The blessing and the curse of 100 million: How to best deal with Egypt’s population growth

Between 2006 and 2012, the population increased by 40 percent (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Social Solidarity)

Egypt’s booming population growth has for decades been labelled as a thorn in the side of the country’s economic growth and prosperity – a cause of dismay and consternation for the government.

While it is natural to believe and take note of the negative impact of a population that is uncontrollably expanding, panicking about the situation will do more harm than good. With Egypt’s population officially crossing the 100-million mark, as the 2018 census revealed, discussions have been flaring about a host of urgent measures that should be executed immediately to curb the growth.

In light of that, the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES) organized a seminar under the title “How to best address the population problem,” with the participation of a number of economists, experts and academics that gave insights on the crucial aspects relating to the issue.

The stats
Egypt’s current birth rate is equivalent to the birth rates of five European countries combined, CEO of the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) Magued Osman explained.

Expressing concern at the mounting rates of population and how this would in turn jeopardize the country’s economic future, Osman adds that the population is growing by an average of 2.7 million every year, with the United Nations (UN) predicting that it will hit 130 million by 2030 and 150 million by 2050.

He added that between 2006 and 2012, the population increased by 40 percent. “In order to take up this increase, the Ministry of Education had to add around 90,000 primary school classes to the existing ones, with a total cost of LE25 million.”

Egypt’s current birth rate is equivalent to the birth rates of five European countries combined

Efforts to curb population growth – and their pitfalls

Currently, the government relies on external loans to fund family planning programs. However, a study supported by ECES entitled “How to address the population problem properly” suggests that a portion of the government’s budget should be dedicated to curbing population growth as well since the loans are not enough.

For instance, a $530-million World Bank loan disbursed in November 2018 only covers 11.5 percent of health units and 3.5 percent of hospitals.

The study unveils a noticeable geographical inequity in the availability of family planning services. Eleven percent of women coming from high-income social backgrounds want to use birth control methods but do not have access to them, researcher at ECES Ahmed Dawood explained, adding that these methods do not efficiently reach women in less privileged areas, such as Upper Egypt.

About 30 percent of women using contraceptive pills discontinue them after a year due to the method’s health implications and side effects, the plan to conceive or the futility of the method itself, the above-mentioned study reveals, emphasizing that birth control should be a shared responsibility between men and women alike. For that, the awareness of contraceptive methods that can be used by men should definitely increase, it states.

The birth control methods industry is dominated by a few main players, while newcomers to the market are hindered by restrictive and difficult registration conditions. Consequently, the landscape remains significantly limited in scope and has turned into a monopoly. Moreover, the import of said methods has been faced with restrictions from the Ministry of Health.

“There are several other foreign markets out there that produce these methods at reduced prices and with higher quality, ,” Dawood adds.

Economic development and effective population management are mutually exclusive

Can the negative effects of booming populations be kept in check?
“Economic development and effective population management are mutually exclusive,” executive director at ECES Abla Abdel Latif stated during the seminar.

She emphasized the importance of nurturing an integrated and effective institutional framework of the population problem, which translates into concerned ministries and institutions having an effective role to assume, such as evaluating family planning programs.

But limiting population growth should not be the sole focus when dealing with the matter: “Eliminating poverty and upgrading the quality of life for people are the sure-fire way towards a not over-populated Egypt,” she added.

To meet the rising demand for goods and commodities of a growing population, wide-scale measures to be taken, such as scaling production operations or finding economically viable alternatives for conventional methods of production, scholar Rohan Kothare argues in his research paper “Does India’s population growth have a positive effect on economic growth?”. Kothare’s argument here aligns with Richard Easterlin’s paper “Effects of population growth on the economic development of developing countries,” which states that overpopulation can cause an economic boom of scale and specialization, if managed correctly.

This can ultimately boost per capita income and the national output by enabling a greater base of the labor force to specialize, he ensures.

Kothare also notes that a country’s young population is the main catalyst for economic growth, adding that “in low-income countries, rapid population growth is likely to be detrimental in the short- and medium-term because it leads to large numbers of dependent children.” In the long-run, there is likely to be a demographic dividend in these countries as these young people become productive adults. Egypt specifically is famous for its young population, as 21 percent of Egyptians are aged between 18 and 29 – this adds up to 20.2 million people, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Hence, it is not only about putting a halt on population growth, but putting the needed policies and measures in place to get the best out of the 100 million Egyptians that are already here.


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