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Elderly Poverty in Egypt
Egypt’s poverty levels and its elderly population are increasing. UNFPA reported that 20.2% of the Egyptian population will be aged 60 and over in 2050. Meanwhile, the World Bank Group reported a poverty rate of 32.5% at the national poverty line in 2017. According to this, the amount of old persons in poverty is growing. To better understand what this means, it is necessary to know about some key aspects regarding elderly poverty in Egypt. These include what tools Egypt is fighting elderly poverty with, what the reality is for elderly Egyptians in poverty and what the future outlook for elderly poverty in Egypt is.

Egypt’s Tools Against Elderly Poverty

Due to the steady increase in elderly poverty over recent decades, Egypt implemented multiple initiatives to combat it. Some include a national policy on aging, national committees on aging in public and private sectors, health insurance to the poorest elderly, cultural and entertainment services and directives on public accessibility and mobility.

Cash transfer systems, like the Social Aid and Assistance program (SAA) and the more prominent safety net program Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity), also aid elderly poverty in Egypt. Takaful and Karama, which the Egyptian government and the World Bank Group established in 2015, aims to improve access to health and education for poor and vulnerable populations. The implementation of the World Bank’s project involved an initial $400 million in funding to positively influence 1.5 million persons with disabilities, families with young children and the elderly. Karama directly protects and promotes poor elderly persons’ wellbeing through unconditional monthly pensions.

Multiple elderly Egyptians earn an income through Egypt’s allowances for the standard retirement age. Although the global typical retirement age is 60, Egyptian judges, researchers and academics can work until 70. This ensures steady financials for many, keeping elderly poverty levels at bay.

The Reality of Elderly Poverty in Egypt

Though Egypt’s efforts to tamper elderly poverty are extensive, they do not tell the full story for the country’s poor elderly individuals. For example, cash transfer programs are often inaccessible or experience poor implementation. Applications for SAA are strictly in person, making it harder for old persons to physically access, apply for and benefit from the program. Under Takaful and Karama in 2018, a small number of impoverished elderly persons actually received pensions — only 3.5% according to an article that the UN published.

In previous years, many impoverished elderly individuals disclosed dissatisfaction with their knowledge of and access to services. Sarah Sabry, a member of the Arab Learning Initiative, conducted interviews with people in poor and vulnerable positions in El-Ezba and El-Zelzal in Cairo to reveal their living conditions. Among the interviewees were elderly persons living alone and an elderly widow living with her daughters and grandchildren. They communicated issues like little to no access to free health services, insufficient infrastructure, distance to the nearest health facility and lack of preventative health care.

People also conveyed a lack of knowledge regarding services available to them — a woman who applied for SAA recounted receiving a rejection without explanation. Overall, many indicated uncertainty regarding what documents they required to apply for aid.

In response to these circumstances among others, additional efforts emerged. The monthly beneficiary pension through Karama extended 100 Egyptian pounds (EGPs) to 450 EGPs to assist with price increases, and many recent beneficiaries are elderly — about 18% out of some 2.5 million. As of 2020, at least 2.5 million families actively benefit from the World Bank’s and Egyptian Government’s Takaful and Karama safety net program. Although there are undoubtedly gaps in the scope and accessibility of these programs, it is hard to ignore the reality of elderly lives reached and improved.

Looking into the Future

Twelve percent of Egypt’s elderly persons experienced impoverishment in 2017. With the projected growth in the elderly population, elderly poverty in Egypt will surely grow. There are clearly effective mechanisms in place to address elderly poverty, but just as clearly, those mechanisms do not have perfect reach given this expected growth. The World Bank asserts that amplifying projects like Takaful and Karama and food subsidy allowances can combat the rise in poverty. As a result, the expansion of services today will likely improve tomorrow for Egypt’s elderly individuals.

– Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Urban and Rural Poverty in Egypt

While the North African nation of Egypt has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, it still grapples with the issue of poverty. With an overall poverty rate of approximately 28 percent, Egypt still struggles with more than a quarter of its population living in poverty. However, like many other developing countries, there is a poverty divide in Egypt between rural and urban people that is highly problematic for the nation. Specifically, reports completed by the World Bank indicate that the highest share of the nation’s poor population lives in upper rural Egypt. The inequality and poverty divide in Egypt between wealthier urban families and poorer rural families are issues that the North African nation must look to correct if its goal is a more stable and evenly-distributed domestic economy.

Urban vs. Rural Poverty in Egypt

There are some explanations for the poverty divide in Egypt. Like many other countries, those living in rural communities tend to rely more heavily on industries such as agriculture and livestock as a means for sustenance. Agriculture accounts for approximately 27 percent of the total Egyptian workforce and 55 percent of employment opportunities in rural upper Egypt are related to agriculture. This means that as Egypt continues to modernize its economy in its urban centers, those in more rural, agriculturally-focused regions such as upper Egypt and the Nile River valley will inherently be forced to find more reliable and modern sources of employment in urban centers. Agriculture constitutes too small a percentage of Egypt’s economy (11.7 percent of the total GDP as of 2017) for the government to significantly invest in such an industry and, as a continuously urbanizing nation, it seems as though this trend will continue. There are simply more opportunities for employment and financial prosperity in bustling urban centers like Cairo than in secluded rural villages throughout poorer regions.

However, several factors may be quietly contributing to the poverty divide in Egypt, one of which involves the illiteracy rate. As of 2017, of Egyptians aged 15 years and older, about 28 percent of that population is still illiterate. Many of these illiterate people live in rural areas where education is much less accessible. In fact, a 2017 report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) found that the rural illiteracy rate in Egypt stands at about 32 percent, while the urban illiteracy rate is approximately 17.7 percent.

Hannah Adkins, a university student who visits family in Egypt, commented on the issue of illiteracy in Egypt. “Illiteracy is definitely higher in rural areas because they simply have more limited access to schools and teachers,” Adkins told The Borgen Project. “Urban areas have a large concentration of wealth so that people with more privilege can afford to send their kids to private or international schools.”

According to statistics reported by the Education Policy and Data Center, 25.5 percent of rural Egyptian children do not receive secondary education, compared to 14.5 percent of Egyptian children in urban areas. The lack of wealth distribution between rural and urban areas has led to a steep poverty divide in Egypt. As a result, many Egyptians find themselves stuck in a cyclical process of poverty and illiteracy with little opportunity to emerge.

Though the poverty divide in Egypt has been accentuated by many factors like illiteracy, there are still groups and organizations focused on resolving such issues. In fact, Egyptian agencies like CAPMAS have set goals to eradicate the poverty rate by half by 2020 and fully by 2030. CAPMAS plans to do so by implementing different programs aimed at benefiting poorer families, especially in rural areas and villages throughout Egypt. In fact, a 2015 program called Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity in English) in an effort to provide poor families and elderly Egyptians with income support, education and healthcare assistance. This program was launched with the support of a $400 million World Bank program. Egypt’s government has made it clear that eradicating its crippling poverty divide is a top priority, and as long as the nation can keep up with its plans in the coming years, impoverished Egyptians will hopefully be able to dig themselves out of their desperate situations.

– Ethan Marcetti
Photo: Flickr