Algeria struggles to keep up with rapid population growth and own ambitions

Algeria’s population will reach 72.4 million in 2050 against about 42 million currently if its fertility rate remains steady.
Sunday 29/07/2018
A file photo shows a slum in front of buildings in the Ain El-Malha suburb of the Algerian capital, Algiers. (AFP)
Not without a cost. A file photo shows a slum in front of buildings in the Ain El-Malha suburb of the Algerian capital, Algiers. (AFP)

TUNIS - Algeria’s population has been growing at one of the world’s highest rates, giving its leaders reasons for concern.

Rapid Algerian population growth, which counters trends of slower increases in neighbouring Morocco and Tunisia, could test Algiers’ capacity for economic and social change while the challenges of poverty and youth unemployment are mounting.

Algeria’s population would reach 72.4 million in 2050 against about 42 million currently if the country’s fertility rate of 3.5 children per woman remains steady, the Algerian Health Ministry said.

“Since the year 2000, Algeria is experiencing a demographic dynamic of higher growth after having cut population growth by almost half in the 1985-2000 period,” the ministry said. “The additional population fell to 589,000 people in 2000 from 885,000 people in 1985,” it said.

This decline in population growth until 2000 was similar to trends in Tunisia and Morocco as expanding economies depended less on farming (in which families need more manpower) and as more women acceded to higher education, putting off marriage and giving birth to children.

Algeria broke with this transition when “the fertility rate jumped from 2.4 children per woman in 2000 to 3.1 children in 2017,” the Health Ministry said. “Since 2000, population growth continued rising to exceed the level of 1 million births in 2014 and reached 1.067 million in 2016 and 1.06 in 2017.”

The ministry described Algeria’s population growth as “one of the highest rates in the world.”

The ministry said the government looks to expand the family-planning programme in “the aim of helping to reach a balance between population growth and economic growth.”

It said it would increase the number of family-planning centres and include them in the overall healthcare system.

The government aims at cutting the fertility rate from 3.1 births per woman to 2.1 in 2050 when Algeria’s population would total 62 million instead of 72.4 million if the fertility rate remains higher, the Health Ministry added.

“The reduction of the reproduction rate will allow the government to cut spending in health and education and other fields and allow the citizens to enjoy more autonomy and a more prosperous life,” it said.

A higher population growth is seen by political analysts as adding to the “basics of power” and buttressing Algeria’s ambitions to be the leading power in the Maghreb and the sub-Sahara region.

The analysts, however, question the ability of Algeria to afford its ambitions for leadership in the western Mediterranean area and for remaining one of the main military powers in Africa. They said the uncontrolled expansion of the population could lead to frustration and social unrest.

Amel Bouzid, an expert at the government-run Centre for Research in Applied Economics and Development think-tank, said the growing population tested Algeria’s capability to feed its citizens.

“There is a structural problem that must be resolved quickly to respond to the population needs as the country experiences a frightening population growth,” she said. “Either Algeria increases imports or food prices will increase further in the future because of repeated shortages and low farming production.”