Algeria's chronic housing shortage, which has ranked high on the government's priority list because of its social implications, has had a consistent impact on the construction industry. The population over the years has been unevenly distributed: about 87 percent of the population lives in the coastal and subcoastal regions, which comprise 17 percent of the country's total area. The influx of Algerians moving from rural areas into urban housing left vacant by the French and other Europeans, coupled with rapid economic development and high birth rates, has dramatically accelerated the pace of urbanization.
Government attention to housing was not evident, however, until it was included in economic development plans in the 1980s. The five-year plans for 1980-84 and 1985-89 outlined a number of objectives for housing policies: reduction of construction delays, integration of housing within social services designed to raise living standards, control of expansion of housing developments to preserve agricultural land, and sale of government-owned dwellings to their occupants. In addition, the plans sought to improve the efficiency of the construction sector and the financial institutions involved in housing and to develop the construction material industry.
The seriousness with which the government viewed the housing problem was underlined in 1992 when a new minister of housing was appointed and assigned the responsibility of urban development in addition to the traditional function of overseeing housing construction. Even with governmental encouragement of manufacturers of building materials to produce more, the public sector has been unable to meet the constantly growing demand for new housing--estimated at about 250,000 units a year. In 1993 there was a shortage of 2 million housing units. A major obstacle was a chronic shortage of inputs in cement production, which was controlled by four regional Enterprises for Cement and Derivatives (Entreprises des Ciments et Dérives). Private-sector firms have been active, however, in introducing prefabricated construction techniques under the umbrella of the National Office to Promote Prefabricated Construction (Office National de la Promotion de la Construction en Préfabriqué).
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