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The difficult equation

By the Gazette Editorial Board

All the programmes being implemented to initiate economic reform and combat poverty will not bear fruit if the overpopulation problem is not addressed, at the same time.

According to the 2017 census conducted by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, Egypt's population inside the country reached 94,798,827, with a 2.56 per cent annual rise in the population.

There are fears that this high percentage, the biggest in Egypt's history, will eat up any economic development that is achieved. This could be why President Abdel Fattah El Sisi once described the population growth as the second most serious threat facing Egypt after terrorism.

The problem is that all the national programmes launched in the last half century to address the overpopulation problem have failed to produce results because they did not address the root of the problem. All the studies and surveys conducted have proved that there is a strong connection between the rise in the population growth rate and increase in the poverty rate in the various governorates. In 2017, the highest population growth rate, 3.1 per cent, was registered in Fayyoum governorate, which has the highest number of poor villages.

Herein emerges the significance of the new project which was recently launched by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, to address the overpopulation problem.

The "Two is enough" project will be implemented in 10 governorates, most of them in Upper Egypt. This project will work with the poor people who have a strong conviction that having a big family is the only way to increase their income. This new project, to which the ministry has allocated a budget of LE100 million, is aimed at increasing the awareness of this segment of society, of the importance of following the family planning programme and being satisfied with just two children. The project will work with 1,148,000 families who are benefitting from the Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity) programmes for achieving social development.

The Ministry of Solidarity, via its employees working in the governorates involved and with the help of some civil societies, will have direct contact with families to convince them of the economic and social benefits they would enjoy by joining the family planning programme.

Minister Ghada Wali announced that the new project would not impose any punitive measures against the families that would not follow its instructions. It would rely on dialogue to convince people that having small families would allow them to lead a better life.

However, the project may not achieve its goal, since the Takaful and Karama programmes offer monthly pensions to families according to their number. In other words, the more the number of school children in a family, the more financial aid it receives from the ministry, as a way of encouraging it to keep the children in school rather than send them out to work.

So, the question is: How can the ministry solve the contradiction of giving financial assistance to poor families, so they can keep all their children in school, while at the same time convincing the families to be satisfied with only two children?

If the government will not punish citizens for having a large number of children, the least it should do is to offer incentives to the poor families that are committed to the new programme, in the form, for example, of more subsidised food commodities or more financial aid to create small projects.