Egypt’s population strategy: Could we stem the tide?

26-07-2017 01:05 PM

Georgette Sadeq

Egypt’s population strategy: Could we stem the tide?

“Terrorism and population growth are the two biggest threats facing Egypt today,” President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said last week, putting population growth on the same footing as terrorism in the enormity of the threat it posed to the country. The President was speaking on 24 July before the Fourth National Youth Conference that was held in Alexandria.
Population explosion has come to the forefront of public debate during the recent weeks as a threat facing Egypt today and defeating all efforts at development and growth. During the recent conference, President Sisi said that the current rate of population growth in Egypt severely restricts Egypt’s progress.
In March of this year, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) said the annual rate of population growth in the country is 2.4 per cent.
The number of Egyptians worldwide according to CAPMAS now stands at 101 million, including 8 million living abroad.
The president’s comments followed a presentation by Minister of Health and Population, Ahmed Emad Eddin Rady, as part of the conference’s agenda concerning the “Egypt Vision 2030” development plan.
“You want to ensure education is provided to all? Fix the population problem. You want to guarantee job opportunities? Fix the population problem. You want medical services? Fix the population problem,” President Sisi said.

Health Minister’s report
Dr Rady’s report cited the recent history of population growth in Egypt and official efforts to harness it. In 1996, Egypt’s population was 59 million; in 2016 it reached 91 million inside Egypt alone, not counting the Diaspora. He said that the lowest birth rates occurred during the years from 2005 to 2007, and the highest during 2011 to 2014. Noteworthy is that this interval coincided with the Arab Spring in January 2011 and the ensuing political, economic and social turmoil which only began to subside in 2014.
Even though the targeted birth rate during the period 2008 – 2015 had been 2.8, the actual birth rate then was 3.5. The reason, Dr Rady said, was the disregard of family planning programmes, especially compounded by the lack of a well-defined strategy to deal with population growth on a national level. Ministry staff, he said, were unwilling to serve in rural or remote areas where the highest birth rates occurred. There was thus a shortage of birth control staff, mostly female, at a time when illiteracy, early marriage, and prevalent conservative religious thought that disapproves birth control all contributed to the high birth rates.
Since 2015, Dr Rady said, efforts at birth control were intensified. The result was a decrease in national birth rate to 2.6, a first in the last decade. He confidently predicted further decreases in the coming years if a disciplined population strategy is implemented.
“We now have a national population strategy for 2017-2030,” Dr Rady said, “based on reducing birth rates, improving population characteristics, and redistribution of the population. We aim at narrowing the development gap between various regions in Egypt; this would reduce poverty and unemployment, increase job opportunities, raise education levels, and promote development.

What if?
“In case Egypt succeeds in reducing birth rates its population in 2030 could stand at 112 million instead of 128 million,” he said. “The lower population will translate into 10 million children entering school in 2030 instead of 14 million should the birth rate remain high, and a demand for 1.5 million jobs instead of 2.5 million.
“An individual’s share of agricultural land would rise 50 per cent, his share in electricity would increase 37 per cent, and water need would drop 22 per cent. More than EGP150 – 200 billion would be made available during 2017 – 2030 to spend on education, health and security. The comparisons were all between cases of reduced birth rates as opposed to birth rates remaining high.
The Ministry of Health and Population, Dr Rady said, has succeeded during the last two years in preparing a population atlas and another on population indicators in the governorates sorted according to demographic and health statistics.
Integral health convoys now visit needy districts and provide family planning awareness and means at affordable prices in health centres and public hospitals in 3,000 towns and villages. The medical convoys alone have worked to raise the number of beneficiaries of the family planning services by 500,000 in 2016; the total increase over the 2014 – 2015 figures is 1,200,000 beneficiaries.
The Ministry has launched a hotline 08008880800 which it named “We’re there for you” for counseling and answering queries on reproductive health. For the same purpose, the Ministry now has three pages on the social media to interact with the public.

Rural pioneers
The most successful method of tackling the birth rate issue had been the Ministry’s programme of “Rural Pioneers”, female doctors and nurses who visit villagers and talk to them on a one-to-one basis of birth control and family planning.
Suad Abdel-Mageed, Head of the Population and Family Planning Sector, said that
The rural pioneers had made 10 million house calls in 2016, and succeeded in persuading 4 million women to visit the family planning centres for birth control procedures. The Sector held 400,000 and 20,000 mega seminars on the topic in various needy areas.
Ms Abdel-Mageed, said that women’s clubs attached to rural health centres have been launched to offer literacy classes, health and hygiene culture, family control awareness, and entertainment.

Watani Interntaional
26 July 2017

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