Egypt struggles to curb rampant population growth

The country of 93 million is projected to reach 128 million by 2030.

Few options. Egyptian 4-year-old quintuplets and their 7-year-old sister at their home in Madinet el-Salam on the outskirts of Cairo. (AP)

2017/08/13 Issue: 119 Page: 20

The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam

Cairo - Egypt has begun an effort to convince citizens to have smaller families, as rampant population growth in the country of 93 million is projected to reach 128 million by 2030.

“This is very dangerous because the population can reach a stage that would see the government failing to satisfy the needs of the people,” warned Deputy Health Minister Maysa Shawky, who is responsible for national family planning policies. “Reducing the population growth is not optional anymore.”

The National Population Council, an agency within Egypt’s Health Ministry, launched the programme August 1, with a target of married couples limiting their number of children to two. That is no easy feat in a country where many families, especially poorer households, tend to have a large number of children.

The council is offering free con­traceptives, including birth control pills, and fertility-lowering medi­cations at almost 6,000 state-run clinics. The programme will cost Cairo $7.5 million and analysts said that, if it reduces predicted popula­tion growth, it will be worth every penny.

The campaign will involve health specialists travelling to Egypt’s countryside to talk about reducing population growth.

“This is a comprehensive cam­paign that will reach citizens eve­rywhere,” Shawky said. “Every­body must cooperate in achieving the goals of the campaign if we re­ally want a better future.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last May said: “Population growth is a big issue and is a chal­lenge no less dangerous than the challenge of terrorism.”

Egypt’s economy is growing at less than 4% a year and analysts said this is insufficient to keep pace with projected population growth.

“Population growth is turning into an impediment to economic development,” warned Amr Has­sanein, an economics professor at Cairo University. “Economic growth aims primarily to achieve economic welfare for the people but this welfare will never be real­ised in a country that struggles to feed its population.”

The government is enlisting the help of Egypt’s religious estab­lishment, with a new centralised Friday-sermon system in which imams across the country on Au­gust 4 dedicated their Friday ser­mon to discussing population growth.

Religious Endowments Minister Sheikh Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, whose ministry dictates the topics of the sermons, told those pray­ing at a mosque in Cairo that fam­ily planning had become a “neces­sity.”

“The strength of countries is not measured by the number of their population but by the health standards, education and the wel­fare of this population,” Gomaa said.

Birth control and family planning as concepts have often brushed aside as irreligious by some reli­gious leaders and scholars.

“These are real impediments on the road of the success of any family planning campaigns in the future,” said Hatem Hassan, a fam­ily planning consultant at the Na­tional Population Council. “The success of these campaigns will primarily be achieved by address­ing misconceptions about birth control and shattering the religious stigma in this regard.”

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

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