GCC population put at 46.9mn

The total population of Gulf oil producers gained nearly 17 million in 10 years to reach 46.9 million at the end of 2011 but the percentage of nationals fell drastically, according to a regional bank.

Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy and world’s dominant oil power, emerged as the most populated member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and also has most of the national population in the region, Qatar National Bank (QNB) said in a study.

From around 30 million in 2001, the combined population of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain surged to 46.9 million at the end of 2011.

This represents about 11 per cent of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) population and 0.7 per cent of the world population, QNB said.

“The GCC’s terrain is mainly arid, and therefore its population density is low. It is less than half the global average and a sixth of the European Union.”

A breakdown showed the population stood at around 28.5 million in Saudi Arabia, 8.5 million in the UAE, 3.7 million in Kuwait, 3.1 million in Oman, 1.8 million in Qatar and 1.3 million in Bahrain.

The report showed the population density in the GCC, which controls over 40 per cent of the world’s proven oil wealth, varies considerably, with Oman having the lowest density, just about 10 people per one square km.

Saudi Arabia is only slightly higher because it has a similar distribution of habitable regions and cities surrounded by vast desert areas.

The other countries have far higher densities because they have relatively small areas relative to their hydrocarbon resources, which fuel large-scale water desalination facilities and finance food imports needed to support dense populations. Bahrain has the highest density, with 1,678 people per square km, because most of the island is urbanized.

“The discovery of massive hydrocarbon resources in the first half of the 20th century led to the rapid development of the region, and hence population growth. Hydrocarbon revenue has been heavily invested in infrastructure, driving construction and real estate booms, and supporting the broader development of the services and manufacturing sector. This has led to opportunities that have attracted a large inflow of expatriates to the region,” QNB said.

In the last decade, the GCC’s expatriate population has grown at about 7.4 per cent, driving the overall growth rate for the same period to 4.5 per cent and taking the population from 30 million in 2001 to 46.9 million at present.

Population growth within the national population has also been relatively high at 2.4 per cent, which is double the global average, according to the report.

It attributed the rapid growth to high fertility rates, a youthful population and a lengthening of life-spans supported by investments in healthcare.

“The rapid growth of the expatriate population has reduced the proportion of nationals in the overall GCC population…..in 2011, nearly 52 per cent of the GCC population were nationals, down from 64 per cent in 2001.”

But the report noted that there are significant differences between GCC countries in the proportion of expatriates. It said Saudi Arabia has the largest population in the region and that its large population of nationals, who represent 80 per cent of all GCC citizens, is the reason why the overall GCC population is still predominantly national, albeit by a small margin.

It said the different proportional sizes of the expatriate populations across the GCC are explained by several factors, including:

- The relative size of each country’s hydrocarbons reserves

- The current stage of country development

- The nature of its non-hydrocarbon economy

- The impact of particular policies

For example, in the UAE and Qatar, hydrocarbons endowments are high compared with the size of the populations, QNB said.

“This has led to proportionally larger expatriate populations in the UAE and in Qatar. The expatriate population has been further boosted by the federal structure of the UAE. This has encouraged the development of the non-oil economy in emirates with limited hydrocarbon reserves, particularly in Dubai, creating further opportunities for expatriate employment.”

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