CAIRO — Egypt aims to reduce its surging fertility rate over the next 15 years, a government minister said Tuesday, in an effort to address overpopulation concerns in the Arab world's most populous country.
With around 90 million people — a population the United Nations projects to hit 103 million by 2030 — Egypt has struggled for decades to provide its citizens with jobs and services. Most Egyptians live on a tiny sliver of land along the Nile River and the Mediterranean coast, away from the vast desert that makes up most of the country.
According to a plan laid out by Minister of State for Population Hala Youssef, the government will provide financial incentives to keep children in school, expand family planning services and boost public awareness — while working closely with non-governmental organizations and local communities.
The aim is to get Egyptian women to attain a fertility rate of 2.4 children, she said, speaking on the sidelines of a conference on youth hosted by the U.S.-based NGO Population Council in Cairo. Women currently give birth to 3.5 children each on average.
"This is the target," Youssef told The Associated Press, adding that the plan aims to reduce the rate to 3 over the next five years. "We're coordinating with other ministries on this issue, for example the ministry of social solidarity, to give financial compensation to families to keep their girls and boys in school."
A 2014 study by Egypt's Health Ministry and an organization funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development showed that the birth rate, which had been falling since at least 1980, rose dramatically after 2008.
Youssef said her ministry, created three months ago, also focuses on childhood and motherhood and is seeking to avoid using negative incentives.
The plan, she said, focuses in part on young married couples with only one or two children, advising them not to have big families — a traditional goal for many in both the countryside and crowded urban centers.