Strong economy boosts Qatari population

A massive influx of foreign workers triggered by unprecedented economic performance boosted Qatar’s population by more than half a million in just four years to record one of the world’s highest growth rates. Official figures showed the population of the world’s third-largest gas producer leaped by nearly 18.1 per cent at the end of June compared with the same period of last year and around 17.7 per cent in the previous year. Growth was also as high as 17.2 per cent during 2005-2008 and 16.8 per cent during 2004-2005, showed the figures by Qatar Statistics Authority (QSA). The rates are nearly four times the average annual population increase of between 2.1 and 5.2 per cent in the previous four years. At the end of June, Qatar’s population was estimated at 1.448 million compared with 1.226m at the end of June 2007 and 1.041m at the end of June 2006. It was put at nearly 888,000 at the end of June 2005 and about 616,000 at the end of the first half of 2000. QSA’s monthly figures showed the population continued its rapid rise to gain nearly 100,000 to reach around 1.541m at the end of October, an increase of about 6.4 per cent in four months. In 1997, Qatar’s population stood at around 522,000, more than one million below the 2008 population. According to the government-controlled Qatar National Bank (QNB), the annual population growth during 1997-2004 stood at only 5.3 per cent. “The rapid increase in population over the last few years is attributed to the strong performance of the economy, which has resulted in a large number of projects coming online, thereby leading to the influx of professionals, service and contracting sector staff and others,” QNB said. Despite the surge, Qatar has maintained its position as one of the wealthiest nations in terms of GDP per capita, which was estimated at $57,936 in 2007. As the population is projected to average around 1.5 million by the end of 2008, due to the departure of many foreigners for seasonal holidays, the GDP will record one of its highest growth rates this year and the Gulf country’s per capita income is set to continue its climb. QSA’s figures showed the population at the end of October included 1,185,575 males and 355,555 females, adding that its estimates included those who were present inside Qatar during the month of October. It gave no nationality breakdown but independent estimates put the native population at around 20 per cent of the total, while most of the rest are other Arabs, south-east Asians and Westerners. Qatar, a small Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries member, has recorded the highest per capita income and economic growth rate in the Arab world over the past 10 years because of strong crude prices and a rapid increase in its exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which exceeded 30 million tonnes in 2007. The exports are projected to climb to around 77 million tonnes within three years as the gas-rich country is pushing ahead with mega LNG projects to tap its gigantic offshore North Field, the world’s largest single reservoir of non-associated gas, with an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet. The surge in LNG sales has allied with a sharp rise in oil prices over the past few years to catapult Qatar’s economy by more than four times during 2003-2007 to reach QR258,000 in 2007. It is projected by QNB to soar to QR327,000 in 2008 and nearly QR387,000 in 2009, an average annual growth of between 21 and 35 per cent during 2003-2008. Qatar has in the recent past recorded extraordinary economic growth. Nadim Kawach