Address by President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak to the National Population Conference

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Brothers and Sisters,

This conference addresses a national crucial issue that relates to both the present and future of Egypt and poses a major challenge to this and the coming generations as well as a main obstacle to our efforts to bring about growth and development and to raise standard of living. I had convoked this National Population Conference to once again caution against the risks of overpopulation with its dimensions, intricacies and implications and to bring again this issue to the focus of national awareness, as an issue of a people, homeland and destiny.

Consciousness of the demographic problem arose since the 1960s, when late president Gamal Abden-Nasser cautioned against its reflections and gave directives to create the Supreme Council for Family Planning. At that time Egypt had a population of 26 million people, how now as we are approaching a figure of 80 million?

As you might recall I had several times drawn attention to the risks of overpopulation to the onward progress of the homeland and repeatedly demanded to address it as the largest challenge we face. As you recall, I called in 1984 for a similar national conference on population that helped energize awareness of the dimensions of this issue, resulting in the creation, in the following year, of the National Population Council and the adoption, in 1986, of a national population policy. In 2002, we developed it into a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional national strategy to address this important national issue up to 2017.

Since the 1980s, our population policies and programs have already fared well; otherwise our population would have increased by about 12 million over the current level.

However, we have to admit that population increase is still taking us to unsafe bounds; we have to admit that this increase is continually devouring any returns resulting from economic development and growth; we have to admit that the demographic dilemma is the cornerstone in the gap between the ceiling of our ambition and our limited resources.

We have to acknowledge all this and have to admit the pressing need for a pause for truthfulness and candidness, where mull over the current demographic situation as we live it day by day, its reflections on the aspired and sought future for our new generations and our sons and grandchildren.

This should be an Egyptian and crucial pause, where logical reasoning is used and the interest of this homeland and this people given primacy and our legitimate aspirations for a better future and future taken into account.

Fellow-citizens,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I call for this Egyptian and crucial pause to face up to the pressures and implications of overpopulation, as an urgent national issue that cannot be delayed.

Overpopulation reflects on other phenomena any citizen comes across in his\her daily life; road congestion, traffic and transportation problems and squat areas.

It also adversely affects development efforts, and per capita share of expenditure on education, health care, housing, water and agricultural land.

This population increase challenges our efforts to provide more and better-quality services, create job opportunities and curb unemployment. It also undermines our pursuit for improved standard of living and even goes far beyond to pose a threat to Egypt's social stability and national security, unless we promptly contain it.

We have scored high rates of investment, economic growth and employment, for the third year in a row.

We are doing our utmost to maintain and sustain these rates and have ambitious aspirations to enhance our achievements in all infrastructure, production and service sectors.

I tell you and our fellow-citizens that unless we address the population problem, we would putting these achievements and aspirations at stake.

The economic reform steps have responded to several imbalances related to the redefinition of the role of the state, improvement of the investment-attractive climate and encouragement of the private sector. These daring steps have rectified distortions of the fiscal and banking sectors and in exchange rates.

I tell you and our fellow-citizens that the current imbalance between population and resources is the largest imbalance; the largest challenge and topmost priority.

We have to work together to match overpopulation with such capacities made available by our resources to accommodate such increase.

We have to control the annual population growth rate so as to guarantee for our children the right to education and health care and as well as the right, when they have grown up, to opportunities of employment, housing and descent life.

I tell you and our fellow-citizens that this can be achieved when the increase in our economic growth and resources exceeds the number of population rather than vice versa

Fellow-citizens,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Egyptians had made civilization and built the pyramids with a population of only two million. Our population at the early 20th Century was 10 million, twofold increased to 20 million by mid-century and threefold at the end of the century hitting 64 million in 2000.

Today Egypt ranks sixteenth on the list of the most populous countries worldwide. Our population is approaching 80 million, with an increase of about 1.3 million births a year.

As experts expect, this annual increase is likely to break the 2-million barrier within a few years.

True, we have managed to reduce the population increase rate from 2.8 per cent in 1980s to 1.9 per cent at present. However, this has not resulted in the necessary and due balance between population and resources and there persists the question: what next?

