Urbanization and Density
Data from the World Bank's World Development Report, 1992 indicated that in 1990 about 52 percent of the Algerian population lived in urban regions. By comparison, in 1981 the UN estimated the urbanized segment of the population at 44 percent, up from 41 in 1977 and 30 percent in 1960. Urbanization has occurred in part through population growth, which has converted villages into towns and towns into cities, but urban migration has played at least as important a role. During the decade of the 1970s unofficial estimates held that 1.7 million peasants settled in Algiers, Oran, Constantine, and Annaba, a continuation of the enormous shift in population from the countryside to the cities that began at independence. The largest cities attracted many of these migrants, but the 1977 census showed that many smaller towns and cities grew even faster, probably because of economic and administrative decentralization efforts during the 1970s. Algiers remained the largest urbanized area. A city of fewer than 500,000 people with a predominantly European population in 1954, it increased to nearly 1 million inhabitants by 1966 despite the loss of most of its European inhabitants. In 1987 census figures showed that Algiers proper contained 1,483,000 million inhabitants and was still growing. Algeria's other major cities also grew between 1977 and 1987: Oran's population increased from 490,000 to 590,000; Constantine from 344,000 to 438,000; Annaba from 240,000 to 310,000; Batna from 102,000 to 182,000; Sétif from 129,000 to 168,000; and Blida from 138,000 to 165,000.
In the mid-1980s the pace of urbanization, estimated unofficially at 5.6 percent per year, was causing concern to planning authorities, who were endeavoring to slow its tempo if not stop it altogether. Government-sponsored agrarian reform programs and investment in rural housing were initiated to improve the quality of farm life and thus to stabilize the rural population. It was hoped that these same measures would relieve the acute pressure on urban housing, a by-product of massive urbanization.
According to Algerian government figures, 87 percent of the population resided on 17 percent of the nation's land. The population density, averaging 10.5 inhabitants per square kilometer in mid-1990, varied enormously from 2,500 per square kilometer in Algiers to less than one per square kilometer in the mid-Sahara. All major cities and most of the rural population occupied a quadrilateral that extended about 100 kilometers from the coast and stretched from Morocco to Tunisia. Within this area, there was a difference in the way the land was used. In the west, formerly the area of French vineyards and citrus groves, was a region of socialized autogestion farms. A short distance east of Algiers the land rises toward the Kabylie and Aurès mountain zones of eastern Algeria. In an area only about two hours distant by highway from Algiers, a densely packed rural population continues to live in remote mountain areas, sheltered from outside influences and maintaining Berber languages and customs in their purest forms.
In the heavily populated northern part of the country, the average density of population does not change substantially from west to east. Farther inland the density of population declines progressively southward through the High Plateaus and the Saharan Atlas mountains, averaging from forty-nine persons down to ten people per square kilometer. Within the Sahara, the same trend of diminishing population from north to south is evident. In the northern half of the Sahara, road distances between populated oases seldom exceed 170 kilometers. The southern half of the Algerian Sahara, however, is peopled by only a few thousand Tuareg. The only town of any importance is Tamanrasset, deep in the Ahaggar highlands.
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