Egypt is facing a population 'catastrophe'

Egypt is facing a population 'catastrophe'
3 min read
21 December, 2017
With the country in economic, political and security turmoil, Egypt's high rate of population growth could see it heading for "catastrophe".
At the current rate, Egypt's population will reach 119 million in 2030 [Getty]
Egypt is facing a population "catastrophe" as a struggling economy and political and security turmoil take a toll on its 96 millon inhabitants.

The Arab world's most populous country, which also has 9.4 million expatriats, adds 1.6 million people every year to its population.

At the current rate, Egypt's population will reach 119 million in 2030, according to a May report by the United Nations Population Fund.

Abu Bakr el-Gendy, the head of Egypt's state statistics bureau which carried out the latest census, described the current rate of population growth as a "catastrophe".

He told AFP the annual rate accelerated between 2005 and 2014, before stabilising in 2016 at around 2.6 percent.

The rate must be at least three times lower than economic growth for people's living standards not to deteriorate, according to Gendy.

But "the more poverty increases, the more the reproduction rate increases because parents consider children as a source of income," with many children joining the labour market at an early age, he said.

With 95 percent of Egypt's land uninhabitable desert, the population is concentrated around the narrow Nile valley and Nile Delta, with smaller numbers along the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts.

A fall in mortality rates in the early 1970s further boosted the population growth.

In Cairo, a megalopolis of nearly 20 million inhabitants, the population density is around 50,000 inhabitants per square kilometre, or nearly ten times that of London.

Earlier this month, Egyptian authorities began work on a project to build a new administrative capital, with roads being carved across vast expanses of sand to connect the new metropolis to Suez and the Red Sea resort town of Ain Sokna.

Plans for "New Cairo" were first announced in March 2015 and was touted as a solution to overcrowding, pollution and rising house prices in the capital.

'Two are enough'

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said population growth is "a challenge as critical as that of terrorism" and the government launched a new family planning campaign this year under the slogan "two are enough", to try to contain the phenomenon.

Fardous Hamed, a doctor at a government family planning centre in Umm Khenan village of Giza province, told AFP that the number of people seeking its services has risen with the latest round of price increases since authorities floated the pound in November 2016.

"Awareness grew among people here," said Hamed.

Magued Osman, the head of Baseera, a private public opinion research centre, said Egypt's population growth amounts to "collective suicide".

It is the result of "politicians neglecting the issue since the middle of the previous decade", said Mona Abu el-Ghar, an obstetrics and gynaecology professor at Cairo University.

"The problem needs to be taken more seriously with constant media campaigns on radio and television to raise awareness on the importance of family planning," said Abu el-Ghar.

These campaigns, she said, need to be sponsored by the authorities as well as by the al-Azhar institution, Egypt's top Islamic authority.

Abbas Shuman, deputy to al-Azhar's grand imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, has said that "family planning is halal" or allowed in Islam.