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Home World News Washington Post World News As climate change worsens, Egypt begs families to have fewer children

As climate change worsens, Egypt begs families to have fewer children



GIZA, Egypt — In her busy neighborhood on the west bank of the River Nile, her friends call her “the mother of children.”

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

“He keeps telling everyone he sees, ‘Rana is pregnant!'” she said. “Customers call for orders and he says, ‘My wife is pregnant!'”

However, the Egyptian government sees families of their size as a serious threat to the country — and has spent millions of dollars in recent years trying to convince parents to have fewer children.

In public speeches, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has repeatedly berated families for having more than two children, calling the population crisis a national security issue hampering progress on development goals.

The state’s longstanding concern about its birth rate is shared by many other countries in Africa, where natural resources and social amenities struggle to keep up with the rapidly growing population. Nigeria has more than twice as many people as Egypt. The population of Ethiopia – embroiled in a protracted battle with Egypt over access to the Nile – has reached 121 million. More than a billion people already live in Africa. By 2050, the population of at least 26 African countries is expected to double.

The Cairo government says the issue is more urgent than ever as rising temperatures increasingly threaten the country’s food and water supplies – topics that will be at the top of the agenda at the UN Climate Change Conference known as COP27. that starts Sunday in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

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Hosting COP27, Egypt has vowed to defend African concerns, including how rapid population growth could increase countries’ vulnerability to climate change. Africa is already being hit hard by climate change, although it is responsible for only about 3 percent of global CO2 emissions.

In Egypt, birth and fertility rates are declining gradually, but not fast enough. For the country to create enough jobs and improve national living standards, and avoid resource shortages, it would need to reduce its annual births from more than 2 million last year to about 400,000, the government said. But more than 1 million babies were born in the past seven months alone — bringing the total population to 104 million, an almost fivefold increase since the country gained independence in the 1950s.

The effects of Egypt’s growing population are felt in its traffic jams and overcrowded shopping malls, overcrowded classrooms and overcrowded apartment blocks. But residents of urban areas remain somewhat sheltered from environmental pressures on rural communities and agriculture, which are 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 sea level rise, water shortages and extreme weather, experts predict, including heat waves and dust storms.

Almost everyone in Egypt lives on a relatively small strip of fertile land along the Nile. Farmers who long relied on the river are now struggling to adjust to the water level have decreased. The country is “approaching ‘absolute water scarcity’,” according to a recent report from UNICEF and the American University in Cairo. The government has sought to limit the amount of agricultural land used for growing water-intensive crops such as bananas.

Ragab and her husband’s decision to raise a large family underscores how tradition and personal freedoms complicate the government’s efforts to control population growth. The wishes of the state played no part in the family’s choice, she said.

“I understand why the government might say one or two children, because of the financial responsibility,” said her husband, Mahmoud Shawky. “Some people have two children and eat meat once a month. That is not the case with us.”

Shawky earns enough from his butcher shop to provide for the family. Their apartment is modest, but they use the extra money to fund the kids’ athletics classes and trips to the coast.

“We need to be able to take care of our children,” he says. “I’m very much against people having children without the means.”

However, in rural parts of the country, the decision to raise a large family is often more complicated. a lot of farming families are having more children because they need help on the land, said Sahar Khamis, an Arab media expert at the University of Maryland.

For decades, government coverage of family planning has been “not helpful at all” and has been counterproductive at times, she said. An ad showing two parents with a boy and a girl urging a smaller family for a better life “didn’t have any positive effect and was not even understood by some part of the public,” she said, with some families saying it. interpreted as an encouragement to keep trying until they have children of both sexes.

In agricultural areas, the “policy of having only two children is totally unacceptable,” Khamis said. When the government aggressively pushes for families to have fewer children, it can come across as “simply using the people as scapegoats for the government’s failures in economic growth.”

Still, the UN Population Fund, which supports mobile clinics that travel to rural areas of the country to educate women about contraceptives, said their use has increased significantly in recent years.

According to Egypt’s 2021 Family Health Survey, about 65 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used modern family planning – an increase of 8 percentage points from 2014. About 63 percent of those who used contraceptives said they obtained them from government-run facilities.

Although most of Ragab’s friends use them, “was never convinced.”

She briefly used an IUD, but had it removed after only a few months.

“I feel like they’re rejecting God’s fate. If it’s my lot, I’ll have the child,” she said.

Hala Elsaid, Egypt’s Minister of Planning and Economic Development, said in an interview earlier this year that the government is still population as ‘an important good’.

“But we want every child that comes to this world [to have] a good chance of education [and] good medical treatment,” she said.

In a speech last year, President Sissi took a tougher tone: Parents with more than two children, he said, are “overwhelming 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 picture of her pregnancy test — two pink lines on the small white screen. “I have good news for you. I took a test and I’m pregnant!” she said in a voice message.

For her husband, it was “like it was the first time we got pregnant,” she said.

He told her that he is praying for twins.

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