Projections by the United Nations population Program indicate significant figures and indicators for Egypt; a fall in mortality rates in general and in child mortality in particular as well as a rise in average age and life expectancy rates. All this is attributed to increased availability of health care.

International demographists expect our population to reach to about 100 million people in 2025; i.e. 17 years from now. They further expect our population to reach about 120 million people in 2050, if we can successfully reduce current population increase rates and about100 million people should current rates persist.

Those are the expectations and choices and those are the risks. What then is our choice? And how shall we move?

Some claim that overpopulation can be a blessing that boosts growth and development rather than road blocks. I say to those that this needs enormous investments and resources far beyond our capacity.

I tell those that China and India have adopted stringent population policies and, in spite of the fact that both countries have considerable natural resources and vast areas, have applied a variety of positive and negative incentives to control population increase.

I tell those that, in 19960, that both Egypt and South Korea had each a population of about 26 million people, but now South Korea has a population of about 48 million and we about 80 million.

We have to be no less conscious of the population problem and we have to follow the example of other nations and peoples in addressing and containing its implications and risks.

The population issue has intertwining economic, social, cultural and religious dimensions and must address on three interrelated pivots, each affecting and, is being affected by, the other.

The first pivot calls for reviewing existing policies and programs for further reducing current overpopulation rate. The second calls for applying further efforts to upgrade demographic characteristics; more efforts to combat illiteracy and school dropout and child labor; more efforts to elevate the status and educational, cultural and economic empowerment of woman and further efforts to support woman's participation in social mobility. We have also to accelerate our move on the third pivot, re-charting the demographic map and effecting a better geographical distribution of population over Egypt's governorates.

I do call for national campaign to aggress the population issue with all its dimensions and pivots; a nationwide campaign, where the state as well as the private sector and civil society institutions participate.

The campaign should address the regressing awareness of the population issue over the past ten years, bring back this issue to the core of our priorities and confront the slowdown of progress in implementing the national population program.

It must a nationwide campaign led by the media, writers and thinkers and supported by an enlightened discourse of clerics. It must expose the risks involving the current population situation; the relationship between overpopulation pressures and development ambitions and opens the door to a crucial pause, where the society reviews the current situation and its reflections on the present and future of the homeland.

This nationwide campaign should seek to reduce overpopulation rate; to disseminate awareness of the small-family concept and halt the current race between economic growth and overpopulation rates.

I call upon the government to sponsor this campaign and ensure integration among partners to the homeland in sharing responsibility for the campaign, thus enabling us to reach societal consensus to achieve its goals and societal participation to ensure its success.

I call for ensuring due coordination between the Ministry of Health and the National Population Council and for energizing their activities. I reiterate the need for periodic review of their performance, successes and failures.

I ask the government to place the population issue as a main priority on the agenda of the Governors' council and to directly address it on the local administration level.

I call for further efforts on the part of our popular councils, reproductive health units and rural outreach workers. I call for similar responsibilities to be undertaken by the National Council for Women, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood targeting those regions that most need awareness-raising and family-planning services and placing Egypt's human capital in service of its society and people.

Fellow-citizens,

I have earlier talked to you about several issues of the homeland; I have put forth before you the domestic and external challenge we face and on several occasions I have raised issues of education, health, food and energy supplies of concern to us as well as others related to our efforts in the interest of the future of the homeland.

Out of my responsibility as the President, I tell you without exaggeration that our talk today once again puts forward an extremely serious and significant issue that constitutes the common denominator for all challenges and concerns we face now.

Overpopulation is not a parameter of nations and peoples' power, what counts is the level of economic progress, human development and human potential. Still, the criterion that counts is the individual's ability to make positive contributions in service of the society.

This national conference is attended by a distinguished galaxy of experts in population, economics, sociology and statistics as well as a similar galaxy of civil society and media representatives and intellectuals. I look forward to this conference giving a fresh boost to the population issue for the sake of Egypt and its people.

We are facing this issue with all the sufferings, pressures and difficulties it poses. This generation will be handing down the national banner to succeeding ones. What looks difficult today may be, after some years, too hard to face and to bear its consequences. We have to question ourselves what about tomorrow and after tomorrow.

May Allah guide our steps to success?

May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah be upon you