by Marwa Yahya
CAIRO, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- In Egypt, the population boom has attracted as much public attention as terrorist attacks and the impact of economic reforms on the poor and the needy.
According to the latest official figures, Egypt's population stands at almost 100 million, with an annual increase of 2.5 million.
Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has been fighting the problem of population explosion for the past 50 years.
"Overpopulation makes it more difficult for us to achieve sustainable development in accordance with Egypt's development Vision 2030," Mohamed Abu-Hamed, deputy chairman of the Social Solidarity Committee at the Egyptian parliament, told Xinhua.
During the National Youth Conference in July 2017, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi described overpopulation as one of the "two real threats" facing Egypt (the other one is terrorism).
In October 2017, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) reported that population in Egypt doubled during the last 30 years, increasing from 48 million in 1986 to 95 million in 2016.
With the current birth rate of 3.47 percent, Egypt's population is expected to grow to 128 million by 2030, according to UN estimates.
"This growth, with 2.6 million babies born in 2016, has become an unprecedented challenge to the climate, which will cause loss of arable land, rising sea levels and depletions of scarce water resources," Abu-Hamed said.
According to the CAPMAS, nearly 24,000 hectares of land is lost per year as a result of soil erosion and housing construction to meet population needs.
Moreover, Egypt's share of water from the Nile, approximately 55 million cubic meters per year, has remained unchanged since 1954 despite the increase of its population.
Problems also exist in the education sector.
Illiteracy in Egypt stands at 18 percent and the school drop-outs reached 5.7 million in the age group of 10 to 34, according to the 2017 census.
Unemployment is another challenge as Egypt's labor force is projected to reach 80 million by 2028, according to the International Monetary Fund.
"If the population continues to increase, the state's national production would be insufficient to meet their demands, thus making the country depend on imports, which will further burden the economy," Abu-Hamed pointed out.
The population surge in Egypt requires an annual economic growth rate of 15 percent, a mission impossible for any country to achieve, he noted.
TRYING IN VAIN TO CURB OVERPOPULATION
The Egyptian government has taken various measures to control the population. For instance, the parliament's Health Affairs Committee approved an agreement between Egypt and the United States in December 2017 to help fund a birth control program, upon which Egypt will receive 11 million U.S. dollars.
On Dec. 2, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced that the country's subsidy program, which provides cash for health care of school-aged children, will be limited to families with only two children instead of three from January 2019.
The decision was made because of the program's limited resources, the Ministry of Social Solidarity said in a statement.
Since its launch in 2017, the program has cost 21 billion Egyptian pounds (1.17 billion dollars), 85 percent of which was paid from the state budget with the rest from a loan of the World Bank.
However, Abu-Hamed called the decision "inefficient and unconstitutional."
"Depriving the third child of subsidy means the increase of school dropout, illiteracy, child labor and poverty rates," he said.
"Additionally, the third child would have a problem with the idea of loyalty to the country," the Egyptian official added.
Between 2000 and 2008, birth control campaigns in Egypt succeeded in reducing the annual population growth from 2 million to 1.5 million, according to official statistics.
"The collapse of birth control campaigns after 2008 was caused by clerics who have launched a counter-campaign," Amro Hassan, general secretary of the National Council for Population, told Xinhua.
The annual increase of Egypt's population equals half the Europe's, which rises by 5 million on a yearly basis, said Hassan.
Egypt should take serious measures to tackle the problem, including a package of incentives to encourage birth control after marriage, raising public awareness of overpopulation through textbooks and supervising clerics' speech, experts said.
"High population is a bless in some countries but it is a curse in Egypt," Hassan said. "Now family planning has become a matter of utmost urgency for Egypt to achieve economic prosperity."