem will be overcome when raising a child becomes expensive and it is the parents spending on the children rather than poor parents needing lots of children so they can eventually work and support them.

“If people feel they will be taken care of when they retire by a good health system and a realistic pension, they will not seek to have children to support them in their old age,” he said.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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