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Wed 13 Feb 2008 02:06 AM

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Qatar calls for urgent action on population

Effects of rapid growth on education, health and social systems must be addressed, committee warns.

Qatar must take urgent action to address the effects of rapid population growth on its education, health and social systems, a committee has warned.

According to the first report of the Permanent Population Committee, population is set to reach 2.3 million by 2013, placing pressure on the country’s infrastructure and job market.

According to the report, only half of all Qataris were living in towns in 1950, compared to the total population in 2004. Surging rents and accommodation costs have helped drive inflation to record-highs.

Population is a sensitive issue in the Gulf state where expatriates and foreign labour outnumber the native population, and the indigenous Bedouin population has disappeared.

Committee chairman, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr Al Thani, said at the launch of a population consultation earlier this month that any policy should aspire to the “highest standards of progress and sustainable development while keeping up the national character, the cultural identity and the inherited traditions of the country and its people”.

Recommendations by the committee cover areas including population and workforce, education, training and human resources development, general health and reproductive health, empowerment, environment and sustainable development and database and national indicators.

Concerns raised by the report are reflected across the six GCC states, where foreign workers make up about 13 million, or 37% of the 35 million population.

They are relied upon heavily to drive the region’s booming economies, but there is widespread concern that progress comes at the cost of the national character of individual states.

A proposal for a six-year residency cap on expatriate workers was widely embraced by the GCC towards the end of last year, but further talks were shelved following pressure from businesses already struggling to retain staff.

The issue was revived this week, however, when Saudi Arabia’s labour minister called for a residency limit to be imposed on foreign workers to prevent them from gaining a political voice in the region.

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