Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: Too many babies

August 18, 2008 |  6:39 am

Cairo_street_pic Stop, and listen to the sound of babies wailing.

Egypt’s population is growing too fast to sustain it, especially in the squatter neighborhoods of Giza, where 23,000 babies are born each year. That number adds to an overall annual population growth of 1.9 million people. President Hosni Mubarak is again encouraging birth control under the slogan: “Before you add another baby, make sure his needs are secured.”

Since Mubarak took office in 1981, the country’s population has nearly doubled to about 76 million, according to Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. Some counts put the number at more than 80 million.

That is straining a desert nation with shrinking farmland and limited water resources, and an economy in which about 45% of Egyptians live on $2 or less.
The poor are having the bulk of the babies, most notably in rural areas where large families are regarded as key to economic survival. The government’s Ask for Advice campaign is attempting to change such attitudes. It teaches contraception and other family planning methods and seeks to persuade men to be satisfied with daughters, instead of preoccupied with gaining sons.

Cairo’s upscale neighborhood of Zamalek makes demographers happy: It records a mere 235 births each year.

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: A crowded Cairo street. Credit: Reuters

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