Demographic growth in Algeria increases pressures on government
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.