CAIRO (BLOOMBERG) – Every child comes with its blessing, says the Egyptian proverb. As the country’s population now exceeds 100 million, this adage is being tested like never before.
Over the past three decades, the number of Egyptians has quadrupled and, if unchecked, could nearly double by 2050, threatening to tip the host of this year’s global climate summit towards a future where ever-scarcer resources thwart ambitious development efforts.
Mrs. Omnia Abu Zaid’s husband invokes the saying repeatedly as they struggle to care for their four children.
“We’re making ends meet, but barely,” said Ms Abu Zaid, who runs her husband’s beauty salon in Cairo and blames failed birth control for her larger-than-expected family.
“It was God’s will,” she said with a small laugh.
While family size has been declining for decades, it remains dangerously high in a country where half the population lives around or below the poverty line. The nation is already the most populous in the Arab world and is constantly struggling to create jobs for a rather young population: even now around half of all Egyptians are under 25.
Egypt’s concerns are compounded by a looming water crisis that could be exacerbated by a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile.
The government is taking steps to reduce state subsidies that provide a lifeline to many and dovetail with the population control campaign in a way that could prove combustible in a country with historic potential. popular unrest.
“There is a unique ingrained culture in our country that you can buy things and receive services for less than they cost, and have children and expect someone else to feed them” , President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in December. “It has held the country back in recent years.”
Previous attempts to fix the problem have had mixed success. Officials are aiming higher this time with a plan that offers cash incentives – possibly in the form of deferred savings certificates, Planning Minister Hala El-Said said in an interview.
The plan also includes family planning awareness projects, sanctions to reduce the incidence of unregistered births, more women’s clinics and better access to contraception.
Another key element is to strengthen current efforts to empower women and help them finance small businesses.
Egypt’s current birth rate is 3.4 children per woman. Under the government’s most optimistic scenario, the target rate is 2.11 by 2032 and 1.65 by 2052. The worst-case projection shows 2.1 by 2052, which would bring the country’s population to 191.3 million – an increase equal to the populations of Canada, Saudi Arabia and Portugal combined.