Thursday, February 13, 2020

Egypt Struggles with Population Growth

The New York Times published an interesting article yesterday on population growth challenges in Egypt. As the article notes, the rapidly increasing population is quickly eating up arable farmland and taxing basic resources like its very limited water supply. While the article asserts that the country has tried to use social campaigns to encourage smaller families, the initiatives have met with mixed success, particularly in rural communities where large families are seen as an asset.

An Egyptian street scene. Photo by Bob Brinkmann
In one of my graduate courses yesterday, my students reviewed issues of population and sustainability. They rightly pointed out that the key to stabilizing population is the development of strong educational opportunities for a population--particularly girls and women. Population growth rates tend to be highest in countries with poor educational opportunities for girls and women.

There is obviously grave concern in Egypt about its future under the current population boom (it just achieved a population of 100 million). Plus, there are questions about the stability of the Nile flow under climate change scenarios and due to the development of upstream water resources by Ethiopia. Egypt is highly dependent on imported food and other resources and will only grow more vulnerable as the population increases. Indeed, the President of the country, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his cabinet has put the country on high alert due to the population problem. The article notes that the leaders of the country look at population growth as a national security issue.

But it is also a human issue. Housing is scarce, there are fewer resources, and there are concerns about employment. There are also shortages of contraceptives.

It will be interesting to see how Egypt tries to change the population trends in the coming years. Other countries, like Vietnam and Bangladesh have significantly cut population growth. Will Egypt follow suit?

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