By Sara Mohamed
The population in Egypt has grown exponentially over the past few decades, leading to what many have called an overpopulation crisis.
In a press conference held on February 26, Egypt’s National Population Council (NPC) of the Ministry of Health (MoH) announced that it has succeeded in cutting back the birth rate during the past three years by nearly 62 percent.
Deputy Health Minister Tarek Tawfik declared in a press release that the country’s birth rate in 2017 amounted to about three million newborns, compared to almost seven million in 2015.
He acknowledged that Egypt is steadily moving toward reducing the birth rate through a precise strategy that strives to reach a population of 112 million by 2030 instead of 128 million.
The country is deemed to be the most populous in the Arab world, with a population of more than 100 million in 2017, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS )reported.
In 2017, Egypt’s Health Minister Ahmed Emad Al-Din launched “Operation Lifeline” as a strategic plan that aims to reduce the birth rate to 2.4 births per woman and save the government up to EGP 200 billion by 2030 – represented in education, health and security services.
According to the NPC’s recent statement, the governorates with soaring birth rates are Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor and Aswan – with Cairo retaining the highest rates.
Tawfik pointed out that the birth rates are expected to further decline in these governorates following the introduction of family planning awareness campaigns.
According to Dr. Ahmed Kotb, a gynecology professor at Ain Shams University, family planning helps in curbing the population growth by reducing unplanned pregnancies.
“[Gynecologists] in the University are dealing with people from very low social classes, and although they lack the financial capabilities, they could have five or six children. So they cannot support them and they aren’t aware by how to prevent the [pregnancies],” said Kotb.
However, Dr. Ayman Zohry, a Cairo-based population and migration studies expert, objected, arguing that the number of youth who marry has grown immensely; last year alone, almost 950 thousand marriage contracts were signed.
There were approximately 920,000 and 910,000 marriage contracts in the years 2012 and 2013 respectively, according to CAPMAS’ reports for these years.
The number of people under the age of 18 in Egypt has reached 38 million in 2017, making up 40 percent of the total population, CAMPAS announced in November.
“This means that if the most strict family planning program was applied and everyone is committed to have only one child, you’ll have at least one million births every year,” Zohry added.
He highlighted that Egypt is suffering from the population momentum due to the ample base of fertile women within the Egyptian population.
“The number of females who are fertile and can reproduce represents 25 million of the overall population.”
CAPMAS indicated that the total fertility rate, the average number of children born per woman, climbed up in 2014 to almost four births per a thousand women, compared to a total of three births six years ago.
Zohry acknowledged that the fertility rate is currently fixed, but the overpopulation hurdle still needs at least two decades to be untangled.
The overpopulation crisis currently bears significant implications on the country’s infrastructure.
Youssef AbdelRaouf, manager of all the Egyptian Family Planning Association’s (EFPA) clinics in the Mounfia governorate, said that the rise in the birth rates means an increase in traffic, in the number of students enrolled in schools and universities and in the consumption of the country’s water and food supply.
“This population boom requires the construction of 2000 schools annually and that the government is currently incapable to pursue this considering Egypt’s economic status,” AbdelRaouf added.
According to Dr. Talaat Abdel Kawy, head of General Federation of NGOs, the country’s economic development is partially calculated by a country’s per capita income, plus the amount of goods and services produced.
However, Egypt experienced a sharp decline in these two factors in addition to an increasing population rate in years 2012 and 2013.
“[The population] represents a potential burden on a state trying to improve its economy by reversing the country’s economic growth,” he said.
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 approximately three percent in 2013.
Abdel Kawy also added that 95 percent of Egypt’s population are living on less than five percent of the total land area. Such poor population distribution negatively impacts the country’s water and food supply.
With the rapid population growth and the limited agricultural land, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed that Egypt will most probably face water scarcity by 2025.
In the fourth Youth Conference last July, President Abdel Fartah El-Sisi described overpopulation as a threat that is no less dangerous than terrorism.
In the efforts to diminish the population boom, the MoH currently runs nearly 6,000 family planning clinics throughout Egypt.
Women can buy heavily subsidized contraceptives – ranging from condoms, at less than EGP one, to intrauterine devices (IUDs), at EGP two, and also receive free check-ups.
However, this approach has encountered some scrutiny.
Dr. Walid El-Basyouny, a gynecology professor at Ain Shams University, pointed out that the problem exists in the socio-economic conditions of the country and that the Egyptian population is mishandled.
“If you have a big population, that is under-taught, that are underprivileged, that are undernourished, this is the big problem,” he explained.
According to the MoH annual reports, the budget allocated for family planning services and activities is estimated to be around 120 million per year.
El-Basyouny argued that this budget is wasted in the wrong direction, and that it could be invested in a different manner.
“But if you have a big population, and you teach them properly, and you start feeding them properly and you start directing them to the proper direction, you’re going to have a huge manpower that could benefit you in all directions,” he said.