Rapid Population Growth Imperils Egypt

If fertility rates are high, Egypt’s population will break 100 million by 2025, and reach 140 million by the year 2050— a scenario that can be described as the “national suicide.”

The world’s population broke the 7 billion person barrier in 2011 and is projected to increase by 40 percent in the coming forty years. Population growth averages vary among the world’s nations, with the populations of developed nations expected to increase by just 10 percent, and the greater part of population growth expected to come from developing nations, especially the least developed, where population is expected to double in the coming four decades.

So what about Egypt’s population outlook? Egyptian census data shows that in 1948, Egypt’s population reached nearly twenty million, added another twenty million by 1975, twenty million more by 1994, with the populace reaching sixty million. Another twenty million over the next seventeen years means eighty million Egyptians by 2011. Egyptians needed thousands of years to reach the first twenty million, before managing to double several times in a few years, without creating a concomitant increase in agricultural land or available water to ensure securing the necessities of life. They also failed to achieve human development and the quality of life achieved by other developing nations.

The United Nations’ population department issues periodical projections for the world’s nations—based on different scenarios, according to those nations’ potential fertility and mortality rates in the coming years. The latest study indicates that even if Egypt follows a low fertility scenario, the population will continue to grow reaching 100 million by 2036, then hitting 105 million by 2050 and settling at that level.

If, however, fertility rates are high, Egypt will break 100 million  by 2025, and reach 140 million by the year 2050— a scenario that can be described as the “national suicide.”

If the reader should wonder whether Egypt is likely to have to the low or high birth rate, he will find a shocking answer. The latest figures from the last three years indicate that current birth rates go beyond the high fertility scenario prepared by the United Nations’ population department. That is to say that the continuation of current birth rates will take Egypt to a population of 100 million before 2025, and if Egyptians continue to adopt the prevailing reproductive values in the coming decades, it is not inconceivable that the scenario of national suicide be realized faster than we imagine.

Worthy of note is the fact that the estimates put forth by United Nations’ population department indicate that population growth in Egypt exceeds Turkey and Iran, even though the population of those two nations was equal to Egypt’s at the beginning of the millennium.

If we look at vital statistics in Egypt, we find that the number of births in the 1990’s was approximately 1.6 million on average. This annual average increased to approximately 1.8 million newborns in the first decade of the twenty-first century, with the last three years indicating an unprecedented increase. Breaking the two-million-newborn barrier in 2008, the rate reached 2.4 million newborns in 2011, and 2.6 million in 2012 according to data published by Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

To evaluate the level of population growth that has occurred in Egypt relative to other nations, it is important to note that in 1950, the number of newborns in Egypt equaled that of Italy, and by 1977 the number of newborns in Egypt had come to equal that of Italy and France combined. By the year 2000 it came to equal the combined total of Italy, France and Spain, and the number of newborns in Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom by 2012. These facts raise many questions and conclusions, perhaps the most important of which is the resources Egypt can allocate to educate the 2.6 million newborns when they reach schooling age, and the resources that will be allocated by the aforementioned four nations for the same number of students, and in turn, the return that we expect in the future in light of competencies, knowledge, skills and attitude pre-requisites to survive in an increasing competitive global environment.

The relative fertility access in Egypt is not confined only to comparing Egypt to European countries. It applies as well when comparing Egypt to other developing countries. For example, birthrates in Egypt exceed those in Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mexico, Brazil, Bangladesh and Vietnam, not to mention India and China. With such differentials the gap in quality of life is likely to widen; not only that between Egypt and developed nations, but also between Egypt and other developing countries that have managed to achieve higher economic growth and lower population growth rates.

The aforementioned numbers are hard to ignore, but will not likely resonate in Egypt—the current political scene does not pay much mind to planning for the future, or to thinking scientifically about how to build it and deal with its challenges.  But it is a patriotic duty to put the Egyptian population program at the top of the priority list. Only then would there be hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren. Otherwise, collective suicide is the only available scenario.

Magued Osman is the CEO and managing director of the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, Baseera. This article originally appeared in Al-Shorouk.