Egypt’s population could more than double to reach 160 million by 2050, hindering social and economic development unless something is done about the “urgent” problem, President Hosni Mubarak warned on Monday.
Mubarak, who has in the past blamed population growth for draining state resources amid rising discontent at rocketing food prices, said that rampant reproduction was a “major challenge” and “fundamental obstacle” to development.
If nothing is done, Egypt’s population of 78 million will almost double to 160 million by 2050, Mubarak said at the opening of a population conference.
But if measures are taken to slow population growth, the population will reach 100 million in 2025 and 120 million by 2050, he quoted experts as saying.
Population growth is “a major challenge for this generation and the generations to come,” Mubarak said on Egyptian state television, and a “key obstacle to our efforts for development and improving the standard of living.”
A baby is born in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, on average every 23 seconds. The population has more than doubled in 30 years and today around a third of Egyptians are under 15.
Despite having an official growth rate of seven percent, Egypt suffers from rampant unemployment and 40 percent of the population lives on or around the poverty line of two dollars a day.
Rising inflation means that the cost of living for the average household has risen by 50 percent in 2008, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
Sporadic protests have taken place in recent months against the high cost of living and reductions in subsidies on such staples as bread.
Mubarak mentioned improving the status of women and reducing illiteracy as key to reducing the population growth rate.
As in previous speeches, he stopped short of calling for birth control measures in the highly religious nation, largely Muslim but with a significant Coptic Christian minority.
Mubarak has in the past called on religious leaders and government ministries to “educate people about the problem.”