As climate change worsens, Egypt is pleading with families to have fewer children

As climate change worsens, Egypt is pleading with families to have fewer children


Giza, Egypt — In her crowded neighborhood on the west bank of the Nile, her friends call her “the mother of the children.”

At 32, Rana Ragab already has five children and just found out she is pregnant with her sixth. She and her husband, a butcher, are thrilled.

“He keeps saying to everyone he sees. “Rana is pregnant,” he said. “Customers call in orders and he tells them: “My wife is pregnant.”

The Egyptian government, however, considers families of their size to be a serious threat to the country, and it is spent millions of dollars has tried to persuade parents to have fewer children over the past few years.

In public speeches, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said scold families repeatedly to have more than two children, calling the population crisis a national security issue that impedes progress on development goals.

The state’s long-standing concern over birth rates is shared by many other countries in Africa, where natural resources and social services are struggling to keep up with rapidly growing populations. Nigeria has more than twice as many people as Egypt. The population of Ethiopia, which has been fighting with Egypt for years for access to the Nile River, has reached 121 million. More than one billion people already live in Africa. By 2050, the population of at least 26 African countries expected to double.

The government in Cairo says the issue is more pressing than ever as rising temperatures increasingly threaten the country’s food and water supplies. topics that will be high on the agenda at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, which begins on Sunday. The city of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

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As host of COP27, Egypt has pledged to champion African concerns, which include how rapid population growth could increase countries’ vulnerability to climate change. Africa is already seriously affected by climate change, though being responsible For only about 3 percent of global CO2 emissions.

Egypt’s fertility and birth rates are gradually decreasing – just not fast enough. For the country to create sufficient jobs and improve the national standard of living and avoid resource shortages, it would need to be reduced Its annual births have fallen from more than 2 million last year to about 400,000, the government said. But more than 1 million children were born in the past seven months alone, bringing the total population to 104 million, a nearly five-fold increase since the country gained independence in the 1950s.

The effects of Egypt’s growing population are felt in traffic jams and crowded shopping malls, overflowing classrooms and apartment buildings. But urban dwellers remain somewhat shielded from the environmental stresses affecting rural communities and agriculture, which is vital to the country’s economy.

This arid country is on the front lines of climate change. As temperatures continue to rise, Egypt will become increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels, water shortages and extreme weather, experts predict, including heat waves and dust storms.

In Egypt, almost everyone lives on one relatively small strip of fertile land along the Nile. Farmers who have long relied on the river are now struggling to adjust to the water table have decreased. The country is “approaching absolute water scarcity,” according to the latest report published by UNICEF and the American University in Cairo. The government has sought to limit the amount of agricultural land which is used to grow water-intensive crops such as bananas.

Ragab and her husband’s decision to have a large family underscores how tradition and personal freedoms complicate any government effort to manage population growth. He said the state’s wishes were not a factor in the family’s choice.

“I understand why the government might say one or two children because of financial responsibility,” said her husband, Mahmoud Shawki. “Some have two children, they eat meat once a month. That’s not the case for us.”

Shocky earns enough from his butcher shop to support his family. Their apartment is modest, but they fund the kids’ athletics lessons and beach trips with the savings.

“We have to be able to take care of our children,” she said. “I’m very against people having children without means.”

However, in rural parts of the country, the decision to have a large family is often more complicated. Lots of farming families have more children because they need help in the fields, said Sahar Khamis, an Arab media expert at the University of Maryland.

For decades, government messages on family planning “have not been helpful at all” and have sometimes even been counterproductive, she said. One ad, which featured two parents with a son and a daughter calling for a smaller family for a better life, “didn’t do well and wasn’t even understood by some audiences,” he said, and some families it was interpreted as. encouragement to keep trying until they have children of both sexes.

In agricultural areas, “a policy of just having two children is completely unattainable,” Khamis said. When the government aggressively pushes families to have fewer children, it may be “simply using the people as a scapegoat for the government’s failings in economic growth.”

However, the UN Population Fund, which supports mobile clinics that travel to rural areas of the country to educate women about contraceptives, says there has been a marked increase in their use in recent years.

According to Egypt’s 2021 Family Health Survey, about 65 percent of married women aged 15 to 49 used modern family planning, an increase of 8 percentage points. 2014: About 63 percent of contraceptive users said they obtained them from government-run facilities.

Although many of Ragab’s friends use them, he “He was never convinced.”

She briefly used an IUD, but it was removed after just a few months.

“I feel they are rejecting God’s destiny. If I am lucky, I will have a child,” he said.

Egypt’s minister of planning and economic development, Hala Elsayed, said in an interview earlier this year that the government still sees its big population as a “primary asset”.

“But we want every child to come into this world [to have] good education opportunity [and] good medical care,” he said.

President Sisi in his speech last year took on a harsher toneParents with more than two children, he said, “burden yourself and the state.”

But Ragab sees her children only as a source of joy.

Late last month, she sent a Washington Post reporter a photo of her pregnancy test — two pink lines on a tiny white screen. “I have good news for you. I took a test and I’m pregnant.” he said in a voice note.

For her husband, “it’s like being pregnant for the first time,” she said.

She told him she was praying for the twins.

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