CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s fast-growing population hit 100 million people on Tuesday, the official statistics agency announced, presenting a pressing problem for an already overburdened country with limited resources.
The staggering figure is an increase of 7 million since the publication of the latest census results in 2017. Egypt’s population has tripled since 1960, with the annual growth rate peaking in 1987 at nearly 2.8%. The country is trying to cope with resurgent birth rates and what the World Bank calls a looming “youth bulge.” Egypt’s statistics agency estimates that those between ages 18-29 comprise over one-fifth of the population.
Most of the country’s population is crammed into urban areas near the Nile. The capital, Cairo, and its twin province of Giza, are home to a combined population of 19 million, according to Tuesday’s figures.
The milestone quickly set off alarm over further economic strain.
“The population problem is one of the biggest challenges facing the state,” said Hala el-Said, the minister of planning and economic development.
Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, has been scrambling to stem its soaring birth rate — about 2 million a year — as economic discontent mounts with one third of the country living in poverty. The government recently rolled out an ambitious family planning campaign called “Two is Enough,” trying to challenge deep-rooted cultural traditions in rural areas, where contraception is scarce and children are viewed as a vital labor source and insurance policy for old age.
To stave off economic collapse as part of a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government has pushed ambitious reforms over the past three years.
The tough austerity measures have slashed fuel subsidies and dramatically hiked up prices of everything from subway fares to utility costs. The benefits have yet to trickle down to working-class Egyptians who are struggling to cover their basic needs. Youth unemployment hovers around 34%, the World Bank reported.
In a press conference to mark the occasion, el-Said warned that unchecked growth would compound the country’s concerns, leading to a decline in “per capita share of housing, educational and health services and job creation.”
El-Sissi has repeatedly lectured Egyptians about the perils of overpopulation, describing it in one speech as “among the biggest threats facing Egypt,” along with terrorism.