Population alert in Egypt and Pakistan

Posted: 21 November 2003

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has blamed rapid population growth as the main cause of the country's problems, saying the government could only do so much, according to remarks published in the Government newspaper Al Ahram.

And in Pakistan President Pervez Musharraff issued a similar warning.

"The government is doing its best to find a solution to the problems, but the real problem is population growth," Mubarak said when asked about various economic and other problems, including a shortage of bread.

"If population growth continues the way it is, we will be 85 million people in ten years and we will not have enough resources," the presidentwarned.

Heavy taxes

Mubarak said the state until now had ensured that education and health was free while it subsidized many products, including bread.

However, "the state will not be able to continue to provide such services with the population growth, and we will be forced to impose heavy taxes on citizens, which would cause investors to flee," he said.

High growth rate

Egypt's population grew to 70 million people in 2003, increasing at the rate of 1.3 million people every year, according to official figures. The latest PRB wallchart 2003, puts the growth rate at 2.1 per cent. It projects that the population will grow to 103 million by 2025 and 127 million by 2050.

The latest International Monetary Fund's Global Economic Outlook, forecasts Egypt's economic growth at 2.8 per cent in 2003 and 3.0 per cent in 2004, well below the 6 per cent required to absorb unemployment.

Mubarak said the previous week that rapid population growth was the cause of a whole array of economic and social problems, including poor education, unemployment, and population density.

Television series

One problem, highlighted in a new BBC television series, is the obstacle facing girls in Arabic countries in getting an education - especially in remote rural areas such as the upper Nile region of Egypt.

The 20-part series, made in co-operation with UNICEF, looks at issues affecting educational opportunities for girls in seven Arab states, including those in the Syrian Desert, remote areas of Sudan and the mountains of Yemen.

The series takes on the issue of early marriage and the traditional roles ascribed to girls at a young age - with marriage the pre-eminent goal and the attainment of education discouraged.Many studies have shown that girls with secondary education tend to have fewer, healthier, children.

Pakistan 'warning'

In a separate statement, on November 20, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf warned his countrymen that a 'population explosion' paired with low life expectancy is straining the country's resources and threatening its economic wellbeing.

"We have to address the problem of the population explosion on a war footing because this is sapping our limited resources," he told a crowd of adults and children on Universal Children's Day.

Pakistan's population of 140 million is growing at a rate of more than 2 per cent, while poor health care has meant that life expectancy averages only about 50 years.

Musharraf said the government should divert "maximum resources" to population planning in a bid to steer the country toward a smaller average family size.

Sources: UNWire and PlanetWire, 23 September and 20 November 2003.