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Territorial occupation and urbanization

© UNICEF Bolivia/2003

Bolivia has a total population of 8,274,325 inhabitants. Population distribution varies according to the area. A new order of occupation of national territory began in the 1950's, and this phenomenon was accompanied by a process of urbanization, which in certain cases was very rapid.

According to the 2001 Census, Bolivia has a total population of 8,274,325 inhabitants and the annual growth rate has, since 1992, been 2,74 per cent. The 45 per cent of all inhabitants are constituted by children and adolescents from 0 to 18 years old. And in terms of gender, 50.16 per cent of the population is constituted by women.

Population density in the country is relatively low, being 7.56 inhabitants per square kilometre (INE 2001). However, population distribution does vary according to the area and has experienced an important variation from 1950 onwards.

The change has above all affected the lowland population. In 1950 this area had 12.3 per cent of the national population. This now corresponds to 29 per cent. On the other hand, the highlands, with 41 per cent, are still the most highly populated area, and the remaining 30 per cent of the population lives in the valleys.

Territorial occupation changes

Historically, the mining of silver and later of tin, were activities which caused a concentration of the population in the Andean area.
The area of the valleys had a population principally dedicated to supplying cattle farming products and agricultural production to the highland areas in particular.

As from the 1950s, and accompanied by the progressive fall of production in tin mining, the eastern lowlands began to be occupied. The population was principally concentrated in the department of Santa Cruz, thanks to the growth of non-traditional agricultural crops.

This process then led to new territorial occupation throughout the country. Economic dynamics and the population led to a move towards the east of the country. Areas such as north Potosi and various regions of Cochabamba and Chuquisaca present a decline in population and no growth.

The urbanization process

The phenomenon of urbanization has accompanied the process of territorial occupation. At the beginning of the 20th century the urban population was below 20 per cent. Between 1976 and 1992 Bolivian cities registered an average growth rate of 4 per cent, owing in part to migration. In some cases this growth was very rapid, as in the case of the city of El Alto, in the department of La Paz.

Important contingents of the rural population have migrated from rural areas to the city. Some of the factors motivating this movement are as follows: the decomposition of traditional agrarian structures, low levels of productivity and returns, the attraction of the cities.

The urban population increased from 58 per cent in 1992 to 62.43 per cent in 2001 (INE 2001). The problem is that urban areas have continued to expand without the capacity to generate economic activities to productively absorb this population. In consequence, belts of economically depressed population have grown up around the cities.

A central axis

The urban development of Bolivia presents a particular characteristic, as we cannot observe the accelerated growth of only one city, such as Buenos Aires in Argentina. Urban growth is concentrated around a central axis formed by three main cities: La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Poverty is a reality not only within these cities, but a ring has grown up around them of small towns with a population living in conditions of extreme poverty.

On the other hand, the urbanization process has brought about new problems affecting children, adolescents and youth: drugs, gangs, delinquency and prostitution.





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