Demographic growth in Algeria increases pressures on government

Sunday 30/07/2017
Uncertain future. Boys play football in Algiers. (Reuters)

Tunis - Algeria’s population to­talled 11.6 million when the country won its in­dependence in 1962 af­ter a war against French colonial occupation. Morocco’s population was 13.1 million the same year.
By January 2017, Algeria’s popu­lation was 41.3 million and Mo­rocco’s, at 35.1 million, had grown much less.
Algeria has added almost 1 mil­lion inhabitants each year over the past three years, causing its population to grow at an average of 2.2% per year, figures released by the state-run National Statistics Office stated. The Moroccan popu­lation has grown at an annual rate of 1.37%.
Official statistics predicted Alge­ria’s population to expand to 42.2 million by next January and swell to 51 million by 2030.
Such human potential bolsters Algeria’s ambitions to play a bigger leadership role in Africa. Algeria boasts the second most powerful army on the continent, according to Global Firepower, which ranks nations’ militaries based on more than 50 factors. The CIA ranked Algeria eighth in the world in the percentage of its GDP that was al­located to the military.
Algeria also has Africa’s largest land mass — nearly 2.4 million sq. km. However, its rising population is weighing heavily on Algeria’s at­tempts to resolve a chronic housing shortage and massive unemploy­ment, which have fuelled discon­tent among an increasingly restive populace.
The latest political warning came during last May’s elections, when 65% of the eligible voters stayed away from the polls.
Some voters bucked the predict­able electoral routine by casting blank votes or spoiling ballots — be­tween them, nearly one-quarter of cast ballots — with protest messag­es, revealing discontent with the political class and adding a layer of uncertainty to the blurred transi­tion of power from ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Voter turnout was extremely low, with 35% of eligible citizens voting, compared to 43% in the 2012 elec­tion.
Algeria has for decades struggled to address a housing shortage, as its natural demographic expan­sion coincided with a rural exodus towards more urban areas offering better job opportunities and living conditions.
Research by Professor Tahar Bellal from Algeria’s Setif Univer­sity stated that population growth trends are likely to exacerbate the housing shortage. The country is estimated to need 2 million hous­ing units by 2025, despite a $65 billion government housing pro­gramme that ends in 2019.
In the 1960s, Algeria echoed Chi­na and the former Soviet Union’s position of advocating rapid popu­lation growth.
The North African country based its prestige on competing for lead­ership of the third world.
As a result, the government ig­nored the view that controlling population growth is a precondi­tion for balanced development. Algeria’s neighbours — Tunisia and Morocco — sided with South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore in the view that family planning helps sustain economic development and further the rights of women.
Algeria adopted family planning later in the 1980s when control of fertility became one of many fac­tors affecting population growth.
Zahia Ouadah Bedidi, who stud­ies demographic changes in Alge­ria, argued that “the effectiveness of family planning depends closely on policies directed at encouraging other social changes favourable to controlling fertility: Improvements in health, development of educa­tion, improved status for women, women’s access to gainful employ­ment and economic and social re­sponsibility.”
She and other experts said Alge­ria’s young people were bearing the brunt of the effects of demographic growth that led to shortages of housing and jobs.
“Unable to marry, they (young Algerians) are suffocated by the so­cial norms and taboos that forbid any sexual relations outside mar­riage,” Bedidi said.
It was an average 25.22% from 2010-15, reaching an all-time high of 29.9% in 2015 and a record low of 21.5% in 2010, official data indi­cated.
Algerian Health Minis­ter Mokhtar Hasbellaoui was quoted as saying that “many families are resorting to fertil­ity control once they already have many chil­dren.”
“Family planning must involve several social and economic sectors to be an effective and integrated ap­proach that includes em­powerment of the families,” he said.
Former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour warned that “a sober analysis of the economic, social and political situation shows that an imminent danger looms over the future of the nation which could render the probability of a social explosion quite likely.”
He cited Algeria’s rank­ing as 108th in the Global Innovation Index, 111th in stability and political security, 124th in getting a bank loan and 106th in ease of starting a business.
“Indeed, the nation is in a situation that is more in the way of an aircraft that has lost its pilot in flight and will inevitably crash. We do not only know who will pick the debris,” he said in an opinion piece published July 19.