Special Report: Qatar – Population rise poses challenges

03 February 2010

Qatar has experienced a demographic explosion in the past five years, with the population more than doubling in size to 1.6 million in late 2009

This surge is the result of the influx of expatriate workers brought in to develop the many projects intended to diversify the economy.

The $18bn gas-to-liquids facility being developed by UK/Dutch Shell Group is a prime example – as many as 48,000 people work on it at any one time.

While imported labour is essential if Qatar is to develop a modern economy, the huge number of immigrants has brought challenges.

The balance of the population has become distorted, with men far outnumbering women, housing in short supply and public services under immense strain.

The authorities have responded by directing more spending into building infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and power stations to cope with the burgeoning population.

More than $220bn worth of projects are currently planned or under way in Qatar, meaning the need for foreign workers will continue for many years yet.

But the big question is what happens once the work is done. Unless many of them make the peninsula their permanent home, at some point Qatar’s population could drop as sharply as it has risen and the country will be left with far more infrastructure than it needs.

